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Annual NM Games take a big hit because of virus

Unlike last year’s New Mexico Games, there will be no opening ceremonies this season. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The New Mexico Games, citing the same fears and uncertainty that have enveloped sports the world over, has canceled its signature event – basketball – for 2020.

Also canceled, said executive director Fred Hultberg, in light of COVID-19 concerns are baseball, track and field and swimming.

Likely to be canceled, he said, are arm wrestling and judo.

First casualty is the Olympic-style sports festival’s annual opening ceremonies, originally scheduled for Tuesday. That happens to be Hultberg’s birthday.

Other sports might still be conducted, Hultberg said, mentioning pickleball, archery, racquetball and bowling among them. The games typically stretch from May through September, and some sports could be rescheduled toward the end of that span.

It’s nonetheless a grim outlook, Hultberg said, for what he expects to be his final year as executive director. He took the reins in 1991.

“It’s kind of a crummy time (to leave),” he said, “because I’d like to go out having a successful games. But I just don’t see it.”

Basketball long has been by far the games’ most popular event, both for participants and spectators. But Hultberg doesn’t expect UNM’s Johnson Center or the high school gyms he’s used in the past to be available.

As for spectators, for basketball or any indoor sport, he’s not sure the games would be able to take the appropriate safety measures – especially after participating Thursday in a teleconference conducted by the National Congress of State Games.

“We talked about this,” he said. “(State directors) want to know about social distancing for spectators, using personal protective equipment, taking temperatures at the door. … Eliminating the amount of people in a venue, setting up sanitation stations.

“Can we do that? Is it worth it?”

Regarding baseball, Hultberg has been partnering with American Legion summer leagues. “That’s been canceled,” he said.

Regarding track and field, the games typically have used UNM’s facility – availability unknown.

Regarding swimming, Hultberg, who for years worked for Albuquerque Parks & Recreation, doesn’t expect city pools to open until August. In any case, social distancing would be difficult if not impossible.

With so many businesses closed or operating at less than full capacity, Hultberg said he has stopped looking for sponsors.

“What we’re planning on doing if we do anything,” he said, “is we want to put all our sponsors on this year’s T-shirt and not even go to them (for money).”

For the first time this year, Hultberg said, “We sent out a plaque, a really nice plaque, to all our sponsors that have helped us in the past. It’s just kind of ironic that I did that now, not knowing that this was gonna happen.

“We’re had some (sponsors) with us the whole time, for 30 years.”

Hultberg said he has ordered $7,000 worth of medals for this year’s games. They’ll be awarded in however many sports are conducted.

He said the remaining medals, though they’re inscribed with the current year, could be held and awarded next year with an appropriately labeled lanyard.

“We thought that would kind of be like a collector’s item,” he said. “I mean you’d have a medal that says 2020 and a lanyard that says 2021.”

On Thursday’s teleconference, Hultberg said, all his counterparts were facing the same problems and concerns – with one exception.

“Missouri,” he said. “The director for Missouri said, ‘We’re pretty much doing everything now. The towns are opened up, we’re open for business, we’re doing this or that.’

“They were still concerned, because, you know, something could happen. But they did say that probably by the end of May they’ll be on their third stage, ready to go.”

Added to his New Mexico Games concerns, Hultberg, a longtime fan and booster of UNM athletics, said he’s had problems adjusting to the idea of an abbreviated college football season – or none at all – this fall.

“I still want to wake up from my dream,” he said. “It’s got to be a dream.

“I can’t believe what’s happening. It’s just crazy stuff.”

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