WEEKLY Q&A INTERVIEW WITH NMAA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SALLY MARQUEZ AUGUST 3, 2020
New Mexico Activities Association Executive Director answers questions regarding the return of athletics and activities for the upcoming school year. Here is this week’s interview.
As we approach the start of the return to learning for many students, there is a “dead period” for student athletes when it comes to working out. What is that dead period and when does it start and finish?
We’re calling it a dead period, it is the time when student athletes are not allowed to work with their coaches. We have always said that when we are in remote learning, we are not able to participate in sports. We are starting the year in remote learning and we do not know when our high school kids are going to be back in the classroom. We are hoping by the end of September. At this point, we have a dead period during that time because kids will not be in the classroom and will be at home remote learning. However, I would like to look at that a little more. I think I’m going to go to our athletic directors and see that when we become hybrid, which is right after Labor Day, that maybe we can take our student athletes and get them to after school workouts and come in and do some work with their coaches, just like we are doing this summer with a lot of strict guidelines. We’ll see if that happens, but from the first day of school to the end of September there is a dead period.
A question many students have is, with all the changes to the calendar and some sports overlapping a little, is there are rule against student-athletes competing in multiple sports at the same time?
There is not and we have talked to the coaches and athletic directors that this is the time when our coaches need to work together. Maybe there’s a student athlete that is participating in two sports at once. We have a little bit of overlap between basketball and football. We have a football-baseball overlap, we have a softball to basketball scenario, even softball to wrestling, that we might have some issues. At this point, we want our student athletes to be able to play every single sport that they want to. I encourage all the coaches, let’s make this work so our student athletes can play multi-sports this year.
With a short turnaround from when a sport like soccer begins and when they play their first games, will those athletes be allowed to train, condition, practice before the season begins?
We are working on that right now. I’m going to go to the commission and we’re going to talk about our out of season guidelines. A lot of things have changed this year. The schedule has changed moving sports, so we need to work within our bylaws to see what we need to change to make this right for our student athletes. I would like to see that our coaches would be able to work with our athletes a little bit more than the 7-and-a-half hours a week. Our coaches have not been with the athletes for so long. I will take that to the commission and board of directors and ask them if we can relax those out of state coaching rules.
Is there any update on whether or not you think we will have fans in the fall and if the athletes will have to wear masks when they compete?
We don’t know that at this time. Day by day and week by week we will follow the Governor’s health orders as to mask wearing and whether we’re going to be able to have fans in the stands. I will do everything I can to make sure the parents are able to see their kids play. If that means that parents are wearing masks, or we have temperature checks, or ticketless entry, we’ll make it work. I’m hoping that all of our student athletes can look up in the stands and see their parents.
You’ve recently released guidelines to the coaches and athletic directors what a cross country meet will look like in this new school year. Can you describe to the student athletes, parents and fans some of the new guidelines?
Our coaches are doing a great job. We are asking them to give us their recommendation on how to make this work. The guidelines say you can only have 100 people in one area, and that includes workers, coaches and runners. When you have seven people running for a team, and you have five teams, that’s 35 athletes there. For boys and girls, that’s 70 athletes there, plus the workers. You’re looking at that small amount and trying to figure out how to make this work. Our coaches are coming up with ideas like staggered start times. We’re going to run in a group of maybe five and then send them home and then run again. It’s neat to see the thinking outside the box to make sure our athletes are able to compete in cross country.
What about fall golf, what changes have been made? What will a golf event look like?
Golf is one of those sports they are playing right now. I was watching golf on tv yesterday. That is one sport that we can make sure we do correctly. The main difference is not being able to have shotgun starts. Everything will be staggered start times and once they finish the course then the golfers will need to get in the car or on the bus. We are also going to use digital scoring called iWannamaker which is going to alleviate using scorecards with their hands. Golf is going to work. We’re going to have fall golf and then we will have our state championships in the spring.
We are still a ways off from state competitions, but many athletes and coaches want to know about the postseason. How many teams will qualify for state?
At this point, in every team sport, we are going to have eight teams qualify. That is much less than we’ve had before. In basketball we had 16 and now we’re going to cut the field down to eight. In soccer we had 12, volleyball we had 12, we’re going to cut it down to eight, same thing with football. Baseball and softball will be down to eight. The reason is because we have a short amount of time to get in all the games. Every time you lengthen that field or expand to 16 or go to 12, you’re adding another week and we just don’t have those weeks. When we are in a 9 or 10-week period, we have to make sure that we shrink that a little bit so that all of our student athletes are able to compete in a good, solid regular season.
Any plans for fall seasons in activities like Esports?
We are planning a lot for activities. We are planning a lot virtually. I just received some information about speech and debate, FFA is doing a really good job with livestock. Last night I watched the Enchantment Awards for theatre and that was really neat to see athletes working on their activity even now during COVID. We are going to have a fall season for Esports. We used to just have a spring season, this year we are going to have a fall season and a spring season. Another idea that is just starting, I would really like to see if we could have a weightlifting or powerlifting competition for our student athletes this fall. We can do that virtually. There are still some things we can do to make sure our student athletes are engaged while we are in this remote learning or hybrid situation waiting for all our sports mostly January through June.
How has scheduling gone with schools and programs during this ever-changing calendar? What sort of feedback have you gotten?
It’s a little bit tough. We have our district schedule and are talking about restrictions like travel, no overnights. That changes schedules. We are trying to talk about trying to play more opponents in our region so that we are not on the buses. Then we have our bordering schools that play teams from out of state and moving football and soccer has shifted that because they are not on the same season as we are and we don’t know what the quarantine guidelines are going to be. So, there has been some challenges for athletic directors. But those athletic directors are going to make sure their student athletes are competing this year.
Lastly, schools are starting to begin remote learning this month. In your opinion, how important is it that athletics and activities soon follow?
It’s so important. We had a tragedy this weekend of one of our student athletes and it reminds us how important our coaches are to be with these student athletes daily to make sure kids are on the right path. Our coaches are the extension of parents and they listen to the social and emotional well-being of our student athletes and activity kids. It is so vital that we get back into school and we have athletics and activities. 60,000 kids do at least one sport or one activity and that’s a lot of kids that we reach. So, the sooner we get kids back in school and the sooner we get them engaged in all our athletics and all our activities, we are going to help kids and help their social and emotional well-being. All I ask is that we continue to stay positive, that’s my message. We need to stay positive, but we also need to do what’s right. We need to social distance and we need to wear masks and I don’t want to be out here preaching, but what I look at every single day is that these kids need us, they need our coaches, they need our schools and we need to play again New Mexico.