The state’s Public Education Department on Monday put its foot on the proverbial gas pedal.
PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said no longer will high school sports teams across the state need to endure the 14-day waiting period to clear COVID-19 protocols before they begin full practices.
This development could — and perhaps will — allow districts like Albuquerque Public Schools to enter their fall varsity sports schedules at least a week earlier than previously planned.
“Regardless of (their) re-entry designation, we are now moving into eligibility for (New Mexico Activities Association) participation without the previous two-week waiting period,” Stewart said Monday afternoon.
High school teams in Albuquerque, Los Lunas and Belen — plus, dozens of other cities and towns across the state who had said they were opting out of NMAA fall sports — can, if they work it out, schedule full practices as early as Tuesday.
Prior to Monday afternoon, APS sports teams were going to have to go through 14 days of pod-type workouts, starting Monday of this week, with full practices not permitted until March 22, assuming teams did not have a COVID outbreak. Regular seasons — short as they already are — were to begin later that week, probably March 24 for soccer and volleyball, and March 26 or 27 for football and cross country.
Soccer already was in position to qualify APS teams for the postseason, since it started a week later than other fall sports. With an extra week now on the table, APS could be in position to get its volleyball and cross country teams qualified for state. It would have been impossible with the 14-day waiting period in place and the previous start dates.
“I’m really hopeful that’s the case,” La Cueva cross country coach Kyle Fast Wolf said. “I have kids coming out now, and they’re running, but they don’t really see the point of it.”
APS district athletic director Kenny Barreras said he couldn’t say when fall sports teams would begin having regular-season events, as things remain fluid. He said he was waiting to get some “determination from (the NMAA).”
At 5:30 p.m. Monday, Barreras said, “Two hours ago, we weren’t eligible to compete in the state volleyball tournament. I don’t know if this means now we are. Two hours ago, APS wasn’t eligible to participate in the state cross country meet. I don’t know if this means that we are.”
Both need to have district competition to be eligible for state. Now, it might be feasible for APS to schedule district dates in both sports.
The NMAA has a meeting early Tuesday morning with the state’s athletic directors. There remains much work ahead, cautioned NMAA executive director Sally Marquez.
“I need to see (which schools) are opting in, and then see what we can do to make it work for fall sports,” Marquez said.
Los Lunas Schools district AD Wilson Holland said he anticipated Valencia High and Los Lunas High beginning fall sports schedules next week. Same for Belen High, athletic director Steve Contreras said.
The door might be open for APS to play a maximum of three football games rather than two. A first game could take place March 19 or 20.
Fan participation remains regulated. It depends on the state’s Public Health Order and the color of a particular county’s health status.
Bernalillo County, for example, remains in “yellow,” so high school sporting events can feature up to 25% capacity of an outdoor venue. For now, there are still no fans permitted at indoor events, like volleyball.
But Monday’s announcement was welcome.
“It was such a shock to hear all that news today,” Volcano Vista volleyball coach Dawn C de Baca said. “The most exciting thing is, we don’t have to have pods anymore. … It’s great news all the way around. Hopefully, they can get all of it figured out.”