Artesia, N.M., deserves TitleTown status for high school football
Artesia, N.M., home of the 26-time state football champion Artesia Bulldogs, has to be on ESPN's short list for TitleTown USA.
In Artesia, high school football is a right of passage for boys and a passion for the people that call "The City of Champions" home.
ESPNU and Sports Illustrated came to Artesia this past season, and I venture to say both organizations left our small town astonished at the level of success and tradition of our Bulldogs.
Artesia fight song
Onward Bulldogs, into the fight
We will back you with all our might
Fearless, peerless, hear us yell loud
You're just the kind of team to set off a crowd
Onward Bulldogs, into the game
You will win and you'll bring us fame
Fame and honor in every way
You'll be the heroes of the day
Artesia is literally painted Bulldog Orange on game days, and it's often hard to find a seat at AWAY games, and nearly impossible after 6:30 p.m. at the Bulldog Bowl (the nicest high school venue in New Mexico and comparable to the stadiums at UNM and NMSU).
Winning is not only expected in Artesia, it's basically demanded. As a former player, I can assure you that the last thing you want is to be one of the teams that comes up short of winning state. Losing a single game leaves an awful taste in the mouth of any Artesian.
Coach Cooper Henderson, a former player, has guided the Bulldogs to 11 of the school's 26 titles and is the winningest coach in New Mexico history.
In short, Artesia is the class of New Mexico football, the school all other teams love to hate. The Bulldogs get every team's best game, yet almost always come out on top.
ESPN would not be the first to call Artesia "TitleTown," AP reporter Pete Herrera already gave that moniker to our small town. If you want to get your list right, though, include Artesia.
The team runs through the legs of huge letter A and bursts though a sign made by the cheerleaders, then runs down to about the 50-yard-line and performs a dog pile. All this time [there are] fireworks exploding in the air, horns and sirens blowing from the press box, the band playing the fight song while the crowd claps and sings the words to the fight song.
[When] the players emerge from the pile they are surrounded by elementary school aged kids running in after, patting their heroes on the helmet or shoulder pads. It is truly a sight to see and should be considered one of the greatest traditions in any sport at any level.
On game day mornings the members of the football team go to the community elementary schools to read to or be read to by the young students. These young kids look up to the football players as if they were professionals.
Every time a football player walks through the threshold of the front door to the field house at Bulldog Bowl, "great to be a bulldog" is yelled.
Since the stadium setting is truly a bowl there are two ramps that slope down to the playing field from the field house, the visitors' ramp is called the losers' ramp out of fun, but try to get any football player, current or former, to put foot on it and good luck succeeding.
There are also traditions such as a quarterback dad program in which booster members "adopt" a player for the season. The main purpose of this group is to support the student athletes, letting the player know that someone else is very interested in their lives as much off the field as on it.
A street in front of Bulldog Bowl was renamed Bulldog Boulevard, going against its normal street numbering. On this street a spirit group called "paw prowlers" paints huge orange paw prints up and down the street before the start of the football season.
On Fridays, downtown turns the color orange. In the business district you can see players', coaches' and cheerleaders' posters on storefront windows, which are already painted in the school's orange and white.
In front of every business an orange Bulldog flag is displayed proudly. People on the sidewalks dressed in orange make their way to work. You can even spot a few office workers with their bright orange ties going off to their offices.
If that's not enough proof that this town loves its football, then maybe this will grab your attention. Multiple times the city of Artesia has cancelled Halloween because it falls on a Friday night during football season but no problem there the holiday is just moved to Nov. 1. ...
In this community being an Artesian and a Bulldog are one and the same. The color orange is a testament to competing with pride and honor, not only for the school but also for the town as a whole, with respect and sportsmanship being at the forefront of being a Bulldog.
To me there is no other place that is more deserving of the name "TitleTown" not for the fact that Artesia wins a lot of championships and owns an overcrowded trophy case, but because of how those championships were won.
We might not have the Yankees, the Packers or the Celtics, but we have our beloved Bulldogs and that's just fine with us. We wouldn't have it any other way.
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