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Marquez talks countdown to play

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It seems like a long time coming. There is one week before teams that are in hybrid learning can begin practicing. Most schools were supposed to let the New Mexico Activities Association know whether they are going to opt in or out this fall season. Some schools were given an extension. On Monday, teams will begin preparing to play after 11 months of inactivity. This week, NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez sits down with J.P. Murrieta and answers questions fans are wanting to know.

JP: Schools that are in hybrid can begin workouts next week on Feb. 22. What about schools that are not in hybrid yet?

New Mexico Activities Association Executive Director Sally Marquez. (File Photo)

SM: The schools that are not in hybrid can continue to work out, but they must maintain their 4:1 pods. A lot of people have been asking can those pods increase. At this time, we have not received word on that issue. So, we are in the 4:1 pods for those that are in remote learning and they can work out throughout the whole entire process until they do get into hybrid.

JP: Has there been any change to the mask mandate? Are they still required? Are neck gaiters allowed?

SM: At this time, masks are still required and we need to get in our head that is how it’s going to be throughout the rest of the school year. It is mask-wearing. We cannot have gaiters, that is not only the governor’s public health order but it also comes down from the National Federation. Gaiters can cause injury if you pull them from behind. So, no gaiters. The mask must be cloth, they cannot be mesh, and they cannot have filters. We just need to continue to get in our heads that it is mask-wearing throughout the whole entire year.

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JP: Can teams use the locker rooms?

SM: Yes, that has been opened up. Because of school re-entry, locker rooms are available, however, it’s not the same use as locker rooms before. It is for the individual changing of clothes, no showers. You can put the equipment in there but it has to be sanitized. The athletic directors and coaches will have a minimal amount of kids in there at one time. So get with the athletic directors and coaches for specifications. You’ll probably have one way in, one way out and it’s just going to be very simple. If you do not have to use the locker room, please stay away from the lockers.

JP: When is the first day of competition for fall sports?

SM: We have different start dates. For football, volleyball and cross country, the first day of practice is Feb. 22. The first day of competition for volleyball and cross country is Feb. 27. With football, because we need a two-week preparation, their first game is going to be on March 6. Soccer is going to begin on March 1 for practice and their first competition will be March 6. The competitions are for those schools that are in the hybrid setting, they have been approved, and once they get in hybrid there is a two-week window, 14 days, a two-week window where they cannot have competition. For example, if somebody does not get into hybrid until Feb. 22, they cannot start competition until March 8.

JP: How many games will they be playing?

SM: For soccer, they will play 10 games prior to the last week of the season when we hope to have a small postseason. For volleyball, they can play 12 matches prior to the last week of the season. For cross country, they will have three cross country meets and then the district meet and then the state competition, so that’s actually five cross country meets. For football, we are anticipating four games and the last week we hope to have a type of bowl game scenario, hoping to get 1 versus 2, but we will get that information out at a later date.

JP: We talk about condensed seasons because of a shorter calendar. I know we are a ways off, but spring sports missed their entire season last year. Do you see spring sports being in jeopardy this year at all or a shortened season?

SM: I am hoping spring sports are not in jeopardy. When I say that, what I mean is we’ve been given a start date, and a beginning, but it’s how we finish. We need to think about those spring sports athletes and we need to (do) what’s right NOW so those spring sports can have a good three-month season. They missed their season last year. That has been my goal, not only to play all sports, but to preserve and make sure that spring sports have their due and have a good solid season.

JP: Lastly, we have a start date, Feb. 22. Is there anything that can shut down athletics between now and then?

SM: Like I said, we have a start date and now our goal is to finish. What’s it going to take to go from the starting line to the finish? It’s going to take us to do everything correctly within the governor’s public health orders, all the COVID guidelines that we have put forth, everything that athletic directors are doing at the schools to make sure everybody is safe, and it’s going to take all of us to work together, not only at school and at the competitions, but at home as well, and in the community. We need to mask wear, we need to social distance. Just because we are starting right now does not mean that we let our guard down. We have to continue to do everything correctly and keep those case counts down. What can stop us? If we do not do it correctly and our case counts rise. Let’s work together because right now I’m confident. We are one week away and we are going to play sports again New Mexico and now we need to finish.