Last year around this time, 15 athletes who had just graduated from area high schools got an opportunity to play in the annual North vs. South All-Star games.
This year, no one will get to play.
The New Mexico High School Coaches Association, the group that puts on the annual North-South games, canceled the 2020 spring sports All-Star matchups three months ago, and last week announced the cancellation of the remaining games amid continued restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For recent Estancia High School graduates Andrew Lujan and Luke Pope, the news came as a major letdown.
“When our coach texted us with the news, I was like, ‘No way,’” Pope said. “I was kinda blown away.”
“I was looking forward to it,” Lujan said. “I was really disappointed, I wanted to play one last game.”
The annual North vs. South All-Star games include six different sports—football, soccer, volleyball basketball, baseball, and softball. The rosters consist of the best players in the state from the past school year’s senior class. Players are selected by members of the NMHSCA.
Both Lujan and Pope were selected to the small-school South All-Stars football team, Lujan as a running back and Pope as an offensive lineman.
“Ever since my freshman year, I looked at the seniors who made it and that has been my goal, to win a state championship and play in the North-South game,” Lujan said. “Once I found out I was selected, it was a blessing, and when I found out it was canceled, it hurt.”
When the state closed schools in March for the remainder of the academic year—and the New Mexico Activities Association subsequently canceled all spring sports—the NMHSCA followed suit by canceling the North vs. South baseball and softball All-Star games.
In April, the NMHSCA announced it was postponing the fall and winter sports All-Star games—originally slated for early June—and moving all the locations of events to Albuquerque. The NMHSCA rescheduled the volleyball, soccer, and football North-South games to July 28, and the basketball games to July 29.
Then last weekend, NMHSCA executive director Buster Mabrey posted on Twitter and added a statement on the association’s website that all remaining 2020 North vs. South games had been canceled.
“We were keeping hope that we would be able to play,” Mabrey said in an email to The Independent. “In the end, it looks like facilities will not be open nor will large groups be allowed to assemble. It wasn’t a hard decision, but it was a sad decision. Once again, the 2020 class seems to have bore the brunt of this pandemic. We are sorry for that.”
“Missing out on baseball and track this season and then the North-South, it’s all disappointing, really,” Lujan said.
New Mexico’s first North vs. South All-Star football game was held in 1941. The game was suspended during World War II but resumed after the war and has taken place every year since.
“This will be the first time since 1945 that there will not be a NMHSCA All-Star game,” Mabrey said.
The North-South games have gotten so big that in recent years the NMHSCA has split some of the sports into large-school, small-school formats.
Estancia athletic director and head football coach Stewart Burnett, who coached the small school South All-Stars football team last year, said the cancellation and its impact on two of his former players was hard to put into words.
“It truly breaks my heart for those two. They worked so hard for that honor and were incredibly deserving,” Burnett said.
“It was gonna be my last time to put on pads and play another game,” Pope said. “I was excited to play with Andrew and all the kids from the other schools so the whole experience was kinda killed.”
Other athletes from area schools who were selected to play in one of the 2020 North vs. South games were Manzano High School graduate Austin Erickson, who lives in Sandia Park, and East Mountain High graduate Emma Rocco.
Erickson was selected as a receiver to the large school North All-Stars football team. Rocco was selected to play for the girls soccer North All-Stars as a forward/striker.