Fans of Estancia High School love their Bears—and their Lady Bears.

But the New Mexico Activities Association, or NMAA, believes that some overzealous fans have gone too far—and it warned the school to control its “unruly” fans or face serious consequences.

The NMAA, the organization that supervises and regulates interscholastic programs for junior and senior high schools in New Mexico, issued a letter Feb. 1 to Estancia High regarding the conduct of the school’s fans.

“Our office has received numerous complaints and notices regarding poor sportsmanship and unruly behavior displayed by Estancia parents and fans during Estancia boys’ and girls’ basketball games this season,” Sally Marquez, the association’s executive director, wrote in the letter. “This includes multiple ejections as well as threatening and abusive language and conduct toward officials.”

According to the NMAA’s associate director, Dusty Young, the letter stemmed from a series of incidents at basketball games during the current season.

Young said the school is responsible for the behavior “of its team, coaches, students, and fans” at any interscholastic event in which the school is participating. 

The NMAA’s bylaws say it may invoke penalties on a member school for any actions that violate the principles of its “Compete with Class” sportsmanship initiative.

Those actions can range from hindering the normal progress of an event, to unsportsmanlike conduct by coaches, students or spectators.

The NMAA can impose fines or suspensions on a school, and even bar fans from games—which the association did when it prohibited fans from attending Española Valley High School’s final home game last October after an unsportsmanlike incident.

Young said that the NMAA has seen an increase in negative reports statewide, particularly among fans, and it’s become a major focus for the association.

“It’s not just Estancia, we’ve had to address it with a number of schools,” Young said. “We’re trying to clean up unsportsmanlike conduct across the board, and we’re trying to implement a zero-tolerance policy.”

Estancia High School’s athletic director, Stewart Burnett, has taken the warning to heart.

“There’s a lot of people invested in this community—and we have some very passionate fans,” Burnett said, adding, “As far as I’m concerned, this is an opportunity to respond.”

After receiving the NMAA’s letter, Burnett posted a lengthy plea on facebook to the Estancia community stating, among other things: “WE are in this TOGETHER. I need everyone’s help….We are on the brink of catastrophe….If our behavior does not immediately and drastically improve, we will be formally sanctioned by the NMAA.”

Burnett said he posted his plea on social media because he’s trying to be proactive. “We are getting the word out, and we are going to address this and meet this head on.”

Young said fans have been ejected from Estancia games this season, and Burnett acknowledged “two bad nights” in January—one at a girls’ basketball game, and another at a boys’ game.

“We have had a few isolated issues,” Burnett said. “It’s a very small number of occurrences—and to a certain extent, we’re taking it on the chin a little.”

But Burnett believes the rowdy fans represent a few—not the majority—of those who attend games.

“We have tremendous fans that support us in every way imaginable,” Burnett said. “But everyone has things they can improve and we’re no different.”