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New Mexico Games Kicks Off 2021

Retiring Hultberg thanks many for the help

by Albuquerque Journal/Rick Wright

Some people like surprises. Others don’t. Fred Hultberg liked this one. Hultberg, who retired last year after serving for three decades as executive director of the New Mexico Games, the state’s annual Olympic-style sports festival, was honored on Tuesday at the Games’ 2021 opening ceremonies at Balloon Fiesta Park.

“He’s a legend,” said Andres Trujillo, who has replaced Hultberg as executive director, of his predecessor. “He’s somebody that’s made a really huge, positive impact in our sports community in New Mexico.” Hultberg said he’d gotten a phone call on Monday, asking him only if he’d be able to attend a New Mexico Games board meeting. Sure,

he said, retired but happy to help. When he arrived at Balloon Fiesta Park on Tuesday, he discovered there was no board meeting. And that was OK.

"It was really neat,” Hultberg said. “… I mean, I had not a clue this was going on. They did a great job of keeping it secret from me.”

This is a transition year for the Games, and not just in passing the baton from Hultberg to Trujillo. After the 2020

Games were wiped out by the pandemic, the 2021 edition has been scaled down dramatically from the trove of sports and activities it normally has offered. Missing, first and foremost, is basketball – for years the Games’ signature and most popular event. Track and field, as well, will not be held, Trujillo said, in both cases because venues could not secured.

Typically, in previous years, the Games offered more than 20 sports. Over his 30 years as executive director, Hultberg said, a total of 48 sports have been sponsored. This year, Trujillo said, 10 are confirmed with possibly two more to come.

Two longstandng New Mexico Games traditions, though, both Hultberg legacies, endure. Though basketball has paid

the bills, with as many as 235 teams participating, Hultberg liked to include less mainstream sports like arm wrestling, darts, bocce, etc. Along those lines, registration currently is open for Ninja (July 2) and cornhole (July 24).

Most state Games essentially adhere to an Olympic-style format, scheduling all events within 18 to 21 days. Hultberg spread his events throughout the summer and well into the fall.

Accordingly, this year’s events began with swimming (completed last weekend) and are scheduled to end with archery in November.

Last year was to have been Hultberg’s last at the helm, and the Games’ pandemic-induced cancellation was painful at the time. Now, though, he said, “It was a good time for me to retire, a perfect time, with everything going down and the way things were.” Hultberg said he had a great many people to thank, beginning with longtime assistant Adrienne Palacio. He said the early assistance of Don Flanagan, former Eldorado girls and UNM women’s basketball coach, and Dan Salzwedel, former New Mexico Activities Association executive director, helped him make basketball the Games’ No. 1 attraction.

Without the faithfulness of longtime sponsors, he said – mentioning Larry and Dorothy Rainosek of Frontier Restaurant/Golden Pride and the late Nick LoBue of the Albuquerque Isotopes – the Games could not have endured.

A dedicated event commissioner, he said, and there were many, made his job easier.

Trujillo said Hultberg is making his job easier, as well, by being available when his experience and expertise is needed. “Fred has been an amazing asset,” he said, “to give some tips and tricks on how to get things done. … He’s been a great resource.”