Life changed for coaches and athletes around the state on Thursday afternoon, especially in Roswell and southeastern New Mexico. High school football and soccer teams were shut down by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
With COVID-19 pandemic numbers on the rise, Lujan Grisham believes the risk of spreading the virus is too high and too dangerous to play contact sports in the fall. This affects teams from kindergarten through 12th grade.
There is a chance high school golf, cross-country and tennis can be played, but only if schools are open full-time in the fall. The one sport that was not addressed in the live-streamed press conference was volleyball.
“The New Mexico Activities Association will be postponing both the 2020 football and soccer seasons to the spring semester,” said Dusty Young, NMAA associate director. “Although the NMAA and its member schools were hopeful that all interscholastic sports and activities could resume as originally scheduled this August, the continued coronavirus pandemic and resulting public health concerns have forced the association to consider adjustments for the 2020-2021 school year.”
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The Roswell Coyotes, two-time defending state football champions, worked out for two weeks in June, but have taken the last two weeks off. When the team was working out, they could not have any more than five athletes to a pod. Having to work with smaller numbers has worked to head coach Jeff Lynn’s benefit. Lynn feels working with smaller numbers enabled his coaches to help players develop their individual skills.
“I don’t really know what is going to happen,” Lynn said. “I do think there are consequences for a decision like that. Anytime you remove sports from a kid’s life, I think there are discipline issues that arise in school and their grades go down. I think their attendance goes down. I understand we are trying to flatten the curve for the coronavirus, but I also know there are other consequences that go along with that and those aren’t good either.”
Lynn said he saw a stat the other day for those between the ages of 15 and 65 years old, there is a 0.001 death rate from the virus. Lynn feels strongly games should be played, and he thinks playing is best for kids.
“I think Sally Marquez (NMAA executive director) is doing all she can,” Lynn said. “I think she is limited by what the people in Santa Fe are saying. I would love to work with Sally and come up with a plan that everyone can play, not just football, but all the sports. I think it is important to the success of our kids and graduation rates. I think this is important.”
Lynn said his team will go back to work on Monday and will follow the rules to do what the people in Santa Fe say. Lynn believes working out and having his team in a structured, positive environment is what’s best for them. Lynn feels idle hands are the devil’s playground. He also thinks Roswell will play a shortened season in the spring.
“I’m not disappointed,” Lynn said. “I think everything is going to come together and work out. As long as we get to play. If it is a five-game season, great. If it’s a 10-game season, great, as long as everyone gets to play. Spring sports last year lost their season, so I think it’s important baseball and softball get a chance to compete, play and be around good people.”
Marquez expressed disappointment in the seasons being moved to the spring. She is putting her efforts into having high schools play sports in the 2020-2021 school year, and working on a plan she intends to release on July 15. Marquez is hopeful fall sports will begin in January or February.
“I was not completely surprised by it,” Goddard coach Chris White said. “Looking at how other things are going around the state, it’s obviously disappointing for the kids. Hopefully we will get to have a season in the spring, that’s what I’m hoping for. We’re going to keep working every day and go with the plan that they are going to go whenever they tell us to be ready.”
White did not think that it would be a problem with football being played in the spring. He thought the coaches at Goddard work together really well. He would like to see the kids get as many opportunities as they can. White feels like they will have to shorten the season down a little bit, and everybody is going to have to bend a little bit.
“The kids need something to do, everybody needs to get up and accomplish something every day. For a lot of the kids that might be their biggest accomplishment of the day is what we do out there. Although it is limited what we can do, we are going to continue to do something productive.”
White said Goddard has a good team and a lot to be excited about. “We have four guys that have signed to go on to play at the next level before the season even starts. It is a really good pool of talent to work with.”
New Mexico Military Institute football coach Randy Montoya’s reaction was that he was speechless. Montoya feels like there are no guarantees there will be football in the spring. Unlike other teams, his Colts team has not shown up on campus yet.
The Colts have not started conditioning or gone through the pods. Where a lot of teams have the advantage of playing seven-on-seven during the summer in normal times, Montoya does not. He does not know who will come back in the fall or who will show up once school starts. Originally, Montoya’s team members were to start practicing Aug. 3.
“It’s just crazy,” Montoya said. “I don’t know, it’s hard to fathom not having football in the fall. I never thought it would come to this. I totally get it, I’m not mad, it takes away a lot of pressure on how to do everything. It’s hard to swallow, I can’t imagine that maybe we play in the spring. It’s crazy to me.”
Montoya will send an email to his players when school starts. He had an idea that this might happen after his meeting on July 3 with Marquez.
“I feel horrible for the kids that lost their senior season last spring,” Montoya said. “A lot of kids were hoping for a scholarship or to go out with a bang. Some seniors were hoping for a state championship, or just to improve. I think it’s of huge importance, we make our season shorter so we can have a season, rather than canceling our season altogether.”
Discussions from NMAA regarding a football schedule is an eight-to-10-week football season including playoffs, which would start after basketball, followed by baseball. One of the main concerns about football is, some districts in the state are bigger with six teams, while other teams in the districts are smaller. Chances are there will be no scrimmages in football, just games.
“Interscholastic athletics are an important part of the overall educational process,” Marquez said in a statement on the NMAA website. “The NMAA will work tirelessly to ensure students have the opportunity to participate in all sports and activities of their choosing during the 2020-2021 school year.”
Hagerman football coach Guy Rivers expects NMAA will do everything they can to play this season. Hagerman had not started football workouts yet; his kids were working out with basketball. Rivers thinks all schools will be able to play sometime in the fall or winter. Teams have been given permission to play through June 2021, if necessary.
“The goal is to get the kids back,” Rivers said. “Get them happy and involved with their coaches again, and get them as normal as we possibly can. We don’t know what we are able to do right now. We have more meetings Friday and next week. We are at a standstill right now. The goal is to play.”
Rivers talked to his team on Thursday and told them NMAA will do everything they can to get his team back to playing football. Rivers will continue to talk online and on Zoom. He will have them practicing in pods and ready to play when it’s game time. Hagerman was one game away from playing for the Blue Trophy last year.
Dexter’s football coach, Arturo Duran took the news well of not having a football season moved to spring. The last time the Demons worked out was July 1. Duran was planning on having his team workout but will give them some time off until he knows what is going on with NMAA officials next week.
“The main thing is the safety of the kids,” Duran said. “We have to follow protocol, whatever they tell us to do, we must do. Hopefully, the kids can play this year. Sports are a big part of our community and it is important to the kids. It gives them something to look forward to.”
For Roswell High soccer coach David Sifuentes, he expressed disappointment in not being able to play. Sifuentes knows the health of coaches and players is paramount. He would like to see a spring season where his seniors do not lose their senior year.
“We know this is for the best,” Sifuentes said. “This feels surreal and hopefully we can resume playing in the spring. I started getting text messages from the boys and their parents expressing disappointment. I think it’s up to us if we want to have a season.”
The soccer team had been conditioning for the last three weeks. The team had their last practice on Wednesday. Roswell was one game away from the soccer playoffs with a record of 13-7 and 3-3 in the district.
“I think there are things we need to do to make sure we can withstand this virus,” Sifuentes said.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.