Cager to Reveal How the 1966 Miners ‘really won’


by Ray Sanchez  



Willie Cager is writing a book.
He says he was not happy with the movie “Glory Road” and wants to tell “how the Texas Western College Miners really won the NCAA basketball championship in 1966.”
The book is well underway, will consist of 14 chapters and he is looking for a publisher.
Cager, of course, was one of seven black players Miners coach Don Haskins used to beat all-white University of Kentucky, 72-65.

CAGER HAS become sort of a legend in El Paso.
He grew up in New York City but, he said, “I wanted to get away from there as far as possible.” So he made El Paso his home after his playing career.
Some think he was named “Cager” because of basketball, but, he says, it’s not so. His father, who never played any sport, was just named that way.

CAGER WAS known as a hard worker on the basketball court although only a sophomore on the 1966 team. However, he was plagued by illnesses, even in 1966. He suffered from a heart murmur during that season but he recovered enough for the Miners to use him in the championship game and he was all over the court helping the Miners win. He scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds despite, according to the school’s website, the fact that he was limited to four-minute shifts because of his heart murmur.
In 1975 he had open heart surgery and in 1986 he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side.

BUT HE STILL gets around with the help of a motorized wheel chair, all 6-feet 51/2 inches of him, and you’re liable to run into him anywhere, including UTEP games and Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.
And his illnesses never slowed him down. He got his UTEP degree in physical education and speech, returned to New York after graduation and married the former Barbara Miller.
They lived in New York a few months but they returned to El Paso where he became a physical education teacher at Tornillo High School.
They have two sons, Kareem and Kenya, and a daughter, Kendeea.
Cager says he wanted to name his first son “Elgin” after Elgin Baylor but his wife wouldn’t let him.

HE HAS BEEN active in other endeavors. He started a Willie Cager Charitable Foundation. In my book, “Basketball’s Biggest Upset,” he said that when he was teaching he realized some kids couldn’t pass their driver’s license exam because they couldn’t read. He says, “I decided to do something about these youths.”
He is also in constant demand to appear at events.
And oh, yes, he even ran for mayor of El Paso in 2017. He didn’t win but got several votes.
Yes, Willie Cager, now 75 years old, is, indeed, a local legend.

TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was Kidd Field on the UTEP campus named for? Answer at end of column.

MARGIE HENDERSON, a fellow bowler of my family and me and who worked so hard for UTEP for many years, sent me an interesting email.
She wanted the phone number or email address of Orlando Cervantes, a major contributor to El Paso and Las Cruces, so she could nominate him for Outstanding Ex at El Paso High School. Seems she was a student at El Paso High at the same time as Cervantes.
But I didn’t know she had been in a terrible car accident. She wrote:
“I sold my home in the Upper Valley in January and have moved to The View at Montecillo; I am very happy here but shortly after moving in I was in a terrible auto accident right at Mesa and Castellano streets, leading to my apartment! I have recovered well but this corner has had five accidents and two deaths so beware of that intersection!”

TRIVIA ANSWER: John W. Kidd, the school’s first dean of engineering, who had fallen in love with the sport and put up $800, a big sum at the time, to start a team.



Veteran sports journalist and author Ray Sanchez welcomes suggestions for his column.

Contact him at by e-mail at rayf358@yahoo.com or online at www.raysanchezbooks.com         


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