Here’s some world-class irony: a sport that is founded on a sea of smiling faces, one that is supposed to be the epitome of positive energy, is in danger of having the plug pulled on its state event because of a rash of terrible sportsmanship.
For repeated – and even criminal in nature – sportsmanship issues plaguing the sport, up to and including death threats, the New Mexico Activities Association is considering canceling the 2020 State Spirit Competition, the Journal has learned.
“I think everything is on the table as far as what we do for next year,” said NMAA executive director Sally Marquez, adding that there has been no definitive decision to cancel the event. She plans to go to the NMAA Commission on May 22 to discuss options.
However, she added, “Changes have to be made.”
Some nasty sportsmanship issues relating to cheerleading and dance have the NMAA pondering a truly large-scale, drastic measure. There was a direct death threat made to two people who were helping the NMAA staff with this year’s state spirit competition late last month. Also, aggressively worded social media posts, and their negative impact on coaches and athletes alike, contributed to the NMAA calling a special meeting last Monday.
Marquez said there has been an accumulation of problems, this year and in recent years that have turned up the temperature. For Monday’s meeting, attendance was mandatory for every cheer and dance coach in New Mexico; coaches more than 3½ driving hours from Albuquerque could participate via conference call.
“Right now, spirit is not abiding by what we believe are education-based athletics,” Marquez said. “This year was probably the worst out of all of them.”
Marquez confirmed the aforementioned death threat, which occurred on the Saturday of this year’s state competition. But she would not comment on who made it, or who received it. She said she did not personally hear the threat, but said she knows the identity of the person who made it and is considering banning that person for a year. It was not known Saturday if the two people who directly received the death threat have pressed, or will press, charges with local police.
Otherwise, Marquez said, “I will not discuss it.”
Social media is a crucial component of how the NMAA proceeds in this matter. The Journal located one active Twitter page – C heer – Breaking Bad Edition? (@CNm2019) – that has been critical of the NMAA, with a series of negative tweets posted after the recent state competition in late March.
Here is one example: “WANTED: 6 judges in March 2020 for NM Cheer competition. No experience necessary. Completed score sheets provided. Duties: Sit on judge panel and act like you are doing something during event. You will not have to answer to anybody. Send info to @_NMAA”
The Journal sent a direct tweet to whoever operates the Cheer – Breaking Bad Edition? page, seeking comment from anyone about any of the issues related to this story, but nobody reached out as of Saturday evening. The operator of this account has tagged the Journal (@ABQJournal) with some of its critical comments in the recent past.
There was at least one other Twitter page with far more inflammatory material directed both toward the NMAA and other teams, but that page has been taken down, said Marquez. She declined to say who was responsible for that page’s content.
Various parents, athletes, coaches and other outside parties all are contributing to an inappropriate social media presence, Marquez said.
The NMAA made cheer and dance an official sport in 2010. The state competition, which encompasses female cheer, co-ed cheer and dance, is the third-largest money-making postseason event on the NMAA calendar, after basketball and football.
And their biggest stage is now being threatened.
“I 100 percent don’t agree with (Marquez),” said Del Norte cheer coach Carlos Abeyta, speaking about the possibility of the NMAA canceling state spirit. He advocates punishing specific schools rather than everyone collectively.
“My suggestion is suspend (the offending) schools for a year,” Abeyta said. “If it was my own kids, suspend me for a year.”
Social media is not a new headache. Complaints seem to center around how major competitions, like state, are judged and who is judging them. Consequently, multiple sources have told the Journal that there are examples of people (including athletes) creating fake Twitter accounts to fire away anonymously from behind an electronic mask.
“How are you gonna monitor all these things?” Abeyta said. “In the end, it’s about teaching respect.”
Social media criticisms, and bullying, are not specific to this year.
“It is very disturbing when kids are mocked, when kids are threatened, when coaches are mocked and threatened, when teams are mocked and threatened,” Marquez said. “Kids and coaches are being hurt.”
Coaches need to propel change, another local coach said.
“If anyone could stop it, it would be the coaches,” said West Mesa cheer coach Stephanie Davy. “To put an end to everyone questioning results and posting results and talking down to kids on social media.”
Davy said she spoke up at Monday’s meeting, and part of her message was directed to fellow coaches regarding how social media is being applied by athletes and parents alike.
“It’s been going on all year long and you all have turned a blind eye to it,” Davy said she told them.
Hope Christian dance coach Ashley Nix, whose team captured the Class 4A state title two weeks ago, said she has a social media contract not only with her athletes, but with their parents as well, to prevent such vitriol from being spewed over the Internet.
“I think there should definitely be some things done with regards to making sure there is good sportsmanship … (and that spirit) is held to a higher standard,” Nix said. “But I don’t know if taking state spirit away from all schools would be the fairest approach.”
The board will decide
With relation to last Monday’s meeting, which Marquez described as productive despite the ominous tones of cancelation, she said, “I will be talking to the Commission and the (NMAA) board (on June 13) to talk about what came out of that meeting.”
Ultimately, the board of directors has final authority to determine what happens going forward.
In other sports, Española Valley and Estancia have felt the wrath of the NMAA on a smaller, individual-game scale because of breaches in the NMAA’s Compete With Class initiative as it relates to poor fan behavior. Española Valley had fans banned from a home football game last October, while Estancia last month had fans banned from its first-round boys state tournament basketball game, which was on the road.
To cancel state spirit, which has been held in recent years at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit, would put a significant dent in the NMAA’s budget, given the revenue stream it generates. Last year, it created about $80,000, according to Marquez.
Combined, there were 106 dance and cheer squads, and approximately 2,000 athletes, that participated in this year’s state competition.
“Cheer and dance (didn’t used to be) as competitive,” Nix said, “but then it’s been growing so rapidly, that now it’s a very competitive sport.”
Davy recounted a message from one Albuquerque coach at Monday’s meeting.
“She said, ‘We’ve gotten away from the cheer aspect and we’ve become competitive teams instead of being ambassadors to our schools.'” Davy said.
Del Norte’s Abeyta said the escalating hostility could also be traced to this evolving belief:
“Some schools are, (it’s) we have to be first place or nothing,” he said.