By BRIENNE GREEN
Tradition and Bulldog football go hand in hand.
The Dog Pile, the Victory Bell, raising the “1”… they’ve been photographed, videoed, talked about by football fans throughout the region thousands of times over, and they hold special meaning for the players who’ve made their way through the program.
There are other traditions, however, that may not be as visible but are every bit as — if not more — special. The importance of these becomes clearer as the years go by and relationships begin to mean more than wins and losses.
The Artesia Quarterback Club has been fostering such relationships since the early 1960s. Through the club, men in the community interested in supporting the football program can become Quarterback Dads, “adopting” one or more Quarterback Sons for the season.
Dads and their “kids” enjoy a variety of bonding opportunities. Many meet for lunch or dinner one night a week. Treats or notes of encouragement are left in lockers on game day. But most significantly, the Dads serve as mentors for their Sons, offering an extra source of encouragement and support.
“There are some people in Quarterback Club that don’t even know that much about football, but they just want to be a positive influence on kids,” club president Ben Valenzuela said. “I think that’s why it’s been so successful over the years. The Quarterback Dads get to see what these kids become later on, how successful a lot of them are in life, and it’s nice kind of knowing that maybe you had a little part in that.”
Raye Miller wasn’t an athlete, but he knew that sports are capable of instilling a variety of beneficial qualities in youth. So in 1981, when Mack Chase asked him to consider taking on the role of Quarterback Club secretary/treasurer, he consented to join. He’d go on to become a longtime president of the club.
“The thing about Quarterback Club, and what’s actually more important than the fundraising and all that stuff, is that the Dad/Son program allows these men who care about kids to involve themselves in the lives of young men as they grow up,” Miller said.
Many Quarterback Dads are, of course, former Bulldogs themselves. Martin Green and Curtis Tolle were teammates, senior members of the undefeated 1974 state championship team. They enjoy the opportunity to maintain a lifelong connection with both the football program and the Quarterback Club.
“Curtis and I talk about that all the time,” said Green. “We played, and we still want to be involved in the legacy of Artesia football. We had Quarterback Dads, and we want to make sure all these kids have one, too. I’ve had a lot of kids I already knew, but one of the things I like about it is getting to know kids I didn’t know.”
Tolle agreed that getting to know local kids is his favorite part about the club.
“It’s fun learning about the kids,” Tolle said. “They’re pretty awesome to be around. And we always ask them how their grades are — every week, Martin and I make sure to ask about their grades and how they’re doing in school.”
The fact that Quarterback Dads take an interest in more than just their Quarterback Sons’ performance on the gridiron is part of what makes Quarterback Club such a successful mentorship effort, and it doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated by the players.
“The Quarterback Club and Quarterback Dads is one of the coolest things Artesia football does,” said incoming junior Grant Johnson. “Coming from Las Cruces where some teams barely have enough funding in their normal booster clubs, it really makes you appreciate all the support and fun things we have the privilege of doing with the Quarterback Club.
“Having a Quarterback Dad who treats you to dinner almost every week and maybe leaving some goodies in your locker throughout the week is one of the most unique and cool things about being in Bulldog football. We’re very blessed to have the Quarterback Club because you don’t see this type of support anywhere else.”
Johnson’s Quarterback Dad, TJ Palma, is also a Bulldog alum.
“I think my favorite thing to do is talk to the kids and get to know them really well because I want them to be able to talk to me if it’s something about school or football or anything else that might be bugging them,” said Palma. “I’m going on my 14th year of being a Quarterback Dad, and every year is a lot of fun.”
For some players, a Quarterback Dad is simply a fun perk and a chance to learn a little something extra from a community member they might otherwise have never met.
“[Former head coach] Cooper [Henderson] would have a dinner at the beginning of every year, and he would have the kids sit at tables with one chair open for a Quarterback Club member,” Miller said. “The kids had to introduce themselves, find out who the adult was and something about them, and then the next day when they got to practice, [Henderson] would randomly go through and select kids to have them tell him who they at with and what they learned.
“You sit there and go ‘What’s that got to do with football?’, but the point was, some of these young men aren’t going to go to college. Some are going to go out and get jobs, and the first time they sit at a desk for an interview, it might be the first time they’ve ever had to talk to a stranger in their life — how do they relate? A lot of kids in small towns don’t ever talk to adults they don’t know. So they were gaining some life experience in an area that might help them beyond football in the future.”
For other players, the Quarterback Dad program can help provide them with a connection that may be missing in their lives.
“Dads are one of the most important parts of a young person’s life,” Maupin said. “And we have a great community of guys that step into that role where, sometimes, these kids don’t have a dad or their dad is absent. So it’s just a good opportunity to build that relationship and kind of have a father figure in their life.”
“I had a couple of Quarterback Sons whose mom was a single mother raising two boys,” Miller said. “One of them wound up going to NMSU, and every other year when we’d go over to play Las Cruces, he would come to the game and search me out, and we’d sit and visit about what was going on.
“He wasn’t a star football player, but that’s the beauty of Artesia football — you don’t have to be a star football player. You can be a part of the team if you just put in the work and effort and do what’s required.”
“Sometimes you find out these kids are having a tough time at home,” said Tolle. “So just getting to know about them and their backgrounds, you can make a difference for some kids that need a little extra support.”
Some Quarterback Dads take on several Sons, which often affords players a chance to interact with teammates they may be less familiar with.
“It’s always great to sit down and enjoy a meal with your teammates and your friends,” said junior Brody McDonald, another of Palma’s Quarterback Sons. “It brings great opportunities for team bonding, as well as allows us to get to know the people who work so hard and do so much for us to be able to have all of the amazing things we have. Our Quarterback Club is a blessing and is one of the great traditions that comes with being a Bulldog that you don’t see anywhere else.”
“Some of these guys have been in Quarterback Club since I played and a lot longer, and it’s really nice to know there are guys in the community that are so dedicated to helping this program and these kids,” said Maupin.
A great many Quarterback Dads and Sons maintain contact throughout their lives, becoming extensions of one another’s families.
“In 2017, I had a Quarterback Son, Chaney Hardt,” Palma said. “He had suffered an injury at the end of spring football and needed to go to regular doctor’s visits. His family had lost a family member, and his mom and dad asked me if I could take him to a doctor’s visit.
“That meant a lot to me, personally, because they trusted the Quarterback Dad to take the son to the doctor and listen to what the doctor had to say and give them the info. I’m sure a lot of us still keep up with our former Quarterback Sons. When they come down for the playoffs or Homecoming, we get to chat and catch up, and that is a lot of fun, too.”
Quarterback Sons also recognize that the men involved in the club have their best interests at heart and actively want to see them succeed. That’s a hope that extends beyond graduation, as Dominic Pacheco — a former Quarterback Son of Green’s and a 2022 graduate of Artesia High School — pointed out.
“Quarterback Club is a great program to show the players there are other people in town that care about us and want us to succeed in life,” he said, “most of all to become better men for ourselves and our future families.”
One of Green’s most recent Quarterback Sons, Class of 2023 graduate Matthew Chavez, said he enjoyed being able to hang out with someone who’s been involved in the football program for a long time and knows the history of Artesia’s traditions.
“I do think this is a beneficial program because they can pass down knowledge they have and would like to be passed down again,” Chavez said. “I also think this is beneficial for kids who may not be as fortunate as others but have an opportunity to have some great memories while doing this program.”
“I want to talk about more than football with them,” Green said. “We talk about how their life is, what they’re going to do college wise, what they want to be when they grow up — I just want to see them grow into good young men.”
Just like any Dad does.