CHS’ 1979 title team to be feted Saturday

By Dave Wagner

Perhaps the best boys basketball team in the history of Clovis High School is scheduled to be honored at halftime of Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game at The Pit in Albuquerque.

It’s the 25th anniversary of the 1979 Class 4A state title for the Wildcats, who ran up a 27-1 record under head coach Jimmy Joe Robinson and set numerous school records in the process.

“This team was the second-best high school team I’ve ever seen, and I was blessed to get to coach them,” said Robinson, who coached the Cats from 1971-84. “Our second team could’ve probably finished third in our district back then.”

Led by Bubba Jennings and Nelson Franse, Clovis established school records for points in a game (135) and a season (92.4 average), field goal percentage (.581) and free throw percentage (.723). The Cats were ranked No. 1 in a four-state area of the southwest.

Their only loss came at Rock Staubus Gym against Hobbs in a district tournament game, but they beat the Eagles twice in Hobbs that season. They rolled though the Class 4A state tournament at the Pan American Center in Las Cruces, beating Sandia and Santa Fe to reach the finals and then topping Mayfield 70-55 for the championship.

Ironically, Clovis’ girls (27-3) will go for a Class 5A state title tonight against top-ranked Mayfield (25-1) at The Pit on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
“It was one of those dream teams,” said Mark Steinle, a 6-foot-5 senior center back then who still lives in Clovis. “We had 10 or 12 guys that could’ve started on any team in the state.

“The only regret I have is that we didn’t get to do it in The Pit.”
The previous year, the mostly-junior Cats put together a 27-4 record but lost to Hobbs and legendary coach Ralph Tasker at the state finals.

“It’ll go down as one of the best ever (teams) in New Mexico,” said Robinson, who later led Melrose to three small-school state titles. “I’ve played and coached for over 50 years, and I haven’t seen anyone that will compare with them.”

Dale Fullerton, currently CHS’ athletic director, said Clovis was going through a period of extraordinary talent at that point.

“It was an exceptionally good group of kids,” said Fullerton, who coached two unbeaten sophomore teams from 1978-80. “(Point guard) Jeff Faubion turned his ankle and still played in the finals, and you couldn’t even tell he was hurt.

“We had two guys on that team, Nelson Franse and Bubba Jennings, who got a lot of their points from beyond where the 3-point line is now.”

Fullerton left the basketball program after the 1980 season to become CHS football coach Eric Roanhaus’ defensive coordinator. He said he’s missed coaching basketball at times, but he was glad not to have to jump from football into basketball every year.

He noted that at that time, the varsity was made up of mostly seniors and the junior varsity was primarily juniors, leaving most of the sophomores to play together.
“That’s just how strong our program was at that time,” he said.

Steinle, who manages a family-owned welding supply business in Clovis, said he enjoyed his time on the team.
“It was a great bunch of guys,” Steinle said. “We had a good time. Most of those guys I had played with for three or four years. We were all good friends and loved to play basketball.”