Q&A: Educator speaks of family, days at Forrest High School

Compiled by Ben Moffett

Editor’s note: Oran T. Caton of Bosque Farms was born on Aug. 24, 1916. He is a lifelong educator and coach, and the last surviving member of Forrest High School’s state champion basketball team of 1933.
This is the second part of a three-part series. The third part will appear in Wednesday’s issue.

Q: What did basketballs look like then? Did they have laces?
Caton: They had laces and outside stitching, so the seams stuck up a little above the ball. There was a stem with a valve inside the laces so when you wanted to air it up, you had to unlace it and air up the bladder like you would a car tube, then re-lace it. At some point the basketball they used in games were built without laces and outside stitches, but we practiced with the old laced ones.

Q: So Forrest got the consolidated school and a gymnasium — in fact a second gym was built some years later. Forrest went on to win two state titles in three years (1931-33) when every school played in one division regardless of enrollment, and Forrest made 16 state tournament appearances from 1928 until 1954, according to the New Mexico Activities Association. That’s quite a record. When was the first gym built that started all this?
Caton: The school and the gym were built in 1928. It was a little gym, inside the school, about half the size of a regular gym, with a stage at the end.
Q: It sounds like you could shoot from beyond half court?
Caton: (smiling) Well, the ceiling wasn’t high enough to shoot from too far. The out-of-bounds was right against the wall. Bill Stockton used to jump against the wall to get extra height or position for a shot or rebound.

Q: Who was your very successful coach?
Caton: My coach was Bill Wilson. He came in from Archer City, Texas, got to be superintendent and then went into the sheep business. He was there three years and won those two state championships. Then he moved to a place on the highway between Rowe and Pecos, leased some forest land, ran some sheep and cattle back in the mountains, and started a summer camp for boys. I think we were good in those days mostly because we had some big old 18- and 19-year-old boys who were strong.

Q: And you played all sports for Forrest?
Caton: My first year was at Quay (High School). They had an outside basketball court. They didn’t have a gym. I just went there one year, staying with my brother, John, and he was living in that school district. Julian and Barnie both graduated from Grady and Lewis went there one year. I was there during the 1930-31 school year. John … didn’t care much about school. (He) had a little farm there and drove a school bus route — well, a car route — just picking up a few kids, bringing them in to Quay.
When I got back to Forrest I played quarterback and end in football. We had enough players for 11-man football. My junior year, we had a good football team. We played Clovis and we were the only team who scored against them that year. We had the Stockton boys (Bill Stockton was later basketball coach at the University of New Mexico, 1955-58) and my brother Pearl and Harold Miller, all big boys, 160 (pounds) to 190 or 200.

Q: I know your family is so big, we’ll confuse readers if we don’t list your siblings in some kind of order. We know your dad was Lemuel and your mother Consuelo Gilmore-Caton. Can you give me your siblings in order by age?
Caton: Lon was the oldest. He was 22 years older than me and I was the youngest, born in 1916, which means he was born in about 1894, or something like that. John was next. Willie was next. Willie died in 1920 during the flu epidemic when he was at New Mexico Normal (now Highlands University). Emma was next. She got married at 16, about the time I was born. Then came Barnie, Julian and Lewis. Then James — we called him Pearl — and he was about a year ahead of me in school. I was number nine.
We also had a foster sister, not much younger than my mom. Her name was Dora Franks. My parents took her in when her parents were killed in Oklahoma. Their horses got scared and ran away and they wrecked their wagon. Another family took her brother in. Dora married Arch McDonald, and lived there for years. She was old enough that she homesteaded land adjacent to my dad’s after a year or two.

Q: And while we’re at it, let’s get the college pedigree of your siblings. I know Highlands, or New Mexico Normal, as it was then called, was your college of choice.
Caton: From 1916 until 1950 there was always a Caton enrolled at Highlands University. Lon went to Highlands for awhile, he and his wife, Bertha. Lon and Bertha both taught for awhile at Plain and Amistad, and wound up owning a hotel in Earth, Texas. Barnie and his wife, Norene, both went there, and Barnie later coached at Porter and Quay. Julian and his wife, Francis, both went to Highlands. Julian coached at Bellview and at Blacktower outside Clovis. He got a master’s degree in education from the University of New Mexico, and finally became school superintendent at Eunice. Barnie also got a master’s degree and became superintendent of schools in Alamogordo. Pearl and his wife, Bobbi, went to Highlands. Pearl coached at Carrizozo and Alamogordo, and then went into the service. They all got degrees except for Lon, Bertha, and my wife, Ginger. I went back and got my master’s degree in education from Highlands in 1949 after dropping out, coaching for awhile, and working in California.

Q: And most of them played basketball? Pearl was especially good, I’m told.
Caton: Pearl was a good player if I do say so. He was good at Forrest and good at Highlands. We both played four years for Highlands. He got out a year ahead of me. Pearl had an offer to play pro, but he didn’t go. He was 6-1, 185, 190 pounds. I was 5-8.
Barnie and Julian graduated from high school at Grady. Julian was 10 years older than me and Barnie 12, and there was no school at Forrest then. Julian was born in 1906. Lewis played in high school. He was in the first graduating class at Forrest High School. Barnie was back there teaching before I left. Willie passed away in 1920, while he was attending school in Las Vegas. He went to Plain and to high school in Las Vegas. Why he went there in high school, I don’t know. Lon didn’t play at Highlands. He was a good baseball player though.

Ben Moffett began following basketball on the radio and in the Albuquerque Journal in the mid-1940s while playing for San Antonio in a Socorro County grade school league. He began writing sports in 1956, while a student at Albuquerque High.