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APS athletes, parents not giving up fight for sports

The Albuquerque High boys soccer team wants to be able to celebrate again as it did here in November of 2019, when Christian Nava, right, reveled with his teammates after winning the 5A state title. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal File Photo)

On a supremely active day for high school athletics across the metro area, one item stood out above the rest: The fight to return Albuquerque Public Schools athletes to their sports could be on a fast track toward a courtroom.

On Monday afternoon, a GoFundMe page — Let Them Play – New Mexico — was established, with the hope of raising $30,000 to pay for litigation against the state. As of 8 p.m. Monday, about four hours after the site went active, just over $1,300 had been raised.

“On behalf of our student-athletes, who have already suffered so much due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we would like to file a lawsuit and/or an injunction to allow them to play the sports they love. All funds raised would go toward litigation and any fees incurred in this process.”

The page makes reference to both the State of New Mexico and the Public Education Department, and it also speaks about athletes being “held hostage” by the decision makers at the PED and the Governor’s office.

APS athletes currently cannot play a sport because the district is in a remote learning model. Only districts that have shifted to hybrid learning models have been approved to compete in a New Mexico Activities Association-sanctioned sport by the PED.

The athletes in the four primary fall sports — football, soccer, volleyball and cross country — are in the most immediate peril as regular-season schedules are due to begin as early as Saturday around New Mexico.

In the fall of 2019, there were just over 3,350 boys and girls playing a fall sport at APS’ 13 high schools. All four sports were pushed back to this spring due to the ongoing pandemic.

A couple of hundred people, many of them athletes, demonstrated on Sunday afternoon outside APS district headquarters, protesting the decision by the APS board of education last week to keep the district in remote learning.

The page’s organizer is listed as AnnaMarie Garcia, who is the parent of a La Cueva High football player.

One source told the Journal on Monday that a legal challenge could be filed within a couple of days. Also, efforts are being made to see if parents and/or athletes from Los Lunas Schools might want to join this fight. Los Lunas and Valencia High also are in remote learning for the near future.

Monday brought about other major developments, not the least of which was this — the first full official sports practices in the metro area in nearly a calendar year.

Hope Christian High School head coach Fernando Salinas, right, looks on as his football team warms up during practice. Hope Christian began practices in full pads and helmets on Monday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

A handful of private schools in Albuquerque — including Sandia Prep, Hope Christian, Menaul, Cottonwood Classical Prep and Bosque School — returned, to various degrees, to full workouts. Before Monday, there haven’t been any in-season team practices in any sport anywhere in New Mexico since the middle of March.

Bosque School, in fact, is going to be the first local school to host a varsity competition, with a cross country race on Saturday morning that will also include runners from Menaul (a first-year program), plus Sandia Prep and Cottonwood Classical Prep.

APS BOARD LETTER TO SANTA FE: As for APS, as expected on Monday, its board of education drafted a resolution letter for the office of Michelle Lujan Grisham, imploring her to consider decoupling participation in athletics (and activities) from the mandatory implementation of a hybrid learning model.

“Why does the student need to be in a Hybrid Model in order to be successfully educated?” the letter asks.

It goes on to say, “In fact, athletes are more focused on succeeding in their education when they are allowed to play their sport. … With the pandemic and lack of sports, significant numbers of athletes are depressed and are not doing well academically. Coaches can and will enforce academic success as well as required safety precautions, even in a pandemic-shortened season, if allowed to control NMAA participation at the local level. However, if sports are not allowed because the school district cannot immediately implement an approved Hybrid Model, then these student-athletes will not be able to participate, and hence may well not succeed in their education.”

It should be noted, this is not APS’ first effort to ask the state for such a decoupling — it’s just the first request that comes from the board of education. APS Superintendent Scott Elder and other superintendents made a similar request of PED Secretary Dr. Ryan Stewart on Feb. 4 to decouple during a virtual meeting.

APS’ board in its letter asks the governor to permit school boards to “make their own determination of whether or not local plans for increased in-person learning opportunities should allow for required participation in NMAA-sponsored activities.”

Elder said the letter was sent Monday. A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham said Monday evening that APS “has not delivered their letter to the Governor’s Office as yet.”

NOTE: The New Mexico Activities Association has published its full guidelines for participation, breaking down the specifics for each sport.

Cross country meets can be held starting Saturday, assuming participating teams have followed all the protocols.

Volleyball matches cannot begin until March 1 at the earliest; for soccer, practices begin March 1 with games starting around the state on March 6; and football is slated to kick off with openers on March 4, 5 or 6.

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