New Mexico’s largest school district on Wednesday night ended the suspense that had so many athletes and parents fully on edge:
There will be sports for Albuquerque Public Schools this fall.
During an APS board meeting Wednesday night, Superintendent Scott Elder said the district’s 13 high schools can compete in golf, cross country and volleyball.
“At this time,” Elder said, “we fully plan to allow our students to participate.”
Athletes in those three sports can resume out-of-season workouts on Monday, Sept. 14. The first official day of practice for the 2020 season is Monday, Oct. 5, with games/meets permitted no sooner than Oct. 10.
“I was quite surprised,” Volcano Vista volleyball coach Dawn C de Baca said after hearing the update from APS. “Pleasantly surprised.”
With APS a couple of weeks ago announcing that it would remain in an online learning model for the rest of the calendar year, some coaches in the district had expressed skepticism that there would be any sports in 2020.
“We’ve been keeping our fingers crossed for a while now,” Sandia volleyball coach Megan Holland said. “I have to say, I am surprisingly shocked. With us not having school, I thought that would play a big factor. But I’m super happy and super excited.”
APS, Elder said, will adhere to New Mexico Activities Association safety guidelines moving forward. “We have been working diligently on creating a plan to make that happen,” he said. Middle school volleyball also will be permitted.
Issues remain, student-athlete safety being the most urgent of them. Elder in an interview last week said he also wants to make sure athletes are transported safely to venues. Another question is what will occur when — or if — an APS coach or athlete tests positive for COVID-19.
The NMAA has been taking its safety lead from the governor’s office, and APS will follow suit for practices and games.
APS board member Elizabeth Armijo expressed a concern about one sport this fall.
“Volleyball is an incredibly aggressive contact sport,” she told fellow board members. “I just want to ensure that we’ll be doing our due diligence to keep them safe.”
The NMAA hasn’t yet revealed all its safety guidelines for the fall, other than athletes will have to face coverings or masks when they compete.
There will be safety measures in place for volleyball, such as rotating disinfected balls into the match, no handshakes between teams, and no close-contact celebrations. Everyone in the gym will be in a mask.
Cross country will have its own restrictions, including a reduction in the size of meets (i.e. limitations on gatherings) and maintaining social distancing at the start and finish lines.
“Cross country is a perfect sport to social distance,” La Cueva coach Kyle Fast Wolf said. “They’re literally trying to run away from each other. Mostly, I just want my kids to get out there and compete and be with each other.”
Meanwhile, fans hoping to attend an APS sporting event in the fall shouldn’t get their hopes raised. “I have a doubt you’ll see any spectators at all,” Elder said.
Also, the four major contact sports — football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, all scheduled to be contested in the winter or spring of 2021 — received no updates from APS at the board meeting.
“(They) are in a holding pattern,” Elder said.
But, out-of-season workouts for all other sports — like baseball, softball, swimming, tennis and track and field — can begin on Oct. 5, APS announced. All of this remains fluid, as any spread of the coronavirus could alter these plans. APS said it plans to distribute more information to players, coaches and athletic directors in the coming days.
“There’s a lot of questions,” C de Baca said, “because we’re not in school and (we don’t) know what it will actually look like. We’ll wait and see and go with the flow.”
NMAA executive director Sally Marquez last week said her organization is prepared to go ahead with a full fall sports campaign, with our without APS.
“Keeping kids engaged with athletics and activities is a vital part of their social and emotional well being,” Marquez said Wednesday night. “We are hopeful that all students across the state can participate in these programs.”
Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Farmington, Santa Fe, Roswell, Gallup and Los Lunas — which all have multiple public high schools — are also moving forward with prep sports this fall.