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NMAA believes decision is coming soon on status of prep sports

Cleveland Storm football team members cebrate their 5A football title over Rio Rancho in 2019. Whether Cleveland gets to defend its title this spring, as originally rescheduled, is up in the air. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The official start to New Mexico’s rescheduled high school football season is approaching fast – Feb. 1.

Will there even be a football season? Will there be any season in any sport, for that matter?

Frustratingly for athletes and coaches, that remains unclear.

New Mexico Activities Association executive director Sally Marquez and NMAA board of directors president T.J. Parks on Thursday had a Zoom meeting with members of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office to discuss the immediate future of prep sports.

The governor was not part of the meeting.

“At this point, we are still looking at all levels to have every single sport as of today,” Marquez said Friday afternoon.

Last month, Marquez said, she forwarded information to Lujan Grisham’s office – information, Marquez said, that was requested directly by Santa Fe – about the NMAA’s 2021 sports calendar, how the NMAA would conduct safe, COVID-19 events in each sport (masks would be mandatory for all athletes in competition), and participation numbers related to high school athletics and activities.

“They have what they need, and they’ll let us know,” Marquez said.

The Journal attempted to get a comment from the governor’s office on Friday but was unsuccessful, and the Journal has also made a request to interview Lujan Grisham directly, but had not been able to do so as of Friday evening.

There were, Marquez said, roughly 80,000 New Mexico students who were participating in athletics or activities at the high school level for the 2019-20 school year.

And none of those who were planning to play in 2020-21 can say they have a concrete notion as to their fates for the duration of the winter/spring semester.

“I’ve had conversations with the governor’s team and at this time, no decision has been made,” Marquez said. “Every scenario is on the table. I can’t tell you exactly what they’re looking for.”

The meeting on Thursday, Marquez said, also included the Public Education Department as the three entities plot a return for students to the classroom and to their sports of choice.

“It was a very productive meeting,” Marquez said. “The governor’s office, the PED, they see the value of high school sports.”

But Marquez also acknowledged that this is fast becoming a time-sensitive issue, and this is true especially for seniors. She said Friday she “truly believes we will know more next week.”

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported earlier this week that Las Cruces High football coach Mark Lopez and Cleveland football coach Heath Ridenour submitted a proposal to the NMAA in which multiple varsity fall and winter sports could essentially be played simultaneously, starting in March, followed by the spring sports in late April.

As it stands, practices for this semester’s football season are scheduled to begin on Feb. 1, with games kicking off about 2 1/2 weeks later.

However, the current public health guidelines will make that target impossible to hit, unless there are dramatic amendments to it coming out of Santa Fe. Schools remain restricted to groups/pods of no more than five people for practices for the time being.

Lujan Grisham on Thursday hinted that changes might be afoot as it relates to sports in New Mexico, but she did not specify what that means.

“It’s on their forefront,” Marquez said.

What options are on the table?

“I have options, A-B-C all the way to Z,” she said. “I have a lot of options that I have been researching that (relate) to sports. I will exhaust all of those options.

“Do we COVID test? Do we do varsity sports only? Do we do without middle school sports so we can have more facilities available? Do we cut seasons so there are no state championships? Do we just do district only? In all of the decisions that we make, the goal is to play all sports in New Mexico, with the thought to make sure we have a strong spring season.”

The spring athletes in five sports had their seasons canceled due to the pandemic last year, and Marquez has said repeatedly she wants to ensure they do not lose a second season.

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