Saturday was the 63rd consecutive day without high school sports in New Mexico, and what a quiet – and disquieting – nine weeks this has been for us all.
Saturday should have been a celebration. Of state softball champions. State baseball champions. State track and field champions.
This is when it smacks us square in the face, what we’re missing and the reason we’re missing it. Even World War II didn’t stop New Mexico from having a state baseball champion.
Eventually, of course, we’ll have our comeback from the coronavirus.
But when? And how?
Thoughts immediately turn now to August, and whether athletes will be in uniform. And whether anybody will be allowed to watch them.
Here, in the middle of May, we don’t know. No one knows, even the people that make such decisions.
Anxiety levels already are elevated. And they’ll continue to rise, along with the temperatures, until there is a resolution.
Because this piece of the puzzle is probably the single most determining factor as to the existence of a fall sports season, it’s important for everyone to remember this salient point:
If the state does not allow students back onto campuses and into classrooms by August, we ain’t gonna be having any sports.
Plain and simple.
Sally Marquez, the executive director of the New Mexico Activities Association, told me Friday that the NMAA should know more about fall’s fate in July.
July is six weeks away and fast approaching.
I threw some hypotheticals at Marquez during a Friday interview. Chief among them is getting a handle on the contingency plans that may exist.
“What I would say,” Marquez said, “is that every scenario possible has been talked about and discussed. Whether that’s some sports, all sports, no sports, every scenario has been discussed.”
This week, I came upon a story out of Connecticut that floated the idea of flip-flopping the seasons – conducting the traditional spring sports in the fall of 2020, and playing the fall 2020 sports in the spring of 2021. Including football, which generates a fair bit of money for most state high school associations.
This scenario, as far outside the box as it is – and given our current climate, thinking outside the box has become practically a cottage industry – seems extremely unlikely.
“If we flip-flop spring sports and the fall, what if we’re not able to start?” Marquez asked. Then, she added, spring athletes will have missed two consecutive seasons.
Consideration for fan attendance is certainly foremost on everyone’s mind, too, no more so than for spectators themselves.
Even if high school teams return to action in the fall, who will be allowed in to watch, if anyone? Just parents? All comers? If the athletes are competing and banging literal and metaphorical heads, why would it be unsafe for fans to attend? That, everyone acknowledges, is more than a fair question.
And, might every fan at an event be forced to wear a mask? Maybe even officials will be wearing masks, like Korean baseball umpires.
“I think to answer that, it would have to be under the guidance of the governor,” Marquez said. “And what is considered event limitation (on fans).”
Some of you perhaps have already seen the photo; if you haven’t, find the shot from 1918, with masked fans watching a Georgia Tech football game during the notorious Spanish Flu pandemic. Could be that mass masking is our immediate future.
What about the actual constructing of a season? Might we see reduced high school schedules in the fall? One college model possibility is a conference games-only slate, but here in New Mexico, to enact such a thing would be problematic, as not all districts have the same number of teams.
This is hugely frustrating, for everyone. There are a thousand questions and almost no answers.
We do know that this year’s seniors were left homebound and unable to write the final chapter they wanted. And unlike college seniors, high schoolers have nowhere to turn for a second chance. They hurt, and we hurt for them. With them.
Look, life inevitably kicks the hell out of every human being, sooner or later. And for this senior class, these kids were forced to confront unexpected trauma in their lives before any of them should have had to.
They’ll be stronger for it in the end. They may not realize it now, but they will.
We can only hope the athletes of autumn 2020 don’t suffer a similar fate.