Dillon Abeyta grew up playing with or against most of the familiar names that made the storybook runs of the Santa Fe High and Capital boys basketball programs the last few years.
Now the 2019 Santa Fe Prep graduate and University of New Mexico film student has teamed with his cousins who own and operate Sports Primo Streaming Network to make a documentary about them, namely those who turned Santa Fe High into one of the most feared and respected big-school teams in New Mexico.
Abeyta’s work chronicles the growth of Demons hoops the last four-plus years and provides an enthralling glimpse at the city’s love affair with the team’s success that culminated in 47 victories the last two seasons.
“Since I was at Prep I had kind of this bird’s-eye point of view of everything going on and watching them grow,” Abeyta said. “What really hit me, that there’s a story behind this was back when Santa Fe lost to Atrisco Heritage in the  state championship. Just experiencing that run and seeing what that team endured that year, it was very storybook-esque.”
The free, two-part Once Upon a Time ... in Santa Fe series premieres at 6 p.m. Saturday on YouTube via Sports Primo’s account. The one-hour episodes feature in-depth interviews, behind-the-scenes looks and a few never-revealed angles of a Demons program that has captured the state’s attention since head coach Zack Cole took over in 2016.
The series finale will be released Sept. 19.
If there’s a cast of characters, Abeyta said, the local community is certainly on there.
“One of the things that sets our teams apart are the fans,” he said. “I was right there watching it all with them.”
Much of the footage transitions from Santa Fe High to Capital, taking closed-door looks at the players and personalities that have elevated both programs to an elite level at the same time.
It also tugs on the heartstrings, taking a deep dive into the life and memory of recent Demons star Fedonta “JB” White. Regarded as one of the top players in school history, White was shot to death Aug. 1 just weeks before he was set to become part of the University of New Mexico’s basketball team.
“I wrote down two goals for this series, and one of them was to stay true to the story and the other was to impact and inspire the community,” Abeyta said.
Saturday’s premier opens with a look at White and how his role was such a prominent one in Santa Fe.
From there the documentary revisits the Demons’ memorable run to the Class 5A finals on March 16, 2019.
Capacity crowds followed the team as they energized the city and rolled past a pair of higher-seeded teams, ending with a 61-58 loss to Atrisco Heritage in The Pit.
Just as the ending to Rocky and Friday Night Lights revealed a higher meaning through loss, Abeyta hopes the same message is conveyed about Santa Fe High’s state runner-up finish.
The series finale deals more with Capital’s influence. The Jaguars have been one of the most consistent programs in the state under legendary head coach Ben Gomez, reaching the state finals six times since 2004. They made it to the 5A title game in March, losing to Las Cruces just two days after the New Mexico Activities Association decided to play the remainder of the tournament without fans.
Abeyta admits his biggest challenge was compiling footage that had already been shot without the luxury of going out and gathering new material in the pandemic. With many things shut down since the middle of the 2020 state basketball tournament, he built the series without a voiceover to bridge the gap between scenes.
Instead, he relied on in-depth interviews with players and coaches, as well as a carefully crafted series of songs and music to keep the story flowing.
“The music helps drive home the emotion and the overall feeling of it,” he said.
Abeyta’s cousins have built Sports Primo into a revered source for high school sports commentary and game action in recent years. Joe Abeyta founded the production company along with brother, Aaron Abeyta, and cousin, Amado Abeyta. The fact that this docuseries takes a different approach by letting the characters and music tell the story is what makes it a sure-fire hit, Joe Abeyta said.
“There’s no narration; you have probably seen everything in this already but you haven’t seen it in this context,” he said. “It’s a powerful thing to see.”