WEEKLY Q&A WITH NMAA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SALLY MARQUEZ MAY 4, 2020
Based on the recent directive from the New Mexico Public Education Department that schools will close for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year, the NMAA and its Board of Directors have cancelled the 2020 State Spirit Championships, the 2020 Spring Sports Season, and all remaining activities for the current school year. This cancellation applies to practices/workouts, in addition to contests/events.
Due to the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, the Public Education Department has closed schools and additionally addressed interscholastic athletics/activities as part of this process. The NMAA Board of Directors will hold a Special Meeting in May to discuss summer regulations pertaining to practices/camps/conditioning and scholastic eligibility for the 2020-2021 school year.
The NMAA will continue to keep the schools, students and parents informed with a series of questions and answers with Executive Director Sally Marquez.
Here is the latest interview session from May 4, 2020.
We are closer to the Board of Directors meeting, what items are athletic directors, administrators and coaches concerned about that they are asking you to address?
There are four hot topics. First off is scholastic eligibility. What are we going to do with the pass/fail grade and the virtual learning? Second is the physicals. Are doctors going to be available by August in order to get physicals for our fall sports athletes? Third is the summer schedule. When are we going to start to get working with our athletes? Lastly, the big question and the topic everyone keeps talking about, is are we going to have fall sports.
Last week the Governor lifted some restrictions statewide, but what does that mean for high school student athletes and coaches? Are they allowed to be working out?
With the restrictions lifted, nothing changed when it comes to schools. School buildings are still closed, the teachers aren’t able to go to school, the kids are still doing virtual learning, so at this point nothing has changed. We are still hopeful for Memorial weekend. Maybe we’ll be able to start small group activity after that.
We touched upon it last week, activities. Some activities have national competitions, which will be held virtually, scheduled for this summer. Has the NMAA come to any resolution if they can compete “after” Memorial Day weekend?
Our Board meeting is May 15th. At the Board meeting, I will be taking to the Board that activities, if they have a national competition, will be able to participate virtually. At this time, I would like to tell the activities directors, I know that registrations are due here shortly. Go ahead and send these kids’ names in. We want to make sure they are in the competition, that they are registered for the competition, and if the Board of Directors says ‘no’, then we can always say they can’t compete. But at this point, I’m very, very hopeful, and knowing out Board of Directors, I believe that our activities will be able to compete virtually in national competitions this summer.
Follow up to that, will any other restrictions be lifted after Memorial Day weekend?
I’m hopeful. I am still eyeing Memorial weekend. However, we have to balance hopeful against realist. Realistically, it could be July 1st. It all depends on what the Governor does. Schools are different than businesses. Some businesses are opening up. At this point, she hasn’t even opened up gyms yet, but that does not include gyms on school property. I will continue to communicate with the Public Education Department, the Governor’s Office, the Governor’s committee, and hopefully it’s sooner than July 1st. Right now, I’m saying Memorial weekend, but that could change.
We are now in May, what “would have been” championship month for spring sports. We already saw state basketball finish without fans. How difficult is it for the association to “not” have “spring” championships?
It’s difficult for the Association, it’s very difficult for student athletes and coaches. This weekend I had a really difficult time just thinking back on what could have been. We would have been honoring a state champion in Esports at a site. We were not even doing that virtually this year. We were going to be at one site and have a nice Esports state championship. Yesterday, our whole staff would have been here at the office and we would have been seeding baseball, softball and tennis. Here I am doing the question and answer video this morning, and I would rather be taking those phone calls when coaches are not happy where they were seeded. I think coaches are looking at it, like they could care less where they would have been seeded, they just want to play the games. It has been a really difficult weekend to think about that. This morning I was reading the paper and I saw a quote that hits home. It’s a quote from a university football coach who was talking about one of his student athletes who was working on the reservation. The quote says, ‘I look at all the health care workers. They’re all doing what they can. We have the easiest job in the world. They ask me, as a football coach, to stay home and be safe.’ I think that says a lot. I just talked about how hard it is because we cannot have state championships and seeding and selection and getting that bracket out, but we do have the easiest job. We have the nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, truck drivers, people on the reservation working hard, police, all of them are working in the forefront of this pandemic. All that we have been asked to do is stay home and be safe. I think that we do have the easy job and we need to remember that. When the going gets tough, and we’re tired of being at home, we need to remember that, coaches, athletes, parents, we have the easy job.
Here is the interview session from April 27, 2020.
I understand the Board of Directors meeting has been changed. Why was it rescheduled and when is it?
When the Governor came out and said the Stay at Home orders were extended to May 15th, the Board of Directors decided the May 6th meeting we still didn’t have any new information. We have now changed the Board meeting to May 15th.
There might be a misunderstanding out there by some people who believe the NMAA decided on their own to shut down high school athletics and activities for the spring season. Who is ultimately in charge of saying Yes to high school athletics and activities starting back up?
It’s not just schools, we see businesses, what is essential and what is not essential and that is coming from the Governor’s Office. So, when the Governor’s Office decided to close schools, that includes athletics and activities. I know sometimes people say it’s the NMAA, we are supportive of the Governor and the Public Education Department, so when schools are closed we do not have education-based athletics and activities.
As some counties and communities are hit harder by this virus then others, do ALL school districts have to be open before we can resume athletics and activities?
I think that’s a question we would have to ask the Governor in the next few weeks as we see what is she going to open and what is she not going to open. At this time, all schools have been closed. My job at the NMAA is to make sure athletics and activities include a level playing field and what is good for large schools is also good for small schools and good for all over the state. At this point, it will be a statewide yes or no. We will not be going county by county. I know that’s hard because some schools may think there’s not even a COVID-19 case in our county. But just like the small businesses are closed all over the state, we will be doing the same thing with athletics and activities and we’re just waiting for the Governor to say it’s ok.
We’ve told coaches and students that practices are not allowed. Will there be any punitive action against those schools or programs that go ahead and practice before any restrictions are lifted? What’s the punishment?
The word punitive is hard in these times. I don’t like to be punitive, I like to continue to be positive and let’s continue to work together. In the past, pre COVID-19, if a coach or a team or school, if they were not abiding by our out-of-season coaching rules, in other words, they were practicing when they shouldn’t be, when all the other schools started practice and it was the first day of practice, those teams that were jumping the gun prior would not be able to start. We had a situation a few weeks ago, that was the first thing I told the athletic director, if we are in a group of 20-25, whether the coach is there or not, then when practice resumes and everything is open and the governor says “Let’s go for it,” then that team may not be able to start at that time.
An activity like Educators Rising is holding nationals this summer, but doing it virtually. Another activity, speech and debate, is doing the same thing. Is that allowed?
That is one thing I’m going to take to our Board of Directors on the 15th. We say no athletics and no activities, but that cutoff date that we’ve been talking about has been Memorial weekend. If we can do something virtually this summer, past Memorial Day weekend, then I believe it would be good for the kids to be involved. FFA is going to go to the Board of Directors as well because they’re in the same situation as Educators Rising and Speech and Debate. There might be some others out there. We will talk to the Board of Directors and get their blessing that yes, we will be able to do that this summer.
If school resumes in the fall and if sports and activities begin, do you forsee any sort of restrictions in place? Do you think fall sports will be impacted? Is there the chance one sport could return and others would not be able to?
That’s the big question. I think that’s on everybody’s mind. All I can tell you is we’re ready. We’re ready for fall sports. I ‘m hopeful fall sports will be open, schools will be open and we will be able to start this summer to get kids together. I am a little bit concerned because this last week at the Governor’s address she talked about events and there could be limitations on events. Virtually, every game is an event. I will continue to communicate with the Governor’s Office and the public education department. I do know that she put the Governor’s committee together to look at how we are going to open up the state. I have reached out to the New Mexico United (who is on that committee), to let them know that high school sports is here and we need to get going. We can’t be an afterthought. I want to make sure we are in the forefront of everybody’s mind. Again, it’s a wait-and-see, but I’m on top of it. I will continue to communicate with our member schools and our athletic directors. I’m hopeful. Let’s just flatten the curve so we can get back to it.
This past week, the President has announced that governors of each state will have the power to open their states back up in phases once they meet certain guidelines. How does that affect New Mexico athletics and activities?
We will continue to communicate with the Governor’s Office and the Public Education Office and the Secretary of Education and see where we are. We cannot make any changes unless it’s coming from the Governor’s Office. At this point, the Governor has said that there is no school and if we don’t have school then we cannot have sports or activities.
Spring sports have been cancelled. Practices and large gatherings are prohibited in the state. What can or will be done with those teams or programs, coaches and kids who disobey those restrictions and get together to practice anyway?
It’s a tough situation and I understand the heartbreak. I’ve been using the words gut-wrenching. It is sad. I understand kids are getting a little antsy wondering when we are going to get to play. We are education-based athletics and, at this point, we don’t have school and without school we can’t have activities and athletics. We have had situations where kids are dangerously jumping fences to get into facilities. We also have situations where there might be 30 kids together who want to go meet at the school and practice, even though the coach isn’t there. We are now putting kids in a dangerous situation, even if a coach has said don’t do it. We are asking coaches, ‘We need your leadership.’ These kids listen to you and you are the leaders of that program. You do know if they are getting together more than five in a group. That’s what the Governor has ordered, five only in a group. We know when these kids aren’t social distancing. I’m asking coaches to please talk to your athletes. If we abide by these rules, then we’ll get back sooner. If we flatten the curve, we’ll be able to get back to athletics and activities sooner. We need to do our part now so the games can begin.
We’ve talked about virtual workouts, which are permitted. Are there any restrictions on the hours per week that are permissible for those virtual workouts? Are there restrictions for weekends and holidays?
At this time, I haven’t put any restrictions in. We are considered ‘out of season’ because there are no sports in season at this time. That rule is 7-and-a-half hours per week and not on weekends. However, I’m going to leave that up to the athletic directors to make that decision what’s best for their communities and what’s best for their schools.
We’ve talked about athletics, what about activities? Are they allowed to have any sort of competition?
When schools were cancelled for the rest of the year, the Governor and the Secretary of Education said there would be no athletics or activities. So, at this time, activities are out as well. I know there are some activities that think they can do competitions virtually, but at this point we need to follow the Governor’s orders and there is no activities or athletics.
Have you considered spring sport coaches being able to work with their athletes in the fall beyond the 7.5 hours and coach them in a club setting due to these athletes losing some of their spring season and possibly some of the summer?
It’s been in my mind, but I think it’s too early right now to tell. Right now, we are just trying to decide is Memorial weekend that day when we can let athletes participate in the summer. We have a Board meeting on May 6th and we will discuss all of this surrounding the COVID-19 virus. I would love to have our kids meet together and workout together and play. I’m all about sports, I love it. I would love to go and workout every day with a group of people, but we are not there yet. We will continue to work with the Governor’s Office and the Secretary of Education and when it’s time to let these kids go back, and they are safe, then we’ll let them go back. At this time, we still have Memorial weekend as that mark.
Lastly, the COVID-19 virus has taken the life of too many people in this state and country, including New Mexico’s dedicated and caring coaches and administrators. How did that affect coaches and administrators statewide?
It’s been difficult and I think some of our student athletes and our coaches don’t understand the gravity of the situation that is going on statewide. A lot of us look at our surrounding area, but we need to look at those communities that do not have running water, do not have internet access and families that are affected. Then we have other counties in the state that don’t even have one person that has COVID-19. We are all over the map in New Mexico. However, I am hired by our superintendents to make sure that there is a level playing field. If I let one community, because they don’t have an infection, play and then I have another community that’s reeling (and we just had a death in one community) and who can’t even go outside, they’re just trying to put food on the table, that’s not a level playing field.
Coaches, I need your help. We all need help. Our superintendents need help. Our administrators need help. You are the leaders of your community. Coaches drive schools and kids listen to coaches. We need for you to see the entire state and see the big picture and not just inside your own lens. We need you to be able to explain to your kids that there are communities that are hurting. We need to be supportive of them and we need to be supportive of the Governor saying ‘Stay Home’. I get that we just want to go out there and play, but we need to be smart. We’ve heard this over and over, we need to flatten the curve. If we’re smart now, then maybe come Memorial weekend we’ll be able to play all summer and all fall and the entire 2020-2021 school year. That’s my hope and I know that’s your hope. So, coaches please help now to show your student athletes we need to do hard things now so the reward will come.
Here is the Q&A with NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez on April 13 2020
Let’s start today with a reminder about the upcoming Board of Directors meeting. Could you tell everyone when that will take place and have you started to formulate what will be discussed?
The Governor extender her restrictions through April 30, so the Board of Directors felt like it would be best to have the Board meeting a little bit later so now we have moved the Board meeting to May 6th.
Has there been any progress on determining scholastic eligibility? What scenarios are being discussed?
Today I am sending out a survey to the athletic directors to ask the schools what they are doing. When I talked to athletic directors and everybody all over the state, we are all over the map. Some are doing pass/fail, some are doing grades, some are having summer school and some are not having summer school, some are going back to the grade they had. I need to gather information from the athletic directors. So, athletic directors please fill out that survey so we can have something for the Board of Directors meeting on May 6th.
Now that students are beginning to conduct learning from home. Have you heard from coaches about checking in with their athletes and what kind of virtual workouts are allowed?
I’ve heard pros and cons. I think the concern is that as we check in with our athletes, coaches make sure we are checking in with all athletes. That means not only your star players but the ones who are a part of your team that may not be the stars. Make sure that everyone has internet access. You have to touch every single person in your program if you’re going to do virtual workouts. What are virtual workouts? That’s up to the coach. One thing I do caution the coaches about is do not encourage these athletes to get together and throw a baseball or get together at a park and run. We still are separated, there is no school, these athletes should be at home, they should be working out on their own. Anything you’re doing virtually, as far as workouts, make sure it’s individualized.
Last week we briefly talked about virtual tryouts for spirit. Have you spoken with coaches who will be doing this and how will it be conducted?
Virtual tryouts in April could be a good thing, however it’s not for everybody. We do have some larger schools and larger teams that have always had tryouts in April. But if you haven’t had tryouts in April before or if you’re planning tryouts in the summer because that’s what you’ve always done, don’t change what you’ve always done. Just because we are saying you can have tryouts in April and everybody is kind of antsy, that doesn’t mean we all need to go out and have tryouts. I’m also asking coaches that if you are having virtual tryouts, you need to make sure you have another tryout when the kids are back in school. We have some kids that do not have internet access or we have some kids that may not shine or show what they really can do virtually. So, if you’re doing them in April, I’m asking that you have another tryout when school resumes.
I know the NCAA announced they are giving seniors of spring sports the opportunity to return for a fifth year due to missing sports. Is that something the NMAA is considering for high schoolers?
We are not. For the NCAA, that’s been a big thing out there in the media where a kid will get another year of eligibility. We are high school sports. We are education-based athletics. I know it’s heart breaking for these seniors who are not able to compete this year. It’s gut-wrenching. But we have bylaws in place such as you have four years, whether you participate or not, beginning with the ninth grade year, we also have a bylaw that once you get your graduation credits that you are no longer eligible for high school sports. We do have an age restriction. Even though you could be under that age restriction, the other two bylaws will not allow a student to have a fifth year of eligibility because of the coronavirus.
Because there are no spring sports, is there a date when summer activities can begin, once the stay at home restrictions have been lifted?
It’s ever changing. Right now, we are saying Memorial Day weekend. That is the day we are setting when summer will be. Will that change? It may change, we don’t know. One thing that coaches and athletic directors and parents and kids need to keep in mind, we can say Memorial weekend, but there still could be restrictions on how many people can be at an event. We don’t’ know what the Governor is going to do and we don’t know where all of this is going to take us. My other concern is these kids have been sitting at home. Yes, they’ve been working out, but it’s not the same as working out with a team and with a coach. If we’re saying Memorial weekend and then all of a sudden some coaches are planning to have a basketball tournament or a baseball tournament or a softball tournament or a track meet right after Memorial weekend, we need to be careful with these athletes. My concern is the health of the athletes.
We have all been affected by this pandemic for a couple weeks now. What do you say to both the graduating seniors and returning students at this point?
It’s hard and it’s gut-wrenching. I’ve been using those words gut wrenching and sad, and it still is. It still breaks my heart that these athletes and these students are not able to compete and be with their teammates and build those lifelong relationships. It’s hard. I miss that the kids are not having the opportunity to learn life-long lessons through sports and through competition. However, we can learn lessons even without sports. I think these kids are learning what is important and what they need to concentrate on, and that’s family and their health, and realizing there’s more to life than sports. However, in saying that, they’re going to be strong. I’m so proud of all these kids that are taking this hard news and doing the best they can with it. To all our student athletes out there, thank you. Thank you so much for teaching us adults life lessons.
Here is the Q&A session from April 6, 2020.
When we spoke last you talked about the next Board of Directors meeting. When is it and what will be discussed?
At this time, the next Board of Directors meeting will be May 1st. We will post an agenda. It’s hard to answer that question what will we discuss. Every single day, every single week this is ever-changing. We will make sure we have the agenda posted in time for everybody to see what will be discussed on May 1st.
Since all spring sports were cancelled, and that includes practices, are there any restrictions for coaches staying in contact with their athletes virtually?
When the Secretary of Education and the Governor’s office cancelled schools, one thing they said is move education virtually. We are education based athletics. There are no restrictions for our coaches to reach out to the athletes virtually. Athletes can be at home, coaches can be at home, but we need to stay in contact with the kids. Like we’ve said before, this is not normal. We need to make sure our student athletes are all safe, and that’s mentally as well, and they know that they’re taken care of. So, reaching out to them is fine.
Some cheer programs were discussing possible virtual tryouts to prepare for next season. Is that allowed?
Spirit is different from many other sports because their tryouts are in April. We don’t want to stop that. If a school district or coach or cheer team or dance team can make it work virtually to have tryouts, that is fine. One thing I do ask is that it is fair. Does everybody have a computer? Is everybody set up in order to make this happen? I just want to advice our cheer coaches, our dance coaches, just make sure everybody has a level playing field if you are going to have tryouts virtually.
How long will the no practice ban last?
School is cancelled for the end of the school year. The one date we always used, whether school was in session or not in session, we have always used Memorial Day weekend as our day to say ‘Yes, it is summer’. So, for right now, unless the Board of Directors on May 1st changes this, for right now we are using Memorial Day weekend.
Since spring sports were cancelled, can those spring athletes still receive their varsity letter?
We do not give varsity letters. We are not into giving the All-District teams, All-City teams, All-State teams. That is done by other entities, the New Mexico High School Coaches Associtation does a tremendous job with that and the athletic directors and coaches of each district. So, we do not have any uniform policy for varsity letters, that is up to the school. Will schools give varsity letters to the spring sport athletes? I hope so. It’s not these kids fault that this happened and I think they do need to get recognized. We’ve been saying we need to recognize the seniors and we need to recognize these athletes that would have received a varsity letter, but once again, that is up to the school.
Physicals are required for student athletes. How do you handle this for the next school year? Are you relaxing that requirement?
When it comes to physicals, after April 2020, the physicals that are taken at that time are good for the 2020-2021 school year. We don’t know at this point what’s going to happen. We don’t know if doctors are doing physicals, if they’re not doing physicals. But at this time, it’s still too early to make that call about physicals so we will wait. It is on my radar. I am aware of that issue. So, stay tuned.
A big question many student athletes have centers around scholastic eligibility. Will there be any changes to the eligibility requirements for those athletes who compete in the fall?
On May 1st, we will definitely talk eligibility with the Board of Directors. Do there need to be changes? Probably, but we still need to gather information as to how many schools are doing pass/fail, how many are doing letter grades. What are our grades going to look like? Is there going to be summer school? We are still asking all those questions and we will have something presented to the Board of Directors on May 1st.
Do you anticipate starting fall sports on time as scheduled or do you think these restrictions will continue into next school year?
That is a tough question. I am hopeful. I just want everyone to know, athletic directors, parents, kids, administrators, I feel like we are on top of it. My staff has done a great job and we are aware of everything out there. I’m in meetings constantly with national leaders, with New Mexico leaders, and we are ready for anything that takes place. This is a wait and see period, but I am very hopeful we will be back at it in the fall. Coaches and athletes, just keep the hope up, be positive, and we’re going to win this battle.
Here is a link to the previous question and answer session on March 30, 2020
What was your initial reaction when the decision was made by the Public Education Department to extend the restrictions through the entire school year resulting in the cancellation of spring sports and the 2020 State Spirit Competition?
Sad. I think that’s the easiest word I can use. You prepare for it. In my mind, I knew it could happen. But when the word came out that, yes, we weren’t going to have spring sports, it was devastating. I knew it was going to affect kids. I knew it would especially affect the seniors and I was sad. Personally, I had some investment, as well, with my son being a senior and coaching all his friends growing up. So, I can go back to it personally and know the gut-wrenching feeling that was going to take place when we announced it.
What does this mean for practice and if or when teams can start working out?
As the Secretary of Education did state in that address, all spring sports/all activities were cancelled and in there he did include practice. So, at this time, all practice is cancelled along with spring sports.
State spirit was the only winter sport that didn’t get to compete at a state competition. Was there any thought into holding some sort of event with restrictions in place?
That was the one event that I knew that if we could pull something off it would be spirit. The reason I say that is, yes, they’ve had this whole entire year and they had not had their culminating state championship. In the other sports, we would have needed 3,4,5 weeks to host games and to figure out what our state championship would look like. But in spirit, once we got them back in the gym and in shape and ready to go, we could have held a competition. So, I knew that the timeline for spirit was much shorter than the other sports. But once again, when the Secretary of Education, the Governor and, in the crisis that we’re in right now, we had to cancel spring sports, so it was the right thing to do to also cancel spirit.
Will any of the spring sports or events be rescheduled? Will any events be made up in the fall?
No. Our Board of Directors affirmed what the Secretary of Education and the Public Education Department have come up with that all spring sports/practices/games/events, everything has been cancelled for the remainder of the school year.
With the cancellation of spring sports, what does that mean for eligibility of returning student athletes next year?
We’re working on that. Our Board of Directors moved up their board meeting. Usually, we have one at the end of May/beginning or June. We have moved that board meeting up to the beginning of May. I asked them to do that because I do need to get information out there in regards to scholastic eligibility. When you go to a pass/fail format, things change. We don’t even know if they’ll be able to have summer school. So, those kids that may have gotten an F, they at least had a chance to make up that class in summer. We don‘t even know if that will take place. For all the coaches and athletic directors, I am aware. I do know there needs to be some adjustment and we will have something out in early May that the Board of Directors will be able to vote on.
How do you plan to proceed from here?
First off, I think we proceed as normal. Financially, we did take a big hit. Somebody asked, “How did you think about doing an emergency fund and reserve?”. Actually, it was Katrina. When Hurricane Katrina happened and we saw the devastation that happened in Louisiana and that Association was not prepared for it, it was at that time, Gary Tripp was the (NMAA) Executive Director, I went to him and I said ‘I think we need to have an emergency fund’. Since that time, we have put money in place if we had an emergency such as this so that we would be financially stable. So, we are financially stable and we will start up once the Governor, once the Public Education Department, once the federal government says its ok then we will get back up and get ready for fall sports.
Thousands of kids in New Mexico had their spring sports or activities cut short. Many of them won’t compete at the next level and this would have been their final opportunity to play organized sports. What’s your message to the student athletes of New Mexico?
I think the message to all student athletes, not just the seniors but all student athletes, is we need to live each day to do our finest. We never know what’s going to happen the next day. I know we talk about setting goals, long term goals and short term goals, and learning about life through athletics. This is life. There was a tweet that came out from a student athlete right after it was announced. Basically, it said ending the season like this is not what he wanted. But the one message he said is that “if I can hug my grandparents and we can all stay healthy and happy and have a future, then it’s worth not playing sports or going to prom.” I thought, within his words, that is the message we are at. We are in this together. We have to wake up every single day and be happy that we are alive, that our families are healthy and they’re happy and we need to give our mom, dad, brother, and sister a hug and realize that together we can get through this. Things happen in life. Whoever thought that this would happen? In my wildest dreams, in my career, nothing like this has ever happened. So, how are we going to get through that? I think in the end, once things go back to normal and our senior student athletes are going on to college or going onto their next step in their lives, and our athletes that are younger, I truly believe that they will be stronger and anything that comes their way they are going to be able to tackle. To all the coaches out there, they need you. Our student athletes need you now more than ever at this time. I’m sure you taught them how to hit the ball and throw a ball and run and do all sorts of things. But it is this time as adults and as coaches and as administrators and teachers that we need to step up. We need to be the leaders for our kids to show them that it’s going to be ok and we’re going to be alright.