Ever heard of Stephen Wohltman?
Neither had the members of the Valencia High School boys’ basketball team.
But they know “Superfan.”
As Valencia’s squad sat in the corner of a Los Lunas gymnasium, preparing to watch a late-December holiday tournament game between Santa Fe High and Phoenix (Ariz.) Central, a player asked his teammates, “Where’s Superfan?”
“Nah, he’s not here,” someone replied.
“Did you hear him last night?” another said. “Every time that one guy [Santa Fe High guard Antonio Lovato] went to the line, he was saying, ‘That’s all-district right there!’ ”
The group chuckled and the conversation moved along, but Superfan had made his mark yet again.
Passionate, loyal and loud, Wohltman may be the most recognizable Santa Fe High Demon in the state. And that’s a pretty interesting twist of fate, given that he’s 55, isn’t related to any of the players, and has no ties to the Santa Fe High community other than living in town for most of the past 18 years.
But go to Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium — or just about any gym around the state where the Demons have played — and people know about Superfan.
“I’ll get kids coming up to me, and they’re Santa Fe High kids or they’re graduates, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, Superfan, it’s great to see you!’ ” said Wohltman, who says he’s retired. “ ‘We think you’re great!’ ”
He’s made friends in basketball-mad Hobbs. He’s had a group of Albuquerque Sandia Prep junior varsity players thank him for his “positivity and enthusiasm.” Some opposing coaches, generally a wary lot, have gone out of their way to meet him.
Others, however, have complained to Santa Fe High administrators about Wohltman’s enthusiastic cheering, believing he is mocking and demeaning their teams.
Santa Fe Public Schools athletic director Larry Chavez said he had to clarify for some coaches that Wohltman is not cheering against Demons opponents; he’s merely supporting Santa Fe in the best way he knows how — with a booming voice that can rise above the din of cheering fans when the gym is frenetic, or startle inattentive spectators in the quietest of moments.
“It’s because he’s loud,” Chavez said. “It’s not anything that I ever concern myself about.”
Wohltman said cheering against Santa Fe’s rivals is not his style, adding the only time he came close to being thrown out of a gym was when an official warned him about his methods during a game at Albuquerque Manzano.
“I was being sarcastic and applauding the referee — ‘Way to go, man! You got three in a row right!’ ” Wohltman recalled with a grin. “He was like, ‘Knock it off!’ And that was the end of that.”
Superfan said he keeps his cheering on the positive side.
“For me, the majority of basketball is energy,” Wohltman said. “And if you can supply the kids with energy, they’re gonna play with energy.”
It’s why Wohltman takes the time to remember players’ names, sometimes going out of his way to greet them. Santa Fe High head coach Zack Cole said Wohltman occasionally shows up to the locker room before games and give players a newspaper article to help motivate and inspire them.
While Cole loves Wohltman’s energy, it occasionally collides with his coaching style.
“I’ll come down hard on a kid because of a mental mistake they made and let them know what they did wrong,” Cole said. “And he’s in the background saying, ‘It’s OK.’ In the back of my mind, I want to say, ‘It’s not OK! We can’t turn over the ball!’
“But he’s so positive and we love having that positive vibe around us and supporting us.”
And Wohltman considers it his job to be the the best cheerleader he can be for the program, which is enjoying its best season since the 1979-80 squad went 25-4. Santa Fe High is 21-7 and is seeded fifth in the Class 5A boys’ state tournament. The Demons will host Albuquerque Manzano on Saturday.
“I admire the drive and the passion that he has in cheering on a team,” said Santa Fe High parent Ryan Cordova, who also is the head men’s basketball coach at Northern New Mexico College. “It doesn’t matter who he’s cheering for, he’s always trying to bring some positive reinforcement.”
Still, the question remains, one asked by hoops fans near and far: Just who is this guy?
Moving around, finding a home
It’s a good question, and one Wohltman doesn’t mind addressing.
He said he had a home growing up — the road. It seemed that every year or so, his mother, Rebekah West, took the family to a new location. Wohltman remembers living in St. Louis, Aspen, Colo., and Durango, Colo., as well as several places in Southern California. He said his childhood mimicked his mother’s.
“Mom did to me and my sister what happened to her,” Wohltman said. “She went to 12 schools in 12 years. My mom grew up in California, Arizona, in Spain and Italy. She went to the University of Madrid and she went to the Sorbonne in Paris.
“So my mom had a transient lifestyle growing up as a teenager. For her, it was normal to move her kids around a lot.”
The most stable time in Wohltman’s life came in the mid-1970s, after West married Jim Henderson, a television script writer. Wohltman said the family lived in tony places in California like Malibu, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, and Henderson made a lasting impression on his stepson through basketball.
Henderson took Wohltman to see UCLA when the Bruins were a dominant force in men’s college basketball and to watch the Los Angeles Lakers, who had stars like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich.
“As a kid, you don’t forget that, that your stepfather is doing this for you,” Wohltman said.
When Henderson died in the late-1970s, Wohltman moved to Aspen and Durango before completing high school in St. Louis.
“My last four years, I went to four high schools,” Wohltman said.
After graduating from Drury University in Springfield, Mo., Wohltman fell into a familiar pattern — returning to Los Angeles before moving to Phoenix and Fort Worth, Texas, then Santa Fe in 2001. He worked construction, did carpentry, and drove limousines and shuttle buses for a spell.
But Wohltman believes his Superfan persona began in Arkansas. He said he moved to Arkansas to take a temporary carpentry job in 2003 when he drove past Lead Hill High School and saw a boys’ basketball game was about to start.
He asked one of the players how good the team was.
The response: “Four and five.”
“For the first quarter, I sat on my hands and didn’t say anything,” Wohltman said. “And I couldn’t believe how good this team was that I was watching, but nobody was rooting for the team. I was surprised by that.”
That changed by the second quarter. Wohltman yelled and cheered the rest of the game, and didn’t stop for the next two seasons. He said Lead Hill went 17-3 the rest of the season and came within a point of reaching the Arkansas state tournament.
Lead Hill fans and parents dubbed him “Superfan,” and Wohltman still wears a Lead Hill polo shirt with “No. 1 fan” emblazoned on it.
When his carpentry job ended in 2005, Wohltman returned to Santa Fe, but he didn’t get the itch to find a team until 2008. His reason for choosing Santa Fe High, a program that has struggled since winning a state title in 1978, was simple.
“I told myself, ‘If I’m gonna do this and continue this as my hobby, I want to choose a school that is the flagship school for the whole state,’ ” Wohltman said. “And I want to support a school that has a huge fan base.”
Wohltman said many Santa Fe High parents and supporters have asked him to make appearances at other athletic events, but he has only gone to boys soccer games — in part because it is the other sport he loves. He started appearing at Northern New Mexico games over the last two years at the behest of Cordova, and he quickly picked up a following with the Eagles, too.
Wohltman even donated $100 to the Northern New Mexico program over the summer.
“I didn’t ask him for it,” Cordova said. “I’ll tell you, there are a lot of really wealthy people who are my friends and [have] known me for years, and they’ve never offered me $100. They’ve never offered $5. The fact that this guy came in and offered to help, that’s fantastic.”
Not that Wohltman hasn’t received his own gifts in kind. The boys basketball program has honored him at Senior Night and Parents Night, giving him basketballs and T-shirts autographed by the team. When David Rodriguez coached Santa Fe High from 2011-16, Wohltman had a place on the team’s “Wall of Fame.”
Wohltman even has all-access passes for both Santa Fe High and Capital events. It’s not unheard of for random parents and fellow fans to buy him coffee or dinner around town.
“Ninety-nine percent of my interaction with people in Santa Fe has been wonderful,” Wohltman said.
Then, however, there are those who like to give Wohltman a hard time. He can’t count the number of times he’s had people pull up next to him in traffic and tell him what they think.
“They’ll look at me and say, ‘Are you Superfan?’ ” Wohltman said. “And I’ll say, ‘Yeah,’ and they say, ‘Well, we think you suck!’ And then they’ll peel away. And I see the EVHS [bumper sticker] with the flames coming off it, or it’ll be a claw, and I know it’s a Capital fan.”
Now, opposing fans from around the city and in the North have a name to go with the face.
But Superfan is a lot more fun to say than Stephen Wohltman.