By Dave Wagner
FORT SUMNER — Longtime Fort Sumner girls basketball and girls track coach Rafael Roybal will not be returning to the Vixens’ sidelines next season.
Roybal’s coaching contract was not renewed by the school district. A Fort Sumner native and graduate of the high school, Roybal has coached in the district for the past 29 years.
He said things have been building for some time with the Fort Sumner administration. “We’ve been having trouble for about four years,” he said.
“I have no idea what to do,” he said. “They won’t give us any answers (in explaining the move). It’s a tough deal. I’ve put 29 years in, and it’s not like I haven’t worked at it.”
Roybal, 54, has been the Vixens’ track coach for the past 27 years. He’s had two stints as the girls basketball coach in that time, interrupted by a three-year run as boys coach (1998-2001).
“I just wanted to change direction,” Fort Sumner school superintendent Lecil Richards said Thursday night. “That’s all I can say right now.”
Richards declined further comment on the matter.
Fort Sumner has hired Tucumcari coach Brian Fortner to coach its girls basketball program.
Fortner’s twin daughters, Sandy and Kelly, were mainstays on last year’s Class 2A state-qualifying Lady Rattlers squad will be juniors when school starts in the fall. They were also key components in the school’s back-to-back 2A state track championships.
Richards said that while Fortner will coach the basketball program, a decision had not been made on girls track. “We’ll probably go with (junior high girls track coach) Cris Dimitroff,” Richards said.
Fortner said his decision to leave Tucumcari was not an easy one.
Fortner said Fort Sumner initially offered him the chance to coach boys basketball team before the girls position came open. Initially, he turned that down, but said a chance for his wife Mary — a home economics teacher at Tucumcari who was diagnosed with cancer last year — to be the school’s gifted coordinator tipped the scales.
“It’s a strictly family decision,” he said. “We weren’t looking for a job,” he said. “They came hunting for us.”
Fortner said the move will lighten her load as well as bringing the family closer to the Clovis hospital where she receives treatment. “If I’d turned it down, I would have regretted it in a few years,” he said.
“We’re leaving with nothing but good memories and good thoughts,” Fortner said. “It’ll be difficult with all the fun we’ve had. The support and prayers for the family have been unreal.”
At this point, Roybal said he anticipates being in the district next year as an elementary physical education teacher.
If he moves, Roybal said he would like to stay in the general area because of family considerations.
“Right now we haven’t made any decisions on what we want to do,” he said.
Dave Gragg of Freedom Newspapers contributed to this report.