Back in Orange

By Chris Caraveo

It had been 26 years since he last played a meaningful game of football. At 43 years old he was easily the oldest on the team. He was over 300 pounds. So he prepared for this game like it was one.

He went on a diet. He ran the treadmill at the firehouse. He lifted weights.

He organized about two or three practices each week leading up to the game. The team usually met at Gallegos Park near the old high school on weekend mornings or at the Galatzan Recreation Center soccer fields on weeknights since it had lights.

They created their own plays and listed them on armbands. They ran them in practice. They scrimmaged against other teams. The main problem they had was getting everyone to show up to practice.

When game day finally arrived, he was ready.

Jamey Olmstead was born Jan. 5, 1969, in Raton, N.M. He was the youngest of three siblings. He was the only boy. He grew up two miles from the Texas-New Mexico state line in the small west El Paso County community of Westway just outside Canutillo.

In his eighth grade year of football at Canutillo Middle School he met sixth grader Ramon Gomez, who was the team manager.
It was through football that Gomez and Olmstead got to know each other better than they had before then.

“Growing up in Canutillo back then with one elementary, one junior high and one high school, you just knew people,” Gomez said. “I knew who he and his family were before because my older siblings went to school with his siblings.”

Gomez observed Olmstead’s talent and behavior. Off the field, he was always the first guy who patted you on the back or kicked you in the butt if you were out of line. On the field, he was extremely competitive and always a leader.

The Eagles had played Magoffin one night. During the game apparently one of the Lobos disliked the beating he received from an Eagle.

“One of our guys sacked their quarterback a couple of times and was just eating the offensive tackle’s lunch all game long,” Gomez said.

After the Eagles lost the game they attempted to line up to shake hands with the Lobos. Before they all could do so that same offensive tackle started a fight. The benches cleared immediately.

As one of the biggest players on the team Olmstead tried to pull Magoffin players off his teammates. A few Lobos jumped on him.

“Then Jamey’s dad jumps in and begins throwing players off to the side as if they were stuffed animals until the scuffle was contained,” Gomez said.

Olmstead began his freshman year at Canutillo High School in 1983. There was no freshman football team. So he started on the varsity team.

The football field was not perfect throughout high school. It was natural grass. Thorns stuck on the players. Mosquitoes buzzed in the air. The locker rooms were far away from the field. They had to walk back and forth through an unleveled dirt field during practices and games.

Gomez worried about the team’s health with such an obstacle.

“We had to be careful not to twist an ankle just getting to the football field,” Gomez said.

His senior year Olmstead started at defensive end and offensive guard. There were only 30 players on the team.

A year after he graduated in 1987 Olmstead volunteered at the West Valley Fire Department in Canutillo. Then in 1991 he took a job at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department.

He lived with his mother and one of his sisters while he worked.

One afternoon in the fall 1996 after work he walked into Circle K store on Woodrow Bean. There he met a worker named Nora. She was a single mother of three boys. The eldest was six.

The two dated soon afterwards.

Three years later on Nov. 11 Nora gave birth to their daughter Storm. Though they were not married a family had started.

For four years they lived in a rented three-bedroom house at the end of the dead end street of Sarah Anne.

But Olmstead desired to live in a home close to the fire department. A place where his kids could be Eagles like he had been. Canutillo Eagles. Not Andress Eagles like they would have become if they had stayed in that cramped house.

So in November 2003 they moved to the west side. Olmstead had finally returned to his side of the city.

“The best part of town,” he said.

Prior to the game Olmstead walked down the stadium steps past the crowd and onto the field just like the Eagles did before each home game.

In 2006 Canutillo High School changed venues. It was no longer on Bosque Road amid trailer park houses but along Interstate-10. The school also received a state-of-the-art football facility: Julius and Irene Lowenberg Eagle Stadium. The Nest, they called it. It cost about $15 million to construct. It had green synthetic green turf. Now it is blue like half of the school colors. It sat approximately 12,000 people.

It was a site Olmstead thought he would never get to call home and play at.

Now back in the area where he once played football he could get to see his own kids follow in his footsteps. Two of his step-sons—his sons, Ibn and Gilbert—began to play football when they were in middle school.

Both of his sons got to play on his old playing field. Ibn played at the old high school as a freshman in 2005. And since it had become the new Canutillo Middle School in 2006 Gilbert also played on the field as a middle schooler.

At the beginning of Gilbert’s junior year in 2009 Olmstead took up an activity that has since become a hobby and staple in his life: photography. He spent nearly $10,000 on equipment.

He started out by just taking pictures of Gilbert and the football team. Then he expanded to other high school sports and portrait shots. He created a Facebook account and uploaded pictures to share with the players and their families. He developed and printed out photos from the nearby Walgreens. He even burned discs for them.

And he did all of it for free.

With his sons playing football and him taking photos of the team Olmstead got to be close to his alma mater. He developed friendships with his sons’ teammates and friends. He befriended athletes in other sports.

Stephanie Sapien first met Olmstead as a sophomore. She played basketball and was on the track and field team. One day at a track meet she was hanging out with Olmstead’s sons. Their dad approached and talked with them.

“I found myself laughing at everything he had to say,” Sapien said. “My first impression of him was something along the lines of, ‘This guy is funny but I wouldn’t want to be the one to see him mad.’”

He taught her the proper way to breathe before she competed.

“Four seconds in, four seconds hold, four seconds out,” she said. “My nerves calmed down and then I was able to do what needed to be done.”

At the games he rekindled old friendships and made new ones with people who had lived in the Canutillo area since he graduated and moved northeast.

Gloria Guerrero was not a close friend of Olmstead’s when they were in high school. Now a mother of a student-athlete, she could not attend all of her daughter’s track meets. But on most occasions Olmstead was. He took pictures of Gloria’s daughter Celina as he did of everyone else. The pictures he gave Gloria allowed her to cherish those memories.

“The way he interacts with all those athletes and follows them, he’s like an adoptive father to them all.”
Sapien shared a similar view.

“It’s great to know that there is always that fan in the crowd, especially for those student athletes who don’t always have that support system that their teammates have.”

The fact that he takes and distributes his pictures for free also amazed Guerrero.

“He could be making money shooting all of these events but he doesn’t,” she said. “He does it for the kids.

“And that’s where it’s at! I mean, who would do that? Nobody, that’s who! He is one of a kind.”

It was only a matter of time before his newfound craft received some professional recognition.

In 2010 a worker at EP Gridiron—El Paso’s high school football media website—saw some of Olmstead’s photos and liked them. He wanted to use some for the site. Later he offered Olmstead a job as a photographer. For money. But if Olmstead accepted he would have had to shoot teams other than just Canutillo.

Olmstead declined.

“I wouldn’t be able to shoot my kids, our kids, my Eagles, on Friday nights.”

But Olmstead did not want to just relegate his involvement with the athletes by just taking their pictures. He yearned for a chance to relive his high school days.

He wanted to play with his sons. His Eagles.

Nearly 26 years after his last football game Olmstead found a way to get back onto the playing field.

In 2011 Alumni Football USA looked for El Paso high schools that wanted to participate in some alumni games it hosted annually. That winter Olmstead decided he would put on the orange helmet one more time and play in a game.

So he and Tim Bishop of Alumni Football USA registered Canutillo for a game. About 25 players filled the roster. A date was set. Jan. 28, 2012. The venue: The Nest. The opponent: their district rivals the Riverside Rangers.

That night he lined up at center during the game. Ibn squatted down two positions to his right. Gilbert stood out wide at receiver.

Alumni Football USA recorded the game. People took pictures.

Jamey Olmstead was not one of those people obviously.

He was an Eagle.

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