When the governor announced last week that the state was tightening its Covid-19 public health order, high school athletic directors, coaches, and student-athletes wondered what the New Mexico Activities Association’s response would be.

“The first thing I did was check my email,” Estancia High School athletic director and head football coach Stewart Burnett said, adding, “I take my marching orders from [Estancia superintendent] Dr. Sims and the NMAA.”

Burnett, like others involved in high school sports, wondered if the offseason workouts schools had been doing would be shelved.

For the past eight months, the NMAA has been following the state’s public health order to make decisions about the fate of high school sports. The NMAA canceled spring sports, then it postponed the fall season until 2021. It has revised its Return to Play guidelines on workouts several times.

In June, the NMAA approved summer workouts in small groups, or “pods,” and limited the number of athletes in each pod to five. It expanded the pod sizes in September to a 9-to-1 athlete-to-coach ratio before cutting pod sizes back to 4-1 in October.

After the governor announced on Nov. 13 that the state was closing non-essential businesses and instructing people to shelter in place, NMAA sent out a couple of inconsistent emails to school athletic directors.

“There was one email saying we’re shutting down and then another saying that [the NMAA] was getting conflicting emails,” Burnett said, adding, “I had kids texting me all weekend asking me ‘What are we doing?’”

On Nov. 15, NMAA executive director Sally Marquez emailed high school athletic directors apologizing for the “mixed messages” that her office had sent two days earlier. She said she had received information from one source and different information from another source. Marquez went on to clarify that high schools’ offseason workouts are not impacted by the new stay-at-home order.

In her latest weekly video, posted Nov. 16 on the NMAA’s website, Marquez reiterated, “The governor’s orders did not change anything when it comes to school,” adding, “Therefore, our student-athletes, our coaches can still work in the 4-to-1 pods that they originally had before the governor’s orders. Nothing has changed in those regards.”

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Estancia Bears working out in the weight room. Photo by Ger Demarest.

Burnett said he got the OK to continue the Bears’ regular weight room workouts that he and his assistants have been doing Mondays through Thursdays. “We are rolling,” Burnett said. “Every week we get to continue is great news.”

Burnett said he hopes he can continue to provide the opportunity for Estancia’s student-athletes to work out in small, separated pods, adding, “I believe what we are doing for our kids is important and the manner in which we’re doing it is safe, and optional—it’s all voluntary.”

Moriarty High School decided to take a different approach.

“Regardless of what the NMAA decided, we took the precautionary measure to shut down our workouts,” Moriarty athletic director Joe Anaya said. “We just thought that with everything that’s going on, for the wellbeing of the kids and coaches, we were going to shut down, especially with the direction the numbers are going.”

Anaya added that the entire school district is currently in full remote learning and that played into the decision.

“We don’t have anybody on our campus—no teachers, no students, no coaches,” Anaya said, adding that he thinks it would send the wrong message if athletes were allowed to come to the campus to work out.

Despite the go-ahead from the NMAA, East Mountain High School also had to shelve its workouts, because of its reliance on Bernalillo County’s Vista Grande Community Complex in Sandia Park.

East Mountain uses Vista Grande’s ballfields and gym for most of its sports programs, and the county has closed all of its community centers under the current health order.

“I sent out an email [to coaches] saying practices are postponed for the next two weeks due to the county shutting facilities down,” East Mountain’s athletic director Kasi Giovenco said. “With the county shutting down, we had no choice but to put a halt to practices.”

Mountainair High School is also not currently holding any workouts, according to the school’s athletic coordinator, Consuelo Brazil.

Ger Demarest
Ger Demarest

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.