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Green light: High school contact sports to start workouts

And now, it’s everyone. Contact sports, too.

Effective Monday, Albuquerque Public Schools has some fresh protocols for high school athletics. The most significant update is this: The district’s four varsity contact sports — football, soccer, basketball and wrestling — can start out-of-season workouts, beginning Oct. 5.

Coaches around APS learned of this news on Monday.

“I’m really excited, I know the kids are excited,” Cibola girls basketball coach Lori Mabrey said. She hasn’t seen her players in nearly seven months. “It’s just been tough, being locked up in our own little houses. I think the kids need some interaction with each other, and Lord knows, I need some interaction with them.”

Those four contact sports in APS have been shut down since early July. And for many coaches, like Mabrey, it’s been significantly longer than that, going back to when APS first pulled the plug on athletics in mid-March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In late June, APS decided to allow all its athletic teams to start back up with individual drills and conditioning, with no contact and no sharing of equipment. But not everyone decided to partake during that time.

Even those that did get in some work with their teams didn’t get much time together, since the state shut those workouts down in early July.

“Just being able to get back together in person is big for our kids,” West Mesa football coach Anthony Ansotigue said. “I think a lot of kids are down, they need to be around coaches and be around adults.”

The emphasis remains on individual skills and conditioning, with no scrimmages or competition.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s latest update on youth sports on Thursday increased the pod size in workouts to no more than 10, a combination of coaches and athletes.

That decision allowed the New Mexico Activities Association to give a green light to all its member schools to stage out-of-season workouts immediately in the four contact sports, starting last Friday.

“It’s (still) hard,” Cleveland football coach Heath Ridenour said. The Storm, he added, won’t return to the field until Sept. 29, given the logistics that must be worked out. “But it really helped us. I can put all 14 coaches to work with a pod of nine (athletes) and work out 126 kids in one evening. We’ll actually get to do some stuff. Now it becomes football again.”

APS officially followed suit on Monday with its revisions.

And even better, teams around the state in basketball, football and soccer will be allowed to share a ball in workouts, which hasn’t been permitted — officially — at any point during this pandemic shutdown. That means, for example, that quarterbacks can officially start throwing to receivers. But only inside a specific pod.

“There’s a lot to be said for being able to throw a football and run some routes, work on timing, work on chemistry,” Ridenour said. “It’s a breath of fresh air. We’ve had nothing but bad news since March. I don’t think we’ll move backwards from this point.”

All other existing pod guidelines and protocols remain.

Volcano Vista coach Chad Wallin, like so many coaches, was happy to have a target return date.

“It’s huge,” Wallin said of the changes. “We do football year-round. To truly be out seven months without any kind of organized ball, it forced us to change how we prepare for a season. We had to kind of start over.”

Each school or district will have to make its own determination on when to resume out-of-season workouts in the contact sports. And for now, athletes in every sport must wear masks.

Also, weight rooms can be used, but only up to 25% capacity.

“It’s a feeling of things are getting back to normal,” Highland boys soccer coach Nick Madrid said. “Being able to get back out there with the guys, it’s extremely relieving and exciting.”

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