High school athletes in New Mexico were dealt a tough blow Thursday evening when New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the postponement of fall contact sports football and soccer. As of now, the New Mexico Activities Association, New Mexico’s high school sports governing body, is hoping to play those sports in the spring.
Lovington football coach Anthony Gonzales had an idea the season might be pushed back with the idea of playing in the spring. Gonzales even gave his team a heads up that it could happen Thursday following practice knowing that the governor’s speech was coming later in the afternoon. “We can look at it one of two ways: one we can be upset, disappointed and feel sorry for ourselves that it is not starting in August like we wanted it to, or two we can look at it as an opportunity to get better as a team,” Gonzales said. In Lea County, five football teams and four soccer teams, Hobbs and Lovington’s boys and girls programs were affected. “It is really frustrating, but I don’t know if it really changes a whole lot of what we are doing,”
Jal head football coach Dusty Giles said. “We just have to start later. We are looking at February instead. It does change some of the ideas we had for going into the summer time and doing workouts but we will just do the best we can while trying to figure it out.”
Coaches weren’t the only ones disappointed. Eunice head coach Greg Jackson said his players, the three time defending champion Cardinals, were hurt by the news.
“By in large they were pretty dis appointed and disheartened,” Jackson said. “Definitely not the news we wanted “but we remain hopeful for spring football.”
Hobbs football coach Ken Stevens said his players were devastated at the news.
“It is tough on those kids to put in all that work and to get your hopes up that you are actually going to get to play and then all of the sudden the rug gets pulled out from under you,” he said. “That is hard on those kids.”
Tatum has not had the chance to get on the field for any workouts yet. The Coyotes were slated to start practice around July 20. However, Brent Satterwhite, Tatum’s new football coach, is still stuck in Texas because of the pandemic.
“This keeps our plans changing almost daily as we try to keep up with the changes that the governor keeps bring-down,” Satterwhite said. “We are just trying to figure it all and figure out what we can do and can’t do at this point.”
Satterwhite said the delay will give him more time to get the players accustomed to the new system he plans to install.
“Obviously, bringing in a new system, if we don’t play ball until January or February, that is assuming we are in school, we will have plenty of time to get things instituted,” the Coyotes’ coach said. “From that standpoint, bringing in a new system, it makes it easier to get it all put in over a longer period of time. But that is certainly not what we were hoping for.”
Like Satterwhite, Giles is also new to Lea County. However he has been in town for summer workouts and plans are to continue that work in the weight room and as well as in the pods.
“Nothing as far as summer work has really changed from the government level,” Giles said. “It is just kind of changing on what we do to make sure that are maximizing our — I think we are going to end up doing a lot more chalk talk and thinks like that and try to get them to understand the big picture of what we are trying to do and that will make the breaking it down a lot easier come February.”
On the flip side, Jackson isn’t sure yet what his team will be able to do and if summer workouts will be permitted to continue.
“There’s a lot more questions than answers at the moment,” Jackson said. “I think the most important thing is to remain positive and keep working as long as we are able to work.”
As for remaining positive, the Panthers’ coach did have one positive from the governor’s postponement of contact sports.
“Hey, we won’t have two-a-days in 100-degree heat I guess,” Giles said with a laugh. “I am trying to figure out something positive and maybe that is it, we are going to have a little bit better weather down here in the south to play football in.”
Stevens also is going to look for something positive that he can pull from this to help his team as well as a way to help keep the Eagles motivated.
“We are going to tell them we haven’t gotten an offseason since we have been hired here in Hobbs,” Stevens said. “We got hired late last year and COVID-19 took us out for this past spring, so our selling point is we believe it is going to work to our advantage because it is going to give us an offseason that we haven’t had a chance to have. That is our motivation to the kids.”
While disappointed, new Hobbs boys soccer coach Alejandro Chavez was glad he had a chance to work with his players last month but also understood why the season had to be postponed.
“Of course it’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day it is for the student athletes safety and their families,” Chavez said. “We will get through this together. By no means will the coaches stop mentoring their players and other students. We will still be there for them, especially with the state of the world currently. I’m glad that the NMAA gave us a chance to train and meet with the players. Looking forward to see what happens in the future.”
Alex Lopez, the Lady Eagles head coach, had a feeling the season could possibly be postponed, so she wasn’t all that surprised.
“I am extremely saddened by the news, but I also understand the decisions being made to protect our kids,” Lopez said. “I think we all kind of had an idea this could happen and I think we tried to come to terms that it could be a very real possibility, but hearing it officially (Thursday) hit hard. We’re just going to try to make the most out of it. My girls know how important it is to adapt and control the controllable and that’s exactly what we plan to do.”
Veronica Arguello, the Lady Wildcats soccer coach, prepared her team for the realization that this could happen, so there was no shock when the season was postponed.
“The success of the previous year has given them a competitive drive and they have been working in pods, individually and in small groups to continue their success,” Arguello said. “I know my girls want to take the district title again, and advance further in the state tournament. We are not hanging our heads to this postponement, we are utilizing it to perfect our game.” One of the difficulties in playing soccer in the spring instead of the fall is that some of the athletes participate in multiple sports over the course of the school year. Additionally, some fall sports coaches also coach other sports in the spring. Lopez is one of the dual sports coaches, also working as an assistant coach for the Hobbs track & field team. Because of that, concessions will have to be made when the spring schedule finally arrives.
“As far as my spring coaching duties, I know that is a conversation that needs to happen between head track coaches and the athletic director. Not being able to complete last year’s season and then maybe the possibility of having to step back this season makes me sad,” Lopez said. “If I could still coach both sports, I would do everything it takes to make it work. I will just see how those coaching duties play out.
“As far as sharing athletes, I think coaches are just going to have to be flexible with multiple sport athletes. Taking into consideration game days and practice times, maybe there is hope we can make it work out. I think it’s important to look at all possibilities when it’s time, spring is still a ways away and with things changing on the daily it’s probably just best to focus on the now.”
Gonzales said where the player sharing becomes an issue is when you are getting down in classifications, even in 5A.
“I know a lot of the schools, Roswell High, Artesia, Goddard, there are a lot of those kids who play multiple sports and we encourage our kids to play multiple sports,” Gonzales added. “I had a real in-depth conversation with Heath Ridenour, the head coach at Cleveland High School. We are all going to have to make sacrifices. All of our sports programs are going to have to make sacrifices to make this thing work. At the end of the day, it is not about me, the football coach, the head scorer coach, the head volleyball coach. It is not about us. I think sometimes we get a little bit selfish and we want to make it about us because it is our season, but at the end of the day, these kids are going to have an opportunity to do what they love and to have that experience. So, if that means I am going to be without my two starting outside receivers for a couple of weeks because I anticipate them being able to make a deep run in basketball, then so be it.”
According to Lovington boys soccer coach Reyes Marquez, his team isn’t worried about the season being postponed. The Wildcats will continue to work and be ready to play, whenever they are told they can take the field.
“My boys have so much love for the sport that not even a virus can diminish what was instilled in them as young players,” he said. “As long as the ball has air in it, they will continue working with it.”
Arguello said her team will be ready for when the season opener as well.