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Marquez oversees the start of athletic competition

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New Mexico Activities Association Executive Director Sally Marquez speaks to a group of athletic directors during a 2019 event in Albuquerque. (File Photo)

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Finally, after over 50 weeks without sports, Sally Marquez, New Mexico Activities Association executive director, has kept her promise. On Saturday, local teams NMMI and Gateway Christian took part in a cross country event. The results did not matter, what mattered was that athletes had the opportunity to participate in sporting events.

Marquez talks with J.P. Murrieta this week about getting athletes back into sports and these upcoming weeks what sports will be like.

JP: We had a few schools run their first cross country meet this past weekend. Most athletic events will look different this year. How will cross country meets look for athletes and coaches?

SM: What a great event this past weekend, just to see kids participating again. We had a few cross country meets this past weekend. It’s been 11 1/2 months since kids have put on their school uniforms and competed. Everybody had masks, but you could see their smiles. What a great Saturday to kick off all sports that we are going to play in the 2020-2021 school year.

So, what will look different? First and foremost, it’s mask-wearing throughout the whole event. You’re going to see smaller meets. They are not going to be those massive meets with a lot of teams. We are going to be social distancing. Although it may look different this year, it’s still exciting to get those kids on the cross country line, allow them to compete, and do it safely.

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JP: What about volleyball matches? How will they be different?

SM: Mask-wearing, that will be different. For those watching a volleyball match, one big difference is the teams will not be changing sides. They will stay on the same side of the court. We will also have benches that will be social distanced and we will follow all the guidelines. But we are excited to see them get in there and compete against each other, warmups will be a little bit different, but we have safety guidelines in place, and what an exciting thing to happen this week.

JP: The NMAA set the football schedule. How did you determine who would play each other and when?

SM: That was very tough because everything was intertwined. When you do an 11-man football schedule from 2A-6A, we have different classes playing each other because we needed to keep teams within their region. We also had to look at officials in the region and would we have enough to cover Friday and Saturday games. We started with 6A and 2A and they came together in the middle of scheduling.

You’re going to see games in a regional area and you may see teams that aren’t in the same classification. If we had to find a game for someone, for example, in the southeast region against someone from the central region, they will meet in a neutral site because our teams cannot stay on the bus for long travel. We have many neutral site games, but it’s going to work. It’s exciting.

We are going to start football games on Friday and Saturday. We need to remind people that it is mask-wearing for everyone and at the time of this recording there are no spectators, however, we will continue to try and work at that and see if we can open it up a little. I will talk to the Public Education Department and the governor’s office to see if that can happen. But right now we need to focus on the fact our kids are going to get to play.

JP: We have over 100 schools that will take part in fall sports. What if a school or district doesn’t go into hybrid learning until later? Can they still participate?

SM: We have some schools that aren’t going to get in until maybe next week or the week after and we have to remember they have that 14-day period where they need to make sure the schools are safe to reenter and then we can look at sports. Even if they come in next week, it will still be another two weeks to go through that process before they can compete. At this point, if they are coming in this late, they will be able to participate, but those schools may not be eligible for the fall sports postseason. But a reminder, we still have not been approved for the postseason, right now we are just focused on the kids participating.

JP: Now that athletics are getting underway, what happens if a team has someone test positive for COVID?

SM: We have told all our schools that the Department of Health is who they need to call. It’s not going to be on the coaches or athletic directors or the NMAA. We are going to follow all of the guidance by the Department of Health who are working every day with businesses and schools and every entity in New Mexico. If there is a positive test within a program, more than likely that the program is going to shut down for 14 days. Ultimately, it’s going to be the Department of Health that we are going to work closely with and do everything they ask us to do in order to keep kids safe.

JP: Lastly, we suffered a tragic loss with the sudden death of Dr. Karen Trujillo, an advocate for students. What was your reaction to the sudden passing of this dedicated and caring individual?

SM: I was heartbroken and so sad. Every week I’ve been saying, ‘We will play sports again, New Mexico.’ That was the mission for Dr. Karen Trujillo. She was doing everything she could to not only get the Las Cruces Public Schools’ kids to participate but everybody statewide. That was her vision. She was smiling Saturday from above looking at those kids at the cross country meets, knowing that we are participating and all of that work that she put in. She was a part of our board of directors and was very outspoken as to what athletics and activities do for kids.

A few years ago she came forward to help get Educators Rising sanctioned by the NMAA. That activity has taken off dramatically where we are getting kids back into the education field in order to be trained to be teachers. She had such an impact, and I could go on and on and on.

One thing I would like to say to the communities is that we are playing because there are a lot of people that have put in a lot of time and effort to get us to playing again for the first time in 11 1/2 months. We need to do this correctly. We need to wear masks, we need to social distance, we need to follow all of the guidelines and we are going to finish. We are going to get to that finish line.

I’m sure Dr. Trujillo is up there and wants us to finish. That should be our goal. We started on Saturday. Some parents might say it’s not ideal because right now there are no spectators, but we’re going to continue to work toward that. We are going to continue to work to make sure all our sports are played this school year. To remember Dr. Trujillo’s legacy, we are playing sports again and now we’ve got to finish.

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