Where’s the cowbell? Tournament prize goes missing during championship game in Ratón

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Sports Talk is a periodic commentary by The Taos News Sports Editor, Arcenio J. Trujillo.

I’ve got a fever! And the only prescription is ...

Seems silly, really. But in this day and age of the mantras “compete with class” and “sportsmanship, sportsmanship, sportsmanship,” it’s difficult to not find a little bit of hypocrisy when fans are reminded to let the players play, the coaches coach and the officials officiate. What about a message for game administrators and, more specifically, tournament directors?

After the Lady Panthers swept through the annual “Cowbell Tournament” last week, a snub of sorts occurred when the new champions were denied the opportunity to touch, hoist, ring or bring their traveling trophy home to Peñasco. Propped up on the scorers table at Ratón High School at the beginning of the championship game between the Lady Panthers and the Cimarrón Lady Rams Dec. 10, the smaller brass (actual) cowbell seemed to vanish when it looked like the game was well in hand for Peñasco.

There are two bells — one for the boys and one for the girls — and when the final buzzer sounded, only the bell for the boys remained. Supposedly, without permission, a few of the Lady Panthers rang the boys’ bell to take part in the symbolic gesture that has taken place for the last 62 years.

According to chuckferrissports.com, “the Cowbell Tournament started in 1954, however the tradition of the Cowbell goes back to 1937, when members of District One, or the Cowbell Conference would play against one another.”

Original members of the conference included teams from Cimarrón, Clayton, Dawson, Des Moines, Farley, Folsom, Grenville, Kiowa, Maxwell, Miami, Mills, Moreno Valley, Mosquero, Ratón, Roy, Solano, St. Patrick’s (Ratón), Springer and Wagon Mound.

Of those original teams, only six participated in this year’s tourney. They included Cimarrón, Des Moines, Maxwell (boys only), Ratón, Springer and Roy/Mosquero (combined). Of those original teams, only two other communities actually have a high school in which to supply a team. But for some reason, Wagon Mound and Clayton no longer participate. Thus, Questa and Peñasco are now part of the eight-team bracket. Questa, who has been a part of the tourney for the past six years is allowed to win the Cowbell and participate in the cowbell tradition and exchange.

The tournament description on chuckferrissports.com also states, “When a team with the Cowbell played any other District team, the Cowbell was put on the block – essentially, up-for-grabs by the winner of that game, who took the trophy home and kept it until the next game against another district opponent. The school with the Cowbell at the end of basketball season had its name engraved on the trophy and kept it until the next season.”

It’s unclear if Peñasco was invited to attend the tournament a year ago or if games were sought by the girls team. In any case, Peñasco does play regular-season games with present-day “cowbell” teams, as they have home-and-home (at least two games) arrangements with Cimarrón, Ratón and Questa.

According to Coach Gilbert Mascareñas, the two bells were on display throughout the tournament, which took place at both Springer and Ratón high schools Dec. 6-10.

Tournament officials claim a verbal agreement is in place that disqualifies any Peñasco team from possessing the cowbell or participating in the cowbell tradition. Therefore, the girls’ cowbell was deemed “out of commission this year” by Randy Casper, tournament director and Springer athletics director. When it was certain that the Peñasco Lady Panthers would win the championship game, the trophy was packed away. Since the Springer Lady Red Devils stayed with the cowbell at the end of last season, it will stay with Springer for the remainder of the 2016-17 season to finish out its decommissioned year.

Perhaps it is true that a verbal agreement is in place for the protection of the very old bell, and the integrity of tradition is high on the list of priorities of some. However, kids are kids, and whether invited or welcomed into our homes, they should be made to feel invited and welcome. At the very least, communicate to them that they will be treated differently if they win.

Seems silly, really. But teachable moments run both ways.

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