The New Mexico Activities Association board of directors, by an 8-4 vote, on Thursday chose June 15 as the phase one resumption date for the state’s long-on-hiatus high school athletics.
“I think it’s critically important that we get kids back into the athletics and activities mode as quickly as we can, as safely as we can,” said NMAA board president T.J. Parks, the superintendent in Hobbs.
There has not been an official game or practice in New Mexico since March 14, the final day of the state basketball tournament in Albuquerque. The coronavirus pandemic caused the NMAA to cancel all spring sports seasons soon thereafter.
The much-anticipated return date — which is not mandatory, it simply is the earliest date schools can begin to have organized sports activities — comes with numerous guidelines.
There can be no more than six people gathering at a time, inside or outside, with a ratio of five athletes for every coach, and the same students working with the same coach.
The number of indoor facility pods can’t exceed three at one time. The limit is five for outdoor pods. The NMAA is going to govern summer activities this year — individual school districts would ordinarily handle that task — and the NMAA said there must be a minimum distance of six feet between each individual at all times.
Coaches and athletes are supposed to be screened daily for signs or symptoms of COVID-19 prior to a workout. Staff members, including coaches, must receive a COVID-19 test before workouts. This will not be mandatory for athletes, although their temperatures will be taken daily.
Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Trujillo and Las Cruces district athletic director Ernie Viramontes were two of the four dissenting board votes Thursday. Both said they felt early July would have been preferable.
“We thought it maybe would be nice … to start at a later date where a majority of us could start at the same time,” Viramontes said.
Moreover, both said Las Cruces seemed unlikely to be ready to start June 15.
“If we’re all able to start on the 15th, there is a level playing field,” Trujillo said. “If we’re not, then it builds in that unnatural advantage that some places already have.”
Aztec Municipal Schools Superintendent and NMAA board member Kirk Carpenter expressed concern that schools in McKinley County, Cibola County and San Juan County — areas that have been hit hard by COVID-19 — won’t be nearly ready by June 15. But then Thursday afternoon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made it possible for those counties to operate “under the same guidelines as the rest of the state.”
Phase one of this high school sports return is defined by the NMAA as the following: individual skill development and workouts, no contact with others, no sharing of equipment, and no games or scrimmages. There is no known date to begin phase two or phase three. NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said the next phase will include the use of weight rooms and larger gatherings.
“COVID-19 is ever-changing,” Marquez said. “June 15 could look totally different than what we sent out today.”
Rio Rancho Public Schools district AD Larry Chavez said he wasn’t sure Rio Rancho and Cleveland would be doing workouts by June 15, suggesting June 29 as a more likely target date. Chavez and Superintendent Dr. Sue Cleveland are meeting Tuesday to discuss the topic, Chavez said.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Heath Ridenour, coach of defending Class 6A state football champion Cleveland, about Thursday’s vote. “That’s what I’m gonna take from it. And I hope it’s followed by another positive step in a couple of weeks.”
Scott Elder, who on July 1 will become the acting superintendent for Albuquerque Public Schools — and will join the NMAA board that same day — told the Journal APS would have a decision on how it would proceed next week.
“I’d love to get them up and running as soon as possible, but COVID has really changed things,” Elder said. “I really believe the underlying movement has got to be safety. We just can’t jump into it.”
Marquez said the national federation was largely the driving force behind the guidelines, adding that she spoke to Arizona, Texas, Colorado and Oregon for feedback.
“What we do with these guidelines will determine what happens in the future,” Marquez told the board. “If we go crazy and it doesn’t work, this could have a big effect on what happens in July and August.”
PHYSICALS: The board voted to permit students with 2019-20 physical exams to compete in 2020-21 — unless one of the following three things occurred: The student suffered a new injury, received a new medical diagnosis or contracted COVID-19.
BUDGET: Marquez said the organization usually gets a check totaling just under $300,000 from the University of New Mexico after state basketball.
This year, the check was $40,000.
Marquez told the board the NMAA budget took a hit of approximately $650,000, accounting for the loss of a full week of state basketball, all of state spirit and no spring sports state events.
SPORT-SPECIFIC GUIDELINES(What selected sports can begin doing starting June 15)
Football: Conditioning and individual drills (backpedal, etc.). A player should not participate in drills with a single ball that will be handed off or passed to teammates. Contact with other players is not allowed, and there should be no sharing of tackling dummies /donuts/sleds. Protective equipment prohibited.
Soccer: Conditioning, individual ball-skill drills, each player has own ball, feet only (no heading/use of hands), no contact.
Volleyball: Conditioning, individual ball-handling drills, each player has own ball. A player should not use a ball that others touch or hit in any manner.
Basketball: Conditioning, individual ball-skill drills, no contact or sharing of balls. A player may shoot with a ball(s), but a team should not practice/pass a single ball among the team where multiple players touch the same ball.
Baseball/Softball: Conditioning and tee work. Players should not share gloves or bats or throw a single ball that will be tossed among the team. A single player may hit in cages, throw batting practice (with netting as backstop, no catcher). Prior to another athlete using the same balls, they should be collected and cleaned individually.
Source: New Mexico Activities Association