By Eric Butler: QCS correspondent
House mother April Lee was a little concerned when her teenage daughter told the family she wanted to live in Albuquerque after graduating high school.
But Lee was also supportive in daughter Haily’s decision to jump straight from a graduating class of nine people into a school with over 20,000 students.
She’s been jumping — literally jumping — ever since for the University of New Mexico Lobos. In her first college track meet, an “all-comers” indoor event at the Albuquerque Convention Center, Lee took part in five different events and finished second in the long jump with a leap of 16-feet, 4-inches.
Though official uniforms haven’t yet been issued to members of the UNM track team, Lee — like several other athletes — had outfitted themselves in Lobo gear for the competition.
“She’s proud of it,” said April Lee while watching her daughter, who was clad in a New Mexico cherry red shirt. “Their official ones, they haven’t got yet. So the coaches told them to wear whatever they had.”
Haily Lee said she hasn’t had a difficult transition in moving from her isolated hometown to the state’s largest city. In fact, the soft-spoken athlete has adjusted well enough to pull in straight As in her first semester.
Even so, she said she’s often had to explain to fellow students just where in the world she’s from.
“After having to explain that it’s House, not Taos, then they ask me where it is,” she said. “Nobody would understand, so I don’t even try.”
While at House, Lee competed in all sports — like most of the other girls at her tiny school. But it was in track that Lee excelled.
As a junior, she pulled in the high-point individual honors at the Class 1A state track meet. That kind of performance tantalized Haily into thinking she might be able to compete on a bigger stage after high school.
“I’m glad she did,” said UNM track coach Matt Henry while at last Saturday’s meet. “We’re really happy to have her with us.”
“They seem really nice — they’re like second parents up here for us. It makes you feel good about sending them up here,” said April Lee, whose two other daughters — Lindsy and Sara — are still at House High. “She likes the school and classes. Why more kids aren’t encouraged to go to UNM is surprising to me.”
Of course, being an outstanding student has made the transition a little easier for Haily.
“I remember she was so proud once. She told me about one class that, ‘Out of 900 kids, the professor knew my name,’” April Lee recalled.
On Saturday, she was busy learning the ropes of an actual college track competition. And her first one provided a new experience — something Haily’s not short of these days.
“It’s my first indoor track meet. It makes you feel intimidated,” said Lee, while glancing up at the ceiling of the downtown convention center. “But it’s a good experience, running against good athletes. I know where I’ve started this year is already higher than where I finished last year.”