Prep sports set for Saturday have been canceled

Runners leave the starting line at a girls high school cross country meet last October. Season-opening events on Saturday in cross country, golf and volleyball have not gotten a go-ahead from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and will not take place.
Roberto E. Rosales/Journal.

The one high school game in New Mexico that continues unabated is the waiting game.

That was the somber message delivered to New Mexico’s cross country, volleyball and golf communities Wednesday.

With no firm decision, or indication, from the governor’s office in Santa Fe as to an imminent change in the state’s health order, the New Mexico Activities Association had no choice Wednesday afternoon but to cancel all events in volleyball, cross country and fall golf that were scheduled for Saturday.

Saturday was the first day regular-season competition was going to be permitted in those three sports by the NMAA when it laid out a return of prep sports a couple of months ago.

The earliest any sport could proceed is Monday, but only if Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham alters the public health order. And that appears to be unlikely.

“NMAA is certainly welcome to be optimistic, to try to be proactive, to schedule a potential season. But scheduling it doesn’t permit it,” Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, said in a tweet exchange with a Journal reporter Wednesday. “And with COVID raging across NM, as bad as it’s been at any point, we’re not at a point where the state is going to introduce more risk.”

Since the current order from the governor’s office limits sports workouts to 10 or fewer people in a single pod, there is no way for schools to stage meets or matches without defying the governor.

Whether these events can be made up later isn’t clear, since no one knows if there will even be a fall athletic season to begin with. The decision by the governor to move contact football and soccer from fall to spring 2021 was made in early July, a full six weeks before the first games.

“We will make a decision depending on the governor’s orders,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said. She added that the NMAA is not going to shift any state championship dates. Cross country is scheduled to finish the first weekend in December and state volleyball is scheduled to conclude Dec. 12. The only way that would change would be if the governor cancels or delays the fall season.

Without any update to the health order from Lujan Grisham on Thursday or Friday, it would be virtually impossible to stage any high school events next week.

Albuquerque Public Schools has its first fall sport event scheduled for Monday, in golf. Volleyball is supposed to begin Tuesday, cross country a week from Friday. But many other metro-area schools had meets or matches scheduled on Saturday.

Those will not – cannot – be held.

“The virus dictates the time line, not us,” Stelnicki said. “That’s been true all year.”

Marquez informed the state’s high school and/or district athletic directors of the NMAA’s decision during a ZOOM meeting.

The NMAA had hoped the governor’s office would lift restrictions by now, which would have allowed schools to conduct events in those three non-contact sports. And to that end, there are a number of safety measures in place to help ensure protection for athletes, coaches and officials.

In-season workouts can continue for volleyball, cross country and golf, and out-of-season workouts can continue in all other sports.

But restrictions remain across the board, with pods of 10 or fewer people, plus everyone in masks and limited use of equipment.

All other sports besides the three aforementioned sports are currently scheduled to occur fully in 2021.

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