For the past nine months, the New Mexico Activities Association—the organization that regulates and supervises interscholastic sports and activities in the state—has had to grapple with the challenges posed by the state’s public health order during Covid-19, and taken some flak from student-athletes and their parents.
But area high school athletic directors say they are happy with the way the NMAA and its executive director, Sally Marquez, have reached out to schools throughout the state to get input to make decisions that are in the best interests of New Mexico’s student-athletes.
“She’s been super-inclusive,” East Mountain High School’s athletic director and head volleyball coach Kasi Giovenco said about Marquez.
“She has been very transparent with us, making sure our voices are heard,” Moriarty High’s athletic director Joe Anaya said. “She’s been very open about it.”
Since the cancellation of spring sports, followed by the postponement of fall and winter sports and more than one revision to the 2021 high school sports calendar, student-athletes and their parents have rebuked both the governor and the NMAA on social media.
“Anybody that’s critical of the NMAA and what they’re doing is basing their judgement on incomplete information,” Estancia High’s athletic director and head football coach Stewart Burnett said.
After the NMAA announced its latest version of the high school sports calendar for the 2021 spring semester, Marquez’ weekly videotaped interview on the association’s website acknowledged the frustrations that student-athletes are going through.
“Yes, they are frustrated and if I was a student I’d be frustrated too,” Marquez said in her Dec. 7 interview. She added that she thinks it is too soon at this point to cancel any of the sports that have been postponed. “If we can start in the beginning of February, we can still play all sports in the 20-21 school year and that has been the goal from day one, so we’re not ready to say it’s over.”
Marquez said if Covid-19 cases remain high throughout January, the NMAA will take another look at its proposed calendar and re-evaluate its plan to return to play.
“She is the lone oasis in a desert of leadership at the state level,” Burnett said. “They are trying to catch the bounces of an erratic frog and they’re doing the best they can.”
In her Dec. 14 interview on the NMAA’s website, Marquez clarified that school districts can allow their student-athletes to work out over the winter break, but there will be a two-week shutdown period for all schools from Jan. 4 to Jan. 17 for the state’s required surveillance testing. Marquez also reflected on the past year and reiterated that she is not ready to throw in the towel on school sports, noting that everyone needs to stay positive.
“I remember in April when we had to tell spring sports that they were not going to be able to participate, you know, I said that was gut-wrenching, and who would have thought that nine months later we’re still in the same position we were at the beginning of March. It has been tough,” Marquez said, adding, “The most important thing is to get kids back in school in a safe environment and able to play the sports and do the activities and do everything that they love.”
Giovenco said she knows student-athletes have been disappointed, and if sports return anytime soon, parents won’t be happy if fans are not allowed.
“You’re always gonna have critics,” Giovenco said. “But I think Sally and the NMAA have been doing a great job. She wants the kids to play, she wants what’s best for the kids.”
“She can’t satisfy everyone,” Anaya said about Marquez. “She’s working to figure out what’s best for everybody and it’s not easy.”
Burnett added, “From what I’ve seen, the most honest effort for the youth and youth sports in this state has come from the NMAA.”