Annual North/South All-Star games: ‘the cherry on top’ for recently graduated high school athletes

Recent Estancia High graduates from left, Cruz Moreno, Josh Thomas, Brian Walker, Jesse Chavez and Drayton Oberg at the small-school North/South All Star football game June 8 at Nusenda Community Stadium.

Beyond the goal posts at the west end of Nusenda Community Stadium in Albuquerque, a group of tired, sweaty football players huddled together before entering the locker room and joined in for one final team cheer: “South! South! South! South!”

The group of about 25 players, including five recent graduates from Estancia High School—Jesse Chavez, Cruz Moreno, Drayton Oberg, Josh Thomas, and Brian Walker—were celebrating the small school South All-Stars’ 19-3 victory over the small school North All-Stars.

“Oh, dude, it felt so great,” said Moreno, who tackled a North running back for no gain on the first play of the game. “I was a little nervous but then we got it going—it was a blast.”

Later in the first quarter, Walker broke up a North pass attempt. “I was super nervous at the start,” he said. “But as soon as I made that hit, I got it out of my system.”

Brian Walker, No. 12, breaking up a pass attempt.

“It’s an honor, I’m honestly speechless,” Thomas said. “It’s been a dream since my freshman year to make it to this game.”

Though the game ended with a minor squabble that involved a little pushing and shoving as the teams headed to the locker rooms, Estancia High’s head football coach and athletic director Stewart Burnett—who helmed the small school South squad—said, “We can only control what we can control, but overall it was a ball. We had five [players participate in the game] which is the most we’ve ever had in our seven years in Estancia, so it was really good.”

The small school South All-Stars’ June 8 football victory was the final event of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association’s annual North/South All-Star games that got underway May 30.

The North/South All-Star games—comprising six different sports—provide an encore for the best recently-graduated athletes in the state to participate one last time in a high school sport.

The NMHSCA used a large school-small school format in this year’s events, and in some sports, it divided the teams up by quadrants of the state.

Estancia had the highest number of graduates participate with 10. In addition to the five who played in the June 8 football game, Mariah Aday and Jaimey Fastnacht made the small school Southeast girls basketball squad; Kaitlyn Calhoon and Siara Pope made the small school
Southeast volleyball squad; and Laney Encinias played on the small school South softball squad.

Jaimey Fastnach pounding her way to the paint in the small-school North/South All Star girls basketball game May 31 at Manzano High School.

Other area high school grads who participated in the North/South events include East Mountain High’s Aaron Talamante, who played for the small school Northeast boys basketball All-Stars. Moriarty High School grad Gabby Aceves played for the large school Southeast softball All-Stars; Manzano High grad, and East Mountain resident, Jack Blankenship made the large school North football All-Stars; and Hope Christian grad Brandon Bagon, who lives in Tijeras, and Eldorado grad Cade Malone, who lives in Sandia Park, both made the large school Northeast baseball team.

“The essence is to continue the tradition of the North/South games that started in 1946, but it has evolved over the years so we decided to do something a little different this year,” NMHSCA executive director Buster Mabrey said about the formatting process.

The athletes were selected by members of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association, and sSome athletes were selected to play in multiple events.

Estancia grad Drayton Oberg played in three small school events: he helped the small school Southeast boys basketball team win two games, May 31-June 1; two days later, he played several different positions—including right field for the first time—in the small school South baseball team’s three-game sweep over the North; he capped the three-event experience with the June 8 football game.

“It was amazing,” Oberg said about playing in three different North/South events. “I think the baseball and basketball [games] were better, but it was all pretty fun.”

Oberg’s fellow Estancia grads Moreno and Thomas also chipped in during the small school South’s baseball sweep over the North. They both hit RBI doubles in the morning game of the June 4 doubleheader. In the second game, all the teammates swapped jerseys: Oberg and Thomas donned Dexter jerseys, while Moreno wore a Texico jersey.

When asked about the irony of wearing a Texico jersey—the team that beat Estancia for the second consecutive year in the 2A state baseball championship—Moreno said, “Oh, man, it’s great!”

In the May 31 opening round of the small school girls basketball matchups, Aday and Fastnacht both contributed in the Southeast All-Stars’ 87-65 win over the Northeast team.

Fastnacht’s jumper early in the first half put the Southeast squad ahead 34-20. Later in the half, Aday drained a 3-pointer to push the lead to 47-24. Fastnacht hit another jumper just before halftime, and Aday sank the final trey of her high school career in the second half.

The next day, the Southeast squad rallied to beat the Southwest squad 68-55. “I was so excited, it was such a fun weekend,” Aday said. “It was kinda the cherry on top of my high school sports career, it finished it off really well for me.”

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