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Lobomania exhibit documents UNM sports history

The University of New Mexico has a rich history of participation in college athletics, and now this story has been chronicled in an exhibit entitled “LOBOMANIA! UNM Sports through the Years”, which will be on display until March 31 of next year in the Frank Waters Room of Zimmerman Library. Pictures and sports memorabilia from the archives at UNM’s Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections have been painstakingly assembled by a team of staff and students lead by University archivist Portia Vescio.

In an interview Vescio said, “As the University Archivist my job is to research and work with the university’s historical records. I always knew I was going to do something about UNM sports history.”

Vescio went on to say, “I really wanted to show the evolution of sports history [at UNM] from this program where you have one building and you have to put equipment outside because it is too small…It has had its ups and downs and good and bad things have happened…”

Indeed, the introductory placard for the Lobomania exhibit acknowledged this fact, stating, “The road to success was rocky at times. Scandal, violations, and mismanagement have been persistent reminders that winning is sometimes more important that sportsmanship”.

Vescio noted that there is so much information in the archives, however, that it is not possible to present all of those stories given the limited space. For example, she said that Lobogate, an infamous sports scandal in 1979 in which UNM basketball coach Norman Ellenberger was found to have violated numerous NCAA rules, was originally going to have its own case. However, she said that “it’s a lot of documents and it didn’t work out” to try to display all of that.

For those who are really into history, though, she pointed out that all of these materials are available to the general public and that anyone can come in and request to see these documents.

Associate Professor of History Ryan Swanson in UNM’s Honors College specializes in studying sports history, and said that he has had an opportunity to look at the Lobomania exhibit several times now.

“I was reminded again of how many records sports produce,” Swanson said. “As far back as over 100 years ago people realized that this stuff meant something to somebody. Sports matters on that level even though it’s a game and somebody wins and somebody loses. So I thought that was a useful part of the display.”

He went on to say, “I think it was a fun display and I really enjoyed seeing the artifacts.” He said that he was not troubled by the lack of inclusion of Lobogate in the display, commenting that, “Here in New Mexico, Lobogate stands out as a stain on the program, but nationally speaking it is very indicative of the types of scandals that happen in college athletics”.

Swanson said that he personally would have, “preferred something which took a little more analytical approach to how UNM has evolved in its sports relationships”, noting that, “the experience for minority athletes at UNM has changed dramatically over the years”. However, overall he felt that a lot of UNM’s sports history was addressed in the exhibit.

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Graduate student Shruthi Nadig was one of the many student found admiring the display. She said that although she was not that much of an expert on sports, she found the display to be interesting.

“I like the different badges, and logos and pictures. It shows there is history to the UNM sports community”, Nadig said.

Vescio said there is not a formal mechanism for her to get feedback on the display, but she has received many personal comments and that those have been largely positive, especially from alumni athletes. She also said that the Albuquerque Historical Society has expressed interest in the exhibit and hosting panel discussions about the many topics that it raises.

“Overall the program has helped a lot of people and this can be really a source of pride for UNM," Vescio said.

Aaron Cowan is a volunteer sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers volleyball and men's and women's golf. He can be reached at or on Twitter @AaronTCowan

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