Back to business.
Although there are some conditions attached for the schools, the New Mexico Activities Association can begin its sports calendar Feb. 22, the Public Education Department announced Tuesday.
“Today is a great day,” NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said.
It has been 10 1/2 months – March 14 – since the last high school sporting event in New Mexico.
“It’s been a long road. We know it has not been easy to adjust to the restrictions we have had to put in place,” said New Mexico PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said.
In March, few believed that the pandemic would still be raging into 2021. In the interim, athletes and coaches have been agonizing throughout, searching for any sign of a return. That made Tuesday the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
“Everyone is really excited,” said Cibola High quarterback Aden Chavez. “We’re really just hyped to show what we’ve done, and there are a lot of seniors ready to show up to work.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday, in her State of the State address, said districts could return their students to class for in-person learning as early as Feb. 8. It is not required, however.
This was one of the major dominos to tumble Tuesday. The PED provided the other, with a pertinent nugget on its website revealed even earlier in the day that spoke specifically about high school athletics.
Per the PED, assuming a school and/or district is in a hybrid learning model – which is mandatory for any school to be eligible to compete in a sport – and assuming there are no “significant increases in the spread of COVID-19” in the two weeks between Feb. 8 and Feb. 22, then sports and activities can begin on Feb. 22.
“I’m excited … enthusiastic,” Marquez said. “We have been waiting for this announcement.”
The PED and Department of Health will co-monitor the COVID situation, according to the PED.
“We need to prioritize getting students back into the classroom before we prioritize sports and other extracurricular activities,” Stewart said in a virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon.
It is not clear whether the two-week observation period referenced in the PED language will also apply to schools that begin a hybrid model after Feb. 8.
Now the onus shifts to the decision-makers at each school or district to map out a future that best suits them.
To that end, the challenges for the larger districts, especially Albuquerque Public Schools, which has 13 high schools, are going to be considerably more complex than they will be for cities or towns with just one or two public high schools.
“Details about how and when schools will reopen, along with information about how the decision will impact sports, extracurricular activities, and more, are being discussed now,” APS said in a prepared statement late Tuesday afternoon.
Collectively, Tuesday’s developments were happily devoured by the prep sports community. It was the first happy news in quite a while.
“In a long time,” Volcano Vista football coach Chad Wallin said. “Everyone is so dang excited.”
The NMAA’s board of directors is meeting early Wednesday morning to vote on a revised sports calendar. The NMAA plans to contest all its sports in a largely truncated calendar that runs through the end of June.
“I’m always a positive guy, but this last month or so, I thought there was no way we were gonna play,” Manzano football coach Philip Martinez said. “It’s taken an extremely harsh toll. A lot of our kids had lost hope, to be honest. It’s been kind of exhausting.”
Said Chavez of the waiting, “It’s been like a slow burn.”
Marquez made it clear the NMAA intends to plow forward, regardless of the status of individual districts.
“We are planning a go on Feb. 22,” she said. “I think more details will come shortly as we work through those plans.”
For high school sports teams regardless of sport, they can continue in a limited pod structure (no more than five people) until Feb. 22.
“It’s just a start,” Marquez said. “… We need to make sure we do things right so we have a finish line.”