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Yodice: Differing views on pace to return to play

Too fast.

Too slow.

Just right.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are as you read this, you belong to one of these three camps.

As June 15 was confirmed last week as the start-up return date for New Mexico prep athletes, reaction was swift — and divided. Not polarizingly so, but divided nonetheless.

What the responses tell us is, quite simply, this: there is no right answer as to the hows and whens of phasing in high school athletes and coaches for a summer schedule.

In this year of the coronavirus, which has already left us with with 2½ frustrating months of prep sports silence, there are only best guesses.

I asked my Twitter followers (@JamesDYodice) to message me, wanting them to weigh in on this topic. There were many divergent points of view.

We will begin with those who fall into the “too slow” group, who are, in general, irritated by the pace at which the state is moving.

They want more. A lot more. And they want it now. They saw the phase one restrictions as outlined last week by the New Mexico Activities Association — which is, it should be pointed out, basically following the lead of national high school leadership, plus New Mexico state government officials — and thought it inadequate.

“Too slow,” Piedra Vista girls basketball coach Joe Reed lamented. “Being that kids under the age of 18 are more likely to be struck by lightning and die, then to die from the Rona.”

Another follower said New Mexico should already be into phase three, whatever that is going to look like when the time comes. Another follower used the word “ridiculous!” to describe phase one. Yet another said this was “straight up wrecking kids in New Mexico.”

Many of the people in the “too slow” group see other states doing more, and naturally wish the same for us. But it’s a slippery slope to compare New Mexico to other states. This is as unique a state as there is in this country. What works someplace else offers no guarantee of success here.

And on top of that, exactly how many professional teams or college programs are moving much faster than us with detailed practices or workouts? We are all in much the same boat. This is a meticulous process.

Let’s move to the “too fast” group.

Not everyone will be starting up on June 15. Las Cruces Public Schools has already announced that it is waiting until June 22. I get the sense that Rio Rancho Public Schools is going to wait beyond June 15, and possibly also Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest (by far) district. We should know APS’ intentions soon enough, sometime this week.

There are those that preferred a phase one start date in late June or early July, believing — and this opinion has merit — that a methodical return is what’s warranted, and that more time is required to put ducks in a row from an organizational and safety standpoint. (As you might expect, not everyone is fully convinced that fall high school sports in New Mexico are going to start exactly on time, which is mid- to late August.)

“I do not want to go too fast and then have to shut down. SLOW & STEADY,” Bosque School boys basketball coach Clifton Davidson said.

A majority fell into the third group, the “just right” crowd. Which does have some overlap with the “too fast”ers.

“I feel the most important part of this whole situation is being able to have a season,” Artesia boys basketball coach Michael Mondragon said. “If that means we need to take things slower then so be it.”

Most of what I heard was similarly aligned to this. The bottom line is, COVID-19 is still driving this bus, whether we like it or not.

“I really think it’s impossible for us as coaches to know what speed we should be going,” St. Pius football coach David Montoya said. “… It makes sense to go slow now so we can play in the fall & winter. We are all taking a risk but nobody that is coaching is qualified or educated enough to understand how big it is.”

Look, let’s train our focus on this: in two weeks, athletes will be back on courts, back on playing fields. With their coaches. I imagine both groups by now must be overwhelmed with extreme Zoom fatigue. These athletes’ mental state will improve immeasureably by getting out of their houses on a regular basis.

June 15 is a start. It will begin to steer us away from the virtual, and into the actual.

And for now, given all the darkness we’ve shared since mid-March, that’s comforting. Be patient. We’ll shift into faster gears soon enough.

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