A welcome ray of sunlight shone last week on the frozen tundra of high school sports. The state is finally paving the way for athletics and activities to resume, but the New Mexico Activities Association has decided to hold off on releasing a new sports calendar.

For almost 11 months, high school sports in New Mexico have been dormant due to Covid-19, and during that time, the NMAA has revised its return-to-play calendar several times. The NMAA’s latest version had football tentatively returning Feb. 1 followed by volleyball and cross country on Feb. 15.

Those dates became a moot point this week when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during her State of the State address that school districts could safely return to hybrid in-person learning beginning Feb. 8, and the Public Education Department added its own blockbuster announcement that athletics and activities could return as early as Feb. 22.

But there’s a catch: The PED said a school district must put a hybrid schedule in place, and not have a significant increase in Covid-19 for at least two weeks after the return of students.

That comes as good news for some area high schools.

“We had a feeling we’d be coming back on February 8th, and the chance of starting sports—that’s a bonus,” Moriarty athletic director Joe Anaya said.

“We as a district have been working toward February 8th before the state announced February 8th,” Estancia athletic director and head football coach Stewart Burnett said.

But there are several school districts—including the largest in the state, Albuquerque Public Schools—that said they won’t be ready to roll out a hybrid schedule by Feb. 8.

So the NMAA’s board of directors decided during an emergency meeting on Jan. 27 to table the adoption of a new calendar.

“The NMAA is still very excited that our students will be able to return to the sports and activities that they love next month,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said in a press release. “We understand, however, that in order to make the best decision for the kids of New Mexico, superintendents would like clarification from the Public Education Department regarding several topics still needing resolution.”

The NMAA held a subsequent meeting on Jan. 27 to discuss the matter with athletic directors from around the state.

“There was so much on the plate that they had to table a lot of it,” Anaya said. “But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, finally there’s a good possibility we’re gonna have kids back on the field and on the courts.”

East Mountain High School, a charter school that operates under the umbrella of APS, sent an email this week to students and parents saying that classes will still primarily be taught virtually, and the school will work on plans to expand as many in-person experiences as it safely can this semester.

That leaves East Mountain in a holding pattern regarding sports according to the school’s athletic director and head volleyball coach, Kasi Giovenco.

“The big hiccup and gray area is, what constitutes a hybrid?” Giovenco said. “We’re waiting on some clarification for hybrid, and once we get that clarification, we’ll be able to know when we’ll be able to start participating. We’re hoping that what we’ll be implementing will be considered a hybrid.”

If Moriarty and Estancia get their kids back in the classroom in a hybrid model and stay Covid-free for two weeks, they could be playing sports by the end of February.

Stewart Burnett firing up his team in 2019. Football could return in a few weeks. Photo by Ger Demarest.

“As far as our little bubble here in Estancia, we’re getting ready to play,” Burnett said. “We’re just trying to figure out when we can put helmets and pads on.”

Anaya said he’s hopeful the NMAA will release a new revised sports calendar next week—noting that waiting a few more days is not a big deal.

“I think we’ve learned during Covid that we all gotta be patient, there’s no rush to make sure that everything’s correct,” Anaya said, adding, “Our kids wanna play and our coaches wanna play, they’re dying to get out there, the rest we’ll figure out.”

The NMAA board of directors will hold a special meeting on Feb.1 to revisit the proposed calendar, which still includes seasons for all sports.

The Independent sent an email to Mountainair High School’s athletic director requesting a comment but did not hear back in time for this article.