Rep. Ben Luján (D-Nambé) has represented District 46 for the last 37 years and will retire from politics and step down as New Mexico’s Speaker of the House — a position he’s held since 2001 — after disclosing he has Stage 4 lung cancer.
One thing we didn’t know about the 75-year-old Speaker is that back in the day, he was a basketball standout at Pojoaque High School.
We didn’t know that until one of the Speaker’s colleagues in the House, Rep. Jim Trujillo (D-Santa Fe) wrote an editorial that was picked up in a couple newspapers across the state:
As a young boy growing up in the Pojoaque Valley, I was awestruck by the talent of a basketball player by the name of Ben Luján. He was a fierce competitor, a leader on the court and a true sportsman.
So Capitol Report New Mexico talked to Speaker Luján, who told us about his tenure with the Pojoaque Valley Elks varsity squad from 1953-55. Here are a few pictures from yester-year:
Young Ben Luján played forward and point guard during his high school career. He played at St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe on the freshman team before attending Pojoaque. Speaker Luján told Capitol Report New Mexico he loved playing basketball from his earliest years, starting when he attended Nambé Elementary School. The Nambé Eagles had a fight song that copied that of Notre Dame’s and young Ben became a fan of the Fighting Irish.
Luján said his favorite memory from his high school career was back in 1953, when the underdog Elks pulled off a big 55-49 upset over heavily-favored Santa Fe High. “It was a big win for us,” Speaker Luján recalled. “We didn’t even have a gym.”
Here’s a framed copy of the New Mexican’s account of the game played at old Seth Hall on the SFHS campus:
These days at the Roundhouse, the Speaker is always impeccably dressed. Apparently, he was the same way in high school as he was named best-dressed by his fellow students:
We’d like to thank the Speaker’s wife, Carmen, for bringing in a couple yearbooks so we could snap these photos. We asked Mrs. Luján if Ben was an all-star during his high school hoops career. “I don’t know,” she said. “But he was my star.”