When the governor announced on Oct. 8 that the state would not be scaling back its public health order with regard to youth and K-12 sports—and the New Mexico Activities Association subsequently pulled the plug on the fall sports that had been given the green light to start practicing on Oct. 5—area high school coaches and student-athletes were blindsided by the news.
“It was heartbreaking for us, I wanted to cry,” Estancia High School senior volleyball player Olivia Anaya said, adding, “I was really excited to have things kinda back to normal and then they pulled the rug out from under us.”
East Mountain High School junior cross country runner Jessie Leibold got the news at a practice late last week.
“Coach said they postponed the season, and we were all just standing there, like, wow, OK. It’s funny how fast the mood changed,” Leibold said. “But honestly, I feel like most people kinda saw it coming.”
Leibold’s teammate, Natalya Villescas, got the news by text.
“I wasn’t at practice and one of my friends texted me that the whole season was postponed and all, and I just got really mad because I was like, what the heck?” Villescas said.
“It was pretty sad and then to see the kids and their reaction to it, I was bummed for that,” East Mountain’s new cross country head coach Sam Slaven said. “They haven’t seen each other for months and this is a great thing for them.”
“This is devastating for our kids,” Estancia’s head volleyball coach Glenda Noblitt said. “They are tired of being cooped up and ready to be kids again.”
Moriarty High School’s head volleyball coach Kim Bell agreed in an email to The Independent: “Yes, we are all pretty disappointed!”
“My heart breaks, not just for my girls but for all athletes,” East Mountain’s athletic director and head volleyball coach Kasi Giovenco said. “The unknown makes it so much more difficult for us as coaches to give them some sort of hope. I hope that all sports will still occur come spring. These kids deserve it. The need it.”
The “unknown” that Giovenco alluded to continued this week.
First, on Oct. 12, NMAA executive director Sally Marquez posted a video on the association’s website stating that teams could still hold workouts.
“The health order is, no competition from team to team,” Marquez said in the video. “We can still work out in our pods with mask-wearing and social distancing.”
Slaven took advantage of that and had his athletes running the trail behind East Mountain earlier this week.
“I’m glad that they’re at least letting us continue with training,” Slaven said.
Villescas echoed her coach: “I’m glad that we can still be able to like work together because I personally find it easier to have someone to run with, someone to push myself with, I find that better than running by yourself so I’m glad that we still have that.”
But later in the week, the governor reduced the size of public gatherings—and though the NMAA had not made an official announcement when The Independent went to print, Giovenco said pod sizes will likely be reduced to 4-to-1, affecting how schools move forward with workouts and practices—if at all.
“As of now, volleyball is most likely going to hold off until we hear when our season is getting moved to, which looks to be after basketball,” Giovenco said, adding that East Mountain’s golf and cross country will try and continue holding workouts if possible.
“We have to just make the best of it,” Estancia’s Anaya said. “I think it’ll be beneficial [if practices or workouts can continue] because it’ll give us something to do and help us as athletes to work on fundamentals, focus on the small things.”
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.