Climb the Catos family tree… with basketballs on each branch

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The Cato family tree in New Mexico began with Lemuel and Consuelo came to Oklahoma Territory in a covered wagon in 1907, staking out a farm in what became the town of Plain. The couple had nine children; eight of them were boys.

The vast family tree has countless branches, it seems, and a recent tally compiled in 2020 by a family member found a dozen Catons with New State basketball tournament experience. -Mexico.

According to Chuck Ferris — the state’s premier prep basketball authority — the Catos are “definitely the #1 family I know in New Mexico (when it comes to basketball).”

“They’ve been there since the 1930s; they started in Forrest in the 1930s,” Ferris said, when asked if he knew that last name. “I know I played against Dale Caton – he played for Alamogordo and then at UNM.”

Ferris played first at Capitan High, then at Tularosa High, where he graduated in 1956 – “1956, not 1856”, he joked.)

Here is a collection of Catos with basketball connections; Pearl, Oran, Barnie, Julian, John and Lewis were the children of Lemuel and Consuelo.

Pearl Cato: Member of Forrest High School’s state championship teams in 1931 and 1933. He then played at New Mexico Normal, which later became Highland University of New Mexico. He then coached at Carrizozo and Alamogordo high schools.

Caton of Oran: Two years younger than Pearl and the youngest of nine children, he was on the Forrest High champions in 1933. The FHS Pirates might have won three titles in a row, but a case of food poisoning doomed them in 1932 and they were ousted by Albuquerque High in the semifinals. A teammate of Brother Pearl again at the New Mexico Normal. (From 1916 to 1950, there was always at least one Cato who attended NMHU.) Oran coached college basketball, football, and track and field at Santa Rosa High.

(When the Caton brothers played at Forrest, the gymnasium was a half-size court inside the school; a full-size gymnasium building was built next door in the late 1930s.)

Forrest High last formed a team in 1956, and the high school was merged into the Melrose District the following year. The building was used for primary school students until 1966, then closed permanently. Forrest’s last business closed in 1975.)

“Oran, who just died in 2010, I knew him pretty well when he was a child,” said Ben Caton. “He used to tell stories about how they would drive Model A’s – it’s like a ‘Hoosiers’ story. They only had one ranking at the time.

Barnie Caton: “May have” played in the first state tournament (1921); he played at Grady and NMHU, coached at Forrest and NMHU.

Barney Catton: One of Barnie’s sons, he attended Farmington High and later served as Principal of the Alamogordo Schools. “When he was in Alamogordo – before the nation started desegregating schools – he hired a black teacher (in 1949) to come and teach, and they had a black kid (Bobby Joe Fritz) playing on the team. So he was kind of a pioneer,” Ben said. “I don’t know if (this Cato) played.”

Julian Caton: Played at Grady High School. Coach at Bellview and Blacktower (apart from Clovis) and later was superintendent at Eunice.

(Johnnie, Barney’s sons Dale and Byron, and Julian’s son Jimmy all played for UNM. Julian’s son Bobby was on Eunice High’s championship teams in 1958 and 1960. )

Lewis Catton: Research could not confirm if he played Forrest, but his grandchildren, Sam Caton and Nicole Caton, may have played Melrose.

John Caton: Father of Johnnie, who played for UNM in the 1940s before becoming head basketball coach at Albuquerque High.

Russian Cato: The son of Scott Caton, he is in his seventh season as head coach of the Alamosa State University Grizzlies. The 1997 Adams State graduate was an all-state player for Alamosa High School, helping the Mean Moose win two state championships. After two prior college stops, he played at Adams State and in the 1996-97 season averaged 18.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Caton criticizes: Son of Dale Caton, who played for UNM; he played on the Hobbs State Championship team in 1981. He recently retired as Superintendent of Artesia Schools. Three of his children played basketball at Artesia High and all three competed at State.

Left to right, Scott Caton, Keagan Caton and Ben Caton; Scott is Ben’s father and Ben is Keagan’s father. Gary Herron / Observer

Scott Catton: Johnnie’s son (Keagan’s grandfather) played for Highland High (Class of 1966) and was head coach Lou Henson’s first recruit to sign after Henson got the job at NMSU. Oran and Pearl Caton are Scott Caton’s great-uncles, Addison Caton, who did not play basketball, was Scott’s father, Oran and Pearl’s brother.

Scott’s sons, Ben and Trace, played for the University of Utah.

“We played on the sand long before my dad paved the driveway,” said Scott, who lives in Alamosa, Colo., and watches Keagan’s games on ProView Networks. “I was too long and skinny to play football; I did high jump in track and played basketball. That was about it.

Are his Highland hoops the highlights?

“We lost to Hobbs in the final, in 1966,” he said. “I had 21 rebounds against Clovis in the state tournament.”

Growing up in Albuquerque, he remembers seeing Lobo matches at Carlisle Gym and later Johnson Gym.

“We watched Dale and Byron Caton play – I think they were some of Coach Bill Stockton’s early scholarship holders,” he said. Scott then played a game for NMSU.

Trace Cato: A point guard in Utah, where his Utes career was cut short by a two-year assignment. He played at Utah in 1997-98, then in 2000-03.

Ben Caton: Ben’s son is Keagan of the Rams.

“My parents are from Albuquerque; they graduated from Highland High School,” Ben said, although he grew up in Melrose.

“I remember the first time, nailing a ledge to a telephone pole in Melrose,” he said. “I was there until fourth grade. I am the oldest of the boys. My father was a farmer.

“From there we moved a bit to Kansas and then to Colorado. Wherever we moved, we always had a hoop first,” he recalls. “There were five boys in my family. We joked that my parents quit when they had a basketball team. We all played basketball except one.

“I grew up watching the Lobos; my grandparents had season tickets,” he said. “I watched Rob Robbins, Charles Thomas, Mike McGee, Rob Loeffel, Luc Longley. I was up until 10 (listening).”

Later, Scott Caton purchased farmland in the Alamosa area.

“That’s a whole different story,” Ben said. “There are five boys. My sophomore year, we lost the state championship. My junior and senior years, we won the state championship. I was graduated; my brothers continued – Alamosa won four consecutive championships.

“We all wore No. 33,” he said. “I think (connection was Larry Bird). I remember when I was a kid, the wall (in my bedroom) was covered in Sports Illustrated pictures, and I remember putting Larry Bird’s picture on the wall. Or maybe it could have been the available number.

Ben began his college career at the Air Force Academy, then transferred to Ricks Junior College (in Idaho), then to the University of Utah, where he played for Rick Majerus (1995-96 and 96-97).

“My junior year we were beaten in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky. My senior year we were beaten by Kentucky in the Elite 8. Then I played China and England after that.

“Because I went on a mission, my brother (Trace) who is eight years younger than me became a freshman (at Utah) when I graduated.”

Ben remembers playing in The Pit against the Lobos, denouncing a handful of former Lobos: Kenny Thomas, Clayton Shields, Charles Smith

“The WAC tournament was held here in my junior year. The only time we lost was in the last league game,” he said. “I had some good games in The Shit.”

Now he hopes Keagan and the Rams get there next week.

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