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Bridgforth returning to his Wildcat roots

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Peter Stein/News-Sun

Chief Bridgforth admits his wardrobe is a bit out of date. Not enough blue and white.

Bridgforth – a Lovington native, Loving-ton High graduate and former Lovington boys basketball coach – is returning to his roots, leaving his position as Denver City High’s athletic director to assume the role of Lovington girls head basketball coach.

Bridgforth will also teach government economics at Lovington High.

“I’m going back to where I started,” Bridgforth said, “teaching and coaching (at Lovington). And I’m as happy as I can be.”

Bridgforth grew up in Lovington, his parents graduated from Lovington High School, and the Lovington High gym has been like a second home to him. As a child, Bridgforth shot baskets in that gym, as a teenager he played varsity basketball in it, and over the next four decades he coached in it. And now returning to coach there again, Bridgforth notes that he has utilized the gym in seven different decades – the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, 2010s, and the 2020s.

So for Lovington High athletic director Robert Arreola, who played under Bridgforth on the Wildcats freshman boys basketball team, his former coach was the ideal choice to be the new Lovington girls coach.

“Oh, definitely,” Arreola said. “He was the perfect fit for us. I’ve known him since I was in junior high.”

Most of Bridgforth’s life has been immersed in Lovington, Lea County and New Mexico overall. He graduated from Lovington High in 1976, and went on to play for New Mexico Junior College before finishing his four-year degree at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.

Bridgforth began his teaching career working at Lovington Junior High, while coaching the freshman boys team. He was an assistant to legendary Wildcats varsity boys coach Art Karger, who passed away recently, and learned a lot from that experience.

“He let me be involved, and he helped me for seven years,” Bridgforth said. “He was a good mentor.”

Bridgforth stepped up to become Lovington’s boys head varsity basketball coach in 1989, and coached the Wildcats until 2000. During that 11 years, he established a record for coaching victories while taking the ‘Cats far in the playoffs, including a championship-game loss to St. Mike’s of Santa Fe in 1999.

In 2000, Bridgforth moved into administration, becoming Lovington High’s assistant principal and eventually athletic director. He filled both positions for a while, until stepping away from the assistant principal role and focusing on being athletic director. In December 2014 he retired from Lovington.

But as it turned out, Bridgforth’s days of mentoring young student-athletes was far from over. Denver City girls head basketball coach Kody Brown wanted to hire Bridgforth as an assistant for the 2015-16 season. Bridgforth was open to the idea, as long as he could keep it light, assist Brown while taking on a physical education job. And just like that, Bridgforth was back on a basketball bench, this time alongside Brown.

“He just wanted an old guy with experience,” Bridgforth said. “And I enjoyed it, just being his assistant. … So it was a good gig.”

But, Bridgforth eventually found himself with much more responsibility. In the summer of 2017, he accepted the position of Denver City High’s athletic director. Before the 2017-18 basketball season, Brown left and Bridgforth took over as the head girls coach. A light gig in 2015 evolved into two integral roles for Bridgforth at Denver City.

“Yeah, in two years,” Bridgforth said. “Never dreamed it.”

In only his first year as the Fillies head coach, Bridgforth guided them to a 30-7 record and the state final four. During his time at Denver City High, which he put in while commuting from his home base in Lovington, Bridgforth helped out with Denver City’s track & field team, and his coaching helped then-senior Lexi Ivey win a state high jump championship in Austin last year, just before she signed to be a high jumper for Texas Tech.

Bridgforth coached the Denver City girls basketball team for four seasons before stepping away last year to focus on his athletic director duties. He hired his girls basketball assistant, 2007 Denver City graduate Randi Demel, as his head-coaching replacement.

As the 2021-22 school year was winding down, Bridgforth thought he might be nearing the end of a 40-year career in education.

“In the spring I was thinking about totally retiring,” he said, “finally going to fish and play golf, definitely looking more at the slowing down part of it.”

But Arreola, his former player, offered him the Lovington girls basketball job. And Bridgforth couldn’t resist.

“I thought, ‘Golly, I literally live two minutes from the gym here in Loving-ton,’” Bridgforth said.

He inherits a very young team that did not win a District 4-4A game last winter, and will have 5A teams Clovis and Carlsbad on its non-district schedule this coming season. But, Arreola thinks he couldn’t have found a better person for the challenge.

“He’s the guy that’s going to bring them along,” Arreola said. “It’s a process, but he’s willing to put in the time. They’re not going to worry if the gym is open. He’s a gym rat, he’s going to be there.”

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