For all those thousands of people who have anxiously awaited the return of sports in New Mexico, for all of those who are still in I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mode, Monday offered another glimmer of hope.
Though still weeks away from actually happening, another important step was taken Monday toward bringing sports back. Five days after the announcement that the state’s Public Education Department was allowing the return of New Mexico’s scholastic sports – following almost a year of forced hibernation – the New Mexico Activities Association held an emergency meeting on Monday morning to get clarification on school hybrid requirements, and then approved a sports calendar, with fall sports resuming later this month.
“Right now for fall sports the start date is the week of Feb. 22,” NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez said. “We will have the calendar out as to what that means, as far as how many practices and when the sports’ competitions will begin, but Feb. 22 is what the board voted on today.”
The general sports calendar was indeed released later on Monday, with a hectic late winter and spring in store for coaching staffs, athletes, trainers, athletic departments, and of course parents.
When Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced last week that students could return to in-class settings as of Feb. 8, it was with the condition that they do so in hybrid mode, meaning only a certain amount of students can return on certain days. So the NMAA held off last week on approving a schedule until there was some clarification on how state hybrid requirements would affect the flow of athletics. It could affect some schools differently.
“At this time, as of today, schools need to be in the hybrid in order to participate,” Marquez said. “So those school districts that are staying remote will not be able to participate per the governor’s office and the Public Education Department. However, within a school, if a school district is hybrid, and a child decides that they are not going to come into hybrid learning, that they would rather stay remote, that student-athlete would be able to participate in sports if they stay remote and their school is in hybrid.”
This month’s scheduled return can also include junior varsity, freshman and middle school sports.
“However,” Marquez noted, “that is a district decision. … That might be something that will be looked at because of transportation, or equipment, or facilities. But at this point, for our office, it is for all levels.”
Approval of New Mexico sports’ return was met with understandable enthusiasm.
“Yes, we’re anxious to get back to practicing,” Hobbs High School Athletic Director Brenda Wilson said. “We’re working on protocols to make sure kids are safe, and how we’re going to sanitize all our equipment and helmets and pads and balls, all our equipment our kids will be using.”
Lovington Athletic Director Robert Arreola remained cautiously optimistic as of Monday.
“There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered that we’re waiting on,” Arreola said.
Among the questions, says Arreola, is the scheduled Feb. 22 start date. That is based on the Feb. 8 hybrid return, because the governor’s office wants students to have a two-week re-acclimation period before sports practices begin. But, some schools may not be returning to the classrooms until later in the month, so those schools would need two more weeks of re-acclimation.
And then there’s the matter of whether or not some schools want to play at all.
“We really don’t know how many teams are going to opt into sports,” Arreola said. “Some schools may not want to risk it and opt not to play sports this year. That’s what we’re waiting on, how many teams are going to be able to opt in, and when are schools going to be able to come back.”
Cautious optimism, though, didn’t dampen Arreola’s excitement about the prospect of sports finally returning.
“We’re happy we’re just getting to do anything. Our kids and our coaches are happy to have any type of deal,” Arreola said. “So we’re just going to make the most of it.”
Per the calendar approved Monday, football, cross country and volleyball practices can begin Feb. 22, with regular-season cross country meets and volleyball games scheduled to begin on Feb. 27.
The week of March 1 will feature the beginning of soccer practice, while football practices continue, as do cross country and volleyball competitions.
Football games can begin on Friday March 5, soccer games on Saturday, March 6. So, under the approved plan, all fall sports competitions will be underway by the first weekend of March, COVID-willing.
That’s the possible catch – how COVID might affect, or even halt, the return of sports.
Wilson said she was unaware of a rumor that any single positive test in a sport would lead to the cancellation of that sport’s season.
“I haven’t heard that, so I can’t confirm that,” Wilson said. “That’s not been mentioned at any of our meetings. I believe if we have four positives at our school, it’s possible we might have to shut down our campus, but I don’t know the details of that specifically.”
“It all depends,” Arreola said. “If you get, I believe it’s four (positive tests), in a 14-day period, you can shut down. But as far as somebody coming down with COVID, that’s why they have contact tracing, so we shouldn’t have to shut down if one athlete comes down with the virus. As long as the athletes do what they’re supposed to and stay in the pods … it shouldn’t stop the whole program for one person contracting the virus.”
If everything stays copasetic virus-wise and the seasons proceed as currently scheduled, cross country district meets will begin the weekend of March 19-20. The week of March 22, football, soccer and volleyball games continue, while basketball, swimming & diving and spirit practices begin. Regular-season basketball games and swimming & diving meets begin the weekend of March 26-27.
The week of March 29 will be the last week of football, while volleyball championships are held, basketball, soccer and swimming & diving competitions continue, as does spirit practice, and wrestling practice begins.
And then it gets really crazy.
The first weekend in April includes the conclusion of football and volleyball seasons, along with the continuation of basketball, soccer and swimming & diving competitions, the continuation of wrestling practice, and then the conclusion of spirit practice on Friday Apr. 2 and the start of spirit competition on Saturday Apr. 3.
The week of April 5 features soccer championships, along with the continuation of regular-season basketball, spirit and swimming & diving competitions, the start of wrestling season, and the beginning of baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track & field practices.
On Saturday Apr. 10, spring sports begin their regular season.
Every remaining week of April includes the continuation of spring sports, as well as basketball, spirit, swimming & diving and wrestling competitions. Spring sports, spirit, swimming & diving and wrestling competitions continue on Saturday May 1, which is also the day of the basketball seeding and selection.
The week of May 3 includes basketball state championships, plus the continuation of spirit and wrestling competitions and spring sports. And then, on Thursday May 6 the girls swimming & diving championship will be held, followed two days later by the boys swimming & diving championships.
Things get a little less hectic after that. The week of May 10 includes spring sports and wrestling matches, and ends with spirit championships the weekend of May 14-15.
The week of May 17 features wrestling district tournaments, as well as the continuation of spring sports; the week of May 24 features state wrestling championships and the continuation of spring sports.
Spring sports then have the athletic spotlight to themselves as of the week of May 31, which includes regular-season events for those sports.
The week of June 7, while baseball, softball, tennis and track & field competitions continue, district golf play begins. That weekend, June 11-12, A-3A district track & field competitions will be held.
State tennis brackets are slated to be released on Sunday June 13, with the week of June 14 including the district golf tournament, team tennis tournaments, state golf entries being due (June 16), A-3A track & field championships and 4A-5A district track & field championships being held the weekend of June 18-19, and baseball and softball regular-season games continuing.
Baseball and softball state brackets are due to be released on Sunday June 20, state golf championships held June 21-22, baseball and softball state playoffs ongoing throughout the week, and 4A-5A track & field championships held from June 24-26.
“We’ve got them stacked on top of each other like crazy,” Wilson said. “We have a Saturday where we have volleyball, soccer and cross country all in one day at Hobbs. It’s going to be challenging, but we’re talking with coaches to have flexibility with kids. That’s going to be a big deal. … But we’ll work it out, we’ll find a way to get our kids ready.”
And the athletic directors are hoping that as long as there aren’t any massive outbreaks, that even a few hiccups won’t disrupt the long-awaited seasons.
“We’ve even asked our coaches to think about being creative at their practices, where all the kids aren’t there at once,” Wilson said. “Because if we have to quarantine, that could cause our teams to miss games or play with our jayvee kids. We’re trying to think outside the box. … Our coaches are good; I’m confident they’ll come up with good plans.”