Just over a month ago, summer workouts got underway with the New Mexico Activities Association’s Return to Play guidelines—and coaches and student-athletes unanimously agreed it was good to be back, even though their seasons were in limbo.
Last week, football and soccer coaches and players got a discouraging update on the fate of their seasons.
During Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s July 9 press conference, when she announced that certain public health restrictions would be re-enacted to slow the spread of Covid-19, the governor also said that contact sports—football and soccer—will not be permitted this fall.
The governor added that non-contact sports, like volleyball and cross country, are under review.
The NMAA subsequently announced that it was postponing the 2020 football and soccer seasons until the spring semester.
The news did not come as a shock to some coaches, but it wasn’t what they had been hoping to hear.
“I was upset, I was really disappointed for the kids,” Moriarty High School football head coach Gabe Romero said.
“I knew it was a possibility,” Estancia High’s athletic director and football head coach Stewart Burnett said. “It was disappointing, but we were ready for it.”
The next day, the NMAA guidelines—which required coaches to wear face coverings at all times but allowed student-athletes to take them off while working out—were revised, requiring students to now wear face coverings at all times.
With that revision, Romero suspended his football workouts.
“I just couldn’t see these kids running around with masks on, it’s too hard to breathe,” Romero said. “Them getting there and leaving wearing a mask was OK, but to exercise wearing a mask, I don’t know how they could do it.”
Romero added that the workouts had been going well.
“I was excited with what we were doing and where we were,” Romero said.
Then on July 15, the NMAA officially sidelined summer workouts for football, soccer, wrestling, and basketball.
“At this point, we now have four sports that are not able to participate in summer workouts,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said in a video on the association’s website.
In an email, East Mountain High School’s boys soccer head coach John Larson said, “As parents and coaches, we are extremely disappointed that we are not able to continue our summer workouts. We felt that we were meeting the intent of the Governor’s order by having pods with a max of five players and one coach. I understand that some teams were violating these rules and that was communicated to the Governor’s office.”
On July 15 the NMAA also released its schedule for all school sports for 2020-21, delaying the start dates for cross country, fall golf and volleyball to mid-September and October, respectively, and sliding the start dates for all other sports to 2021.
Basketball, which typically gets underway around late-November or early-December, will tentatively begin Jan. 4. Soccer and football are scheduled to kick off Feb. 15 and Feb. 22, respectively.
Wrestling, baseball, softball, spring golf, tennis, and track are all slated to tentatively begin April 5. The NMAA noted that the tentative dates for starting each sport and the state playoffs “are subject to change due to the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic.”
“It is ever-changing, and from day to day we don’t know what the picture’s gonna look like,” Marquez said in her video. “It is not gonna be normal, but our kids are gonna be able to compete.”
“I’m hoping that we can do this in February like they’re thinking, there could be some overlap but it would be better than nothing,” Romero said, adding, “I think about the seniors, it would be heartbreaking to me if they did not have their senior year.”
One of those seniors, Milo Trujillo, who wrestles and is a lineman for the football team, said the NMAA’s schedule will be a lot different, but he also thinks it will be better.
“We have more time to get stronger and be ready for the season,” Trujillo said, adding, “Especially since this is my last year, I wanna be fully prepared to give absolutely everything.”
“It’s gonna impact every school differently,” Burnett said regarding the overlap in schedules and students who play multiple sports. “Every school’s gonna have to navigate through this.”
He noted that basketball players who play football might miss the first few football games if the basketball team is in the state playoffs, which are tentatively scheduled for March, or the football team may start later and play fewer games.
“I don’t see Estancia playing more than five or six games,” Burnett said about the football schedule.
The same potential overlap exists for football or soccer players who participate in baseball, softball, or track.
Burnett said he is hopeful and sees the NMAA’s schedule as a “workable plan.”
“We’ve got something on paper that we can start building around and I’m excited about it, I’m ready to get to work,” Burnett said, adding, “It’s just like anything, you just gotta deal with it—just deal us the cards and we’ll play the hand.”
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.