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Governor confirms: No prep fall sports

COVID-19 on Thursday completed its rout of New Mexico high school sports in 2020.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday afternoon said the three sports that were left on the state’s prep calendar this fall — volleyball, cross country and golf — can’t be held this fall.

“We can’t do the competitions,” Lujan Grisham said.

The New Mexico Activities Association announced that all three sports would be shifted to 2021, which is when every other sport — including football and soccer that typically are played in the fall — already had been moved due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We knew we were on the ropes,” said longtime Albuquerque Academy cross country coach Adam Kedge. “Everything was leading to that fact. That doesn’t mean we don’t dust ourselves off and bounce back up.”

On Wednesday, the NMAA said all previously scheduled events for this coming Saturday in the three sports would be off, given that the governor’s public health order had not changed.

Then the hammer came down Thursday for the rest of the year as the existing health order — pods of no more than 10 people, mask wearing for athletes and limited use of equipment — will not be amended for the entirety of 2020.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” Lujan Grisham said during her public update. “COVID is an unfair, vicious virus.”

Meanwhile, coaches and athletes were left to face another new reality.

“I guess nothing is a surprise anymore at this point in the world we’re living in,” said Jordan Russell, volleyball coach at defending Class 4A state champion St. Pius. “It’s disheartening.”

The NMAA said it is working on a revised prep calendar for 2021, which means finding a slot for volleyball and cross country. The spring golf season won’t be impacted, the NMAA said.

“This is an extremely sad day for students across New Mexico,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said in a statement. “We were planning and hoping to begin competition this month as our member schools are eager to safely integrate sports and activities back in to our students’ lives. At this point, however, we cannot stage any competitive events without an update to the current public health order. Thus, the NMAA’s Fall Sports Seasons have been (postponed) strictly based on the orders set forth by the Office of the Governor.”

Marquez couldn’t be reached for additional comment Thursday.

Given what occurred on Wednesday, many coaches and athletes say they were braced for Thursday’s development.

“Honestly, I knew this was coming,” Rio Rancho cross country coach Sal Gonzales said. “I wasn’t surprised.”

Gonzales said he felt New Mexico safely could stage a cross country season this fall.

“I don’t think enough was done to look at the possibility of running sports,” he said. “Even under the current (health) guidelines, we could run.”

Athletes, meanwhile, will have to be patient a few months longer.

“Many of us were anticipating something like this,” said Academy senior runner Justin Hickey. “We were hoping to have some sort of system like neighboring states. … It’s minimal risk.”

A governor’s office spokesman told the Journal that the NMAA never had the go-ahead to stage competitions this fall.

“The state made clear to the NMAA over the course of these communications that the schedule was not approved and that there were no plans to amend the public health order to accommodate it at present,” Tripp Stelnicki said.

Much has been made of how athletes are struggling emotionally and mentally — and academically — without sports.

“Sports are a really important part of high school, it’s part of the whole high school experience,” La Cueva senior cross country runner Stevie Salas said.

Workouts and conditioning can continue for all sports. But the earliest any competition will now be held is early January, with swimming and basketball. The last completed event was March 14 at an empty Pit.

A parent of an athlete told the Journal that a protest rally has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Hoffmantown Church, near the Academy.

Runners leave the starting line at a girls high school cross country meet last October. The next sanctioned high school meets will be in 2021 after Thursday’s announcements postponing the season by both the govenor’s office and the New Mexico Activities Association. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal.)

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