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NMAA adds video gaming for upcoming school calendar

Video gaming will not become an official sport – but it will nevertheless be added to the New Mexico Activities Association’s landscape.

The NMAA’s board of directors, incredibly divided in a 6-5 decision, voted to allow eSports to become an activity in New Mexico for the upcoming school year.

The board rarely is split the way it was for this particular issue, even with Mark Koski – a former NMAA staff member who is the CEO of the National Federation of High School Associations’ NFHS Network out of Atlanta – pitching the board in person Thursday morning. The board, including president T.J. Parks of Hobbs, who voted against, was conflicted.

However, New Mexico will move forward with organized gaming for high school students, which will conclude with a state tournament and a blue trophy.

Boiled down, this is how it will work:

A student will be teamed with a small group of other students from their school and compete against other schools from their respective computer labs. The consensus is, while many athletes already are gamers, the eSports initiative will attract students who are not interested in sports, and they can be given the chance to represent their school in another way.

“I think (the closeness of the board vote) has to do with, what is eSports?” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said. “This is so brand new that we don’t understand it fully yet. I see the pros and the cons to it, but I also see the kids who are not able to make a sports team … this is another avenue to get kids involved in an activity and compete for their school.”

The five games selected to begin this program are: Smite, League of Legends, Rocket League, Icons and NBA 2K. All are nonviolent games.

The following three items were confirmed by the board (but as referenda items the schools now get to vote):

• The board gave the NMAA the authority to punish schools for unsportsmanlike conduct by coaches, students and spectators. Safety is one of the base tenets of this bylaw. And this should, in theory, somewhat force schools – and especially their fan bases – to better police themselves out of fear of NMAA involvement.

“We have to try something,” Marquez said.

The NMAA would be able to penalize individuals, and also schools that “have consistent sportsmanship issues.” This conduct includes the athletes. This new wording is talking about behavior that disrupts an event; it would not apply to an incident like the one last winter between basketball fans from Volcano Vista and Cibola who fought outside after a game.

• Schools must play their entire district schedules in order to be considered for a postseason berth. Currently, schools must only play each district member a minimum of one contest/game per season. Marquez said some schools are forfeiting games once they’ve played a district rival once.

• The “undue influence” bylaw could soon officially have some sharper teeth. Athletes will feel the brunt if the NMAA determines that a third party (such as a parent or club coach) tried to sway them to a particular school for athletic purposes. Asked how the NMAA could possibly enforce this, Marquez said word of mouth – read: snitching – will help “curtail all of this.”

Also Thursday:

• San Jon, citing a severe shortage of athletes, asked the board to create an unprecedented “tri-op” arrangement with Grady and House for volleyball and basketball. Marquez said she would continue to look into this. For the upcoming school year, schedules and signed contracts already are in place, severely complicating San Jon’s predicament.

• Marquez said the cost of an adult ticket at state events is going to increase from $8 to $10 starting with 2018-19. Basketball is the exception, but only because it was already at $10. • Since former NFL official/administrator Mike Pereira was here two weeks ago to promote “Battlefields2Ballfields,” the NMAA has had four military veterans sign up to become officials.

• The Class 3A state track and field meet will be placed with Classes 1A and 2A next year, instead of 4A and 5A.

• Reserve has canceled its football program this year.

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