Any other year, the following sentence would rightly be interpreted as a lame attempt at an April Fools’ Day joke:
There were two high school football games played at University Stadium on Thursday.
The calendar flipped to April 1 on Thursday, and indeed, because the pandemic pushed the 2020 high school season to the spring, there were a pair of prep games inside the University of New Mexico football stadium. Socorro whipped Dexter 48-14 in a 3A matchup in the afternoon, and Lovington beat Bloomfield 37-19 in a 4A game in the evening.
Both games drew crowds of about 500-600 fans in season finales arranged by the New Mexico Activities Association, which set up bowl-type games in this, the fifth and final week of a super short season.
“It was outstanding,” said Lovington senior defensive tackle Alex Tramell. “You never get the opportunity to come to UNM, and it’s really huge. I loved it. Great atmosphere.”
The NMAA is staging five games at University Stadium this week, a rare flurry of prep activity at the state’s largest football venue.
Class 2A rivals Eunice and Texico play at 2 p.m. Friday, with Mayfield facing Farmington in a 5A game at 6 p.m. Friday.
The last of the five is probably the elite pairing of the weekend, with Class 6A powers Cleveland and Las Cruces squaring off at 4 p.m. Saturday. The NMAA arranged an elite game in each of its five, 11-man classifications in Albuquerque.
“When I got here, one of the things I really wanted to strive to do was broker opportunities that would open the doors to showcasing our facility,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said. “This isn’t just about UNM. This is about all of us.”
After the evening game Thursday, players hugged and took photos, much like they would at the conclusion of any season. This, however, certainly was a weird and anticlimactic finish to a season that began just 27 days earlier, on March 5. But it was a special way to drop the curtain.
“It was an electric environment. You should have seen us walk in that gate right there,” Lovington football coach Anthony Gonzales said, pointing to the gate where they entered. “Their eyes were huge.”
Thursday proved to be the final game in the coaching career of Bloomfield’s Bob Allcorn, who announced his retirement after the loss. He has 18 years as a head coach (30 total), including the last seven in the Four Corners after leaving Moriarty.
“It was really awesome walking into this stadium and getting this opportunity,” Allcorn said. “It was incredibly exciting.”
Said Tramell: “It was worth it. I would love to do it again.”
The agreement between the NMAA and UNM calls for the NMAA to pay UNM 9 percent of ticket sales at University Stadium, NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said. The NMAA also has to pay all the workers required to staff the games.
There won’t be any concessions revenue, as high school events cannot open concession stands for outdoor contests. UNM also gets 100 percent of parking fees.
Across the street, the Pit is utilized each year to host state basketball and spirit competition. This year it is also the site of the state volleyball finals in the NMAA’s five classifications.
There was one final Thursday, three more set for Friday, and the last one Saturday. There are single matches Thursday and Saturday because the UNM volleyball team also has a home match on those days, their first two home matches of the season.
The NMAA is paying UNM $2,000 for the use of the facility for these three days, Marquez said.
Next week, UNM is hosting the state soccer championship games, either inside the main stadium or at Robertson Field. The financial arrangement is the same as it is for football, with the NMAA paying UNM 9 percent of all ticket sale revenue, Marquez said.
“If we can utilize our facilities, to give high school athletes (a chance) to come play at a venue like this … it can be positive for both,” Nuñez said. “That approach has always been something to me that’s important.”
UNM and the NMAA have been in talks going back to the autumn.
The NMAA ordinarily would stage one large, centralized state volleyball tourney in Rio Rancho, at multiple sites. The second week of soccer has been played in recent years at the large complex on the Santa Ana Pueblo.
However, because the pandemic led the NMAA to reduce the number of state qualifers in both sports this spring – from 12 to 8 – and because the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds were scheduled for home sites or neutral sites, having UNM stage a relatively small number of championship events (five for volleyball, six for soccer) was doable.
“I’m a big believer in high school sports,” Nuñez said. “When this whole pandemic fell upon us, I saw the challenges (the NMAA) was facing, and I knew that … more than ever, we had to find a way to be there for each other.”
The NMAA hopes to return the postseason formats used in the fall of 2019, Marquez said. This spring’s demands, obviously, are unique.
“When our calendar started shifting around, we didn’t know when we’d be able to play, or when we’d be able to have state events,” Marquez said. “They were willing to help in any way possible.”