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Finally, seniors will get to play!

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For the class of 2021, it seemed like there would be no school or sports. It will be 11 months since athletes have played competitively against another team.

On Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham gave the OK for schools to reopen on Feb. 8. But schools will have to be in a hybrid model before sports can begin. When sports begins, seniors will play an abbreviated season due to the late timing of schools reopening. For seniors, it is not a full season, but it beats the alternative of not playing.

For seniors, what is at stake are a couple of things: to have their senior year in sports, to maybe have a chance to earn a scholarship, and have enough film to send to colleges once their season ends. For them, this may be the only chance to experience what it feels like to be a senior.

With a little bit of creativity, schools that are playing football can still have their homecomings, and in baseball season, their proms. Maybe they will have to do it outside and differently or have it in another form. But just getting back in school and playing sports shows there’s no reason not to have those events to create the memories many seniors have had.

On Wednesday, the New Mexico Activities Association Board of Directors held an emergency meeting to discuss the Public Education Department’s announcement that interscholastic sports and activities will return on Feb. 22.

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The board fully supports the return of extracurricular athletics/activities but has tabled the adoption of a modified sports calendar so that superintendents can seek further clarification from the PED regarding the expansion of in-person learning and how these policies may impact each school’s ability to participate in NMAA sanctioned competitions.

“The NMAA is still very excited that our students will be able to return to the sports and activities that they love next month,” NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez said. “We understand, however, that in order to make the best decision for the kids of New Mexico, superintendents would like clarification from the Public Education Department regarding several topics still needing resolution.”

The NMAA Board of Directors will hold a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 1, to revisit the proposed calendar, which includes seasons for all sports, scheduling and formatting football, which will be a major topic.

As of now, Max Preps has the football schedule at seven games for varsity. What will be discussed Monday is scheduling and structure for all sports. Basketball is at six games — all-district games as of now. Chances are they will increase it to 12 regular-season games. There will be an eight-team bracket to make the playoffs, which was voted on a long time ago.

Spring sports will have seasons (20 games for baseball and softball, for example) relatively close to what it usually has, a point NMAA has emphasized repeatedly in the last few months.

The next major issue that was voted on was academic eligibility. Marquez said that what has been voted on by the board is to use the accumulative provision. If a student has one F, they will still be eligible to play as long as the grade point average is 2.0.

“I’m so excited for the kids,” Marquez said. “It is something, not only for sports and activities, to get the kids back in the classroom and on the playing field. I’m excited about it, we’ve been working hard toward this day.”

Marquez says NMAA has COVID-19 protocols built in case something was to happen. She says they have playing guidelines and restrictions out there and they also have them in place in case a school needs to shut down. NMAA has procedures in place on how to quarantine.

Marquez says there will be playoffs and the hardest one to make a determination on is football. She noted that the other sports can have quarterfinal and semifinal games in one week, but they cannot do that in football.

When NMAA is given the green light, dance and cheer will have a state competition. There will not be any requirements to do competitions prior to the state competition.

There will be no overnight travel for sports. Fans in the stands will be left up to the governor. Marquez says they have been talking with athletic directors to be ready to livestream events.

“COVID is a trying year,” Marquez said. “Every day is something different with COVID. I’m very confident in our coaches and athletic directors that if we follow the guidelines that we will keep kids and coaches as safe as possible. Our goal has been to get these kids to play all sports this year.”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.

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