This isn’t your dad’s beer-league softball team, and it certainly isn’t Hawaiian shirt night at the bowling alley.
For nearly a quarter century, a group of men from the Santa Fe area have built the tradition that is Sting football. It’s full contact, regulation football, the kind (sort of) we all pay to watch under Friday night lights and in the country’s Sunday cathedrals dedicated to the NFL.
“It is,” as Anthony Segura puts it, “the exact same kind of football most guys fell in love with as kids and never really let go of as adults.”
At 25, Segura is the starting quarterback of the Sting, a semipro team that was founded by local law enforcement officers (his father, Nathan, among them) in 1996.
Back then it was part of the annual Fire and Ice Bowl that pitted law enforcement officials against firefighters, a charity event played at Ivan Head Stadium to raise money for a good cause.
By 1999, the bowl game was gone and the team originally comprised of law enforcement members became known as the Sting and opened its roster to anyone. The club joined a statewide league of semipro teams ranging from Las Cruces to Las Vegas, N.M., and played a nonleague game or two out of state.
For a brief time, the all-cops roster included a stretch where a local judge gave low-level offenders the chance to burn off some community service by playing with the team.
One of the Sting’s founding members is Jerry Archuleta, a former police officer who now serves as head coach and co-owner with Segura. Now an attorney, the 49-year-old Archuleta knows more about the Sting’s history than just about anyone.
By his count, more than 900 players have been part of the team’s roster since Day One — including some who once stood on the opposite side of him in court all those years ago.
“You’d have guys wearing ankle bracelets hanging around on a field with a bunch of cops,” Archuleta says with a laugh. “That interaction, I think, changed the dynamics of those people for the better. It kept a lot of them from getting in trouble, and it showed they could live a life that didn’t always involve landing in jail.”
Those days are gone now, but the memories and the team’s long history are part of the charm of Santa Fe Sting football. The team usually carries a roster of about 25 to 30 players, most of whom are in their early 20s. Some, like Archuleta, played well into their 40s and one, linebacker Michael Mora, played until he was 51.
Mora just hung it up for good after last season, playing for the same reasons most guys half his age do. He loved the game and he says it was a form of therapy to deal with the day-to-day grind of work, life and everything in between.
There have been years where the Sting have been ranked nationally in their small-roster division and others where they’ve lingered toward the bottom of whatever alphabet-soup league they happened to belong to at the time. There’s names like the New Mexico Independent Football League, the Rio Grande Football League, Far West Football Alliance, etc. There have been rival Santa Fe teams like the Warriors and Venom, but all have faded or folded.
The Sting are classified as an independent entity this season, playing a schedule of at least 10 games mostly in the spring. Some contests are played in true football weather, ssuch as snow and slop, while others are played in the bone-dry heat of summer.
They do have a July 27 game in Douglas, Ariz., as well as home games on consecutive weekends against a team from Denver on Aug. 3 and a rematch one week later with the Commandos of Douglas.
Making ends meet is the team’s biggest challenge. Archuleta says it costs about $10,000 a year to operate the team. Most of the money goes to game-day operations since the Sting must rent fields from schools, pay referees and cover league fees.
He says the cost of renting facilities like those at Capital and Santa Fe High, or even middle schools like Nina Otero, can range from $55 to $300 an hour, meaning a typical home game can cost $1,500 or more. Players cover nearly all the expenses through annual dues that pay for equipment and uniforms.
No matter how you slice it, it’s not a cheap endeavor.
Buying helmets and uniforms puts a strain on just about everyone. Sponsorships help, as do the occasional fundraisers, such as one scheduled from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Walmart Supercenter.
“That’s why you have to love this game. You have to love being here,” Segura says. “If you don’t, none of that will sound good to you.”
While the Sting has had their up and downs, the one constant is the attraction the players have for wearing pads and playing a sport that typically ends for most once they graduate high school. Some, like Santa Fe’s Ray Gomez, had trouble even catching a ball when he came to his first practice.
“Now he’s one of the best receivers we’ve ever had,” Archuleta says. “If a guy comes out here willing to put in the work, it’s just like anyone else — he’ll get better if he wants to be here.”
“So many sports give you that chance to keep playing after high school, but football, once it’s done, you’re usually just left as a fan,” Segura says. “Some of these players who play with us never even tried the game growing up. This is their first time. The rest of us, it’s like we never lost that itch, you know?”
A former standout running back at Capital less than a decade ago, Segura transitioned to quarterback at the behest of Archuleta this past spring. With a roster that’s not that much smaller than the average high school team, it means anyone wearing a team uniform will likely be asked to play on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
It’s iron man football in some ways.
“I guess you could play softball and go back to work the next day and feel good about it, but doing this — you walk around feeling it for two or three days and have a smile on your face the whole time,” Archuleta says.
What: Semipro Santa Fe Sting football team
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Outside Walmart Supercenter, 5701 Herrera Drive