Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer 

Senior year tale of wins, tragedy, heart


This weekend's commencement ceremonies at area high schools will mark the end and beginning of chapters in the lives of local seniors.

But for Joseph Benavidez, it will be the final milestone in what has been a tumultuous senior year.

Benavidez, a senior at San Jon High School, said he started his final year with goals, expectations and desires.

"It was the last chance I would have as a Coyote to win a state football championship," Benavidez said, adding that a state football championship was an achievement he and his fellow teammates had been pursuing since junior high.

The Coyotes had appeared in the six-man state football tournament every year since 2011. The San Jon Coyotes co-opted with the Grady high school for six-man football in 2012.

Following the co-op, the Coyotes improved, but after loosing one quarterfinal and three semi-final games, the prize seemed just out of reach. In the 2015 six-man state semi-finals, the Coyotes (7-1, 4-0) lost their sole game of the season to the Floyd Broncos (5-4, 2-2) - a team they had beaten 60-32 two weeks prior.

"We were undefeated; we were supposed to win that game, move on and win state," Benavidez said.

Benavidez said the support of family, friends and the community helped keep the team motivated. He said his family was always at his games. His sister, Lindsey Benavidez, would be sure to talk or text him after every game to tell him he had done good.

The Coyotes would once again qualified for the 2016 six-man football tournament where in the semi-finals, two-seed San Jon beat three-seed Vaughn 26-20 to move on to the championship. The Coyotes had earned their shot at the title, and as an added bonus, the seven-seed Lake Arthur upset of top ranked Animas and San Jon would host the championship game.

San Jon won 47-46 on Nov. 12, earning the first state football title in school history.

"The previous year's loss had humbled us, making our championship win even more enjoyable," Benavidez said.

Benavidez celebrated the win, hoisting the blue state champions six-man football trophy along with his teammates, in front of their families and hometown crowd.

Benavidez' year was off to good start. A fall football championship, followed by an equally strong winter basketball season, had the Coyotes second in District 4-1A standings and a sure thing in for the state tournament. Despite closing out the regular season with a 66-59 district tournament championship loss on Feb. 25 at Melrose, things seemed to be right on track for Benavidez.

However, Benavidez and his family's world would forever change one day later.

Lindsey, his sister, was killed in a vehicle accident in Littlefield, Texas.

"It's hard to talk about it," Benavidez said. "We (family) have all been each other's support system through this tragedy."

In the following weeks, the family grieved and made preparations; they laid Lindsey to rest on March 2 in Tucumcari.

For the family, the world had come to a halt, but outside their circle, events continued to unfold. The nine-seed Coyotes were set to host the first state tournament game on March 4 against Coronado.

"I tried to stay busy to keep my mind off all that was going on," Benavidez said. "I had to be strong, no matter how low life seemed. I had to keep pushing forward; that is what my sister would have said."

Benavidez said he had hit rock bottom, and the only way out was to climb back up. He said he knew his sister was watching over him, so he had to be strong.

Benavidez played in the first round game in which the Coyotes beat Coronado 68-60 and advanced to the next round to play top ranked Quemado.

In the quarterfinals, the nine-seed Coyotes rallied late in the game, with Benavidez blocking three shots in the final minutes - shots that would have given the Quemado Eagles the lead.

Ultimately, the Coyotes would fall short, 63-62, ending season.

"We were supposed to lose that game; no one had expected us to play them that close," Benavidez said. "Even though we lost, we can hold our heads high."

Benavidez said he continued to keep busy, focusing on his studies and track and field. Tragedy would once again enter his world a month later when his half brother died in a miscarriage.

In a short time, Benavidez and his family had suffered the loss of two loved ones. He said if not for his family, friends and his sister's spirit, he could have very easily let the negativity win.

Instead, Benavidez pushed on, focusing his energy on competing in track events. He qualified and competed in the 1A state track and field event on May 6 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Benavidez won three individual state championships in the 100 meter run, long jump and triple jump. He would also break and set the state record in all three events.

"I was nervous before I competed in my final race at state," Benavidez said. "I had been competing against a runner from Melrose throughout the season."

Benavidez said as he took his mark at the starting line, it felt like his sister was there with him, and he had to give it everything.

After the race, Benavidez awaited the results, and when they announced he had won, he said he collapsed in the infield.

"My sister was with me; she is with me always, watching over me," Benavidez said.


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