Has there ever been a high school football game in New Mexico in which fans were barred from attending?
Because we’re about to have one.
The fallout from the fight last Friday night between players from Española Valley and Bernalillo includes an unusual, and perhaps even unprecedented, decision from Española Valley High School and the New Mexico Activities Association:
Fans — from both schools — will be banned from the Sundevils’ final home game, Oct. 26 against St. Pius.
“After considering options based on the NMAA sportsmanship bylaw, it was determined that prohibiting all fans would provide the most equitable environment for the Oct. 26 contest,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said.
From Española’s side, athletic director Ruben Salazar said he and other school and district administrators wanted to be proactive.
“We discussed the possibilities of what we could do to send a true message to our fans, our community … that we’re taking the NMAA’s Compete with Class (initiative) at heart,” Salazar said.
Last Friday, players from Bernalillo and Española Valley began to fight in the middle of the first quarter of their district game at Española. The game was stopped there with the Spartans leading 7-0.
It is believed a couple of Española Valley parents also made their way onto the sideline or field, although Salazar said there were no fights among adults. That contradicts what multiple sources from Bernalillo have told the Journal, who said they observed adult Sundevil fans throwing punches.
Marquez said that two Bernalillo players and five Sundevils were ejected. The Spartans are home to St. Pius on Friday, Española Valley is at Taos. Those seven players will sit out this week as a one-game penalty for being ejected.
Salazar said the decision to bar fans from the St. Pius game, which is the final home game for Española Valley’s seniors, was not a safety decision. He also was asked why the school did not ban individual fans, rather than have an empty stadium.
“It’s just something we decided that we would have a zero tolerance for fans across the board,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes a few to give everyone a bad name.”
Salazar admitted that this measure will “put us out financially as far as our gate receipts, and as far as concession money, plus our fans not being able to see our kids play.”
The NMAA is going to arrange for a vendor to streamline the game over the internet so fans from both teams can see the contest, Marquez said, but details are still being worked out.
“The NMAA has bylaws and we are to adhere to those bylaws,” Salazar said. “And we crossed that road.”
The NMAA’s decision did not go over well with St. Pius.
“Our fans are being punished, and our kids are being punished, especially our seniors, for something they didn’t have a part of,” Sartans head coach David Montoya said.
Playing a game without fans is drastic, but it has occurred.
The most recent glaring varsity example was a girls basketball game in 2010 between Los Lunas and Rio Grande. Animosity between those two programs led to a game being played at Rio Grande in which only players, coaches, and essential game personnel were admitted into the gymnasium.
“I’m trying to picture what the game is going to look like,” Montoya said.
Marquez said she was unaware of any prep football game in the state ever having been played without fans.
The NMAA also has officially awarded Bernalillo a 1-0 forfeit. The Spartans are 5-1 overall and 1-0 in District 2/5-4A.