WEEKLY INTERVIEW WITH NMAA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SALLY MARQUEZ OCTOBER 19, 2020
New Mexico Activities Association Executive Director Sally Marquez answers questions about the return to athletics and activities for the 2020-2021 school year. Here is this week’s interview.
Last week the governor changed the public health order, limiting any mass gathering to no more than five people. Does that change the pod size for teams to work out?
It does change the pod size. We were in 9-to-1 ratio, which is nine student athletes to one coach. With the mass gathering size at five, we are now at four student athletes to one coach. We cannot have more than 5 within a pod.
Since the pods are smaller, how many pods can you have in a gym? How many pods can you have on a field?
That all depends. I talked to the Secretary of Education and the guidelines say they should not be sharing the same air. So, what does that mean? It means that in contact tracing, if someone tests positive for COVID within the pod, they only have to look at one pod, they are not intermingling with another pod. The pods need to be separated enough so there is no intermingling of equipment and they are not by each other at all. Maybe in a large gym they could fit four pods if they are totally separated, or in a football field maybe six. Once again, the idea is that they don’t breathe the same air, they do not intermingle, they do not congregate.
Do coaches still have to screen their athletes before workouts?
They do, that hasn’t changed. They should be doing temperature checks and asking the medical questions. One thing I would like to tell student athletes is we need to be honest when they answer those questions. Students athletes are afraid to say that they’re sick. They are worried the coach is going to say they’re wimping out or they are worried about missing practice. We are in a different mindset right now. If you are showing any symptoms or you have been in contact with a family member that has COVID or have been around somebody that has had COVID, the student athletes need to be honest. It’s better for you to miss practice than to contaminate and we have to shut down to quarantine for 14 days.
What if an athlete or team leaves the state to compete? What are the travel and quarantine guidelines in place?
The governor changed those. There was a period where you could take a COVID test within 72 hours of of returning, or before you returned, and if your COVID test was negative then you didn’t have to quarantine for 14 days. Right now, the guidelines are for 14 days of quarantine. There are some states (very, very few) where you do not have to quarantine, but every state that is around us you have to quarantine for 14 days if you leave New Mexico.
We’ve talked in the past about virtual events for activities. Can activity groups or teams meet in person?
Yes they can, just like athletics. All this is extra-curricular activities. A lot of time we focus in on the sports, but the activity world follows the same guidelines. They are also in 4:1 pods. If you have a couple pods, they need to make sure they are totally separate. Most of our activities are doing things virtually, but after school activities can meet in pods as well.
We’ve also talked about scholastic eligibility for athletics. Does that apply to activity students?
It does. To repeat, the scholastic eligibility guidelines are semester grades for everyone. At the semester, all the students that are going to participate in athletics or activities must have a 2.0 GPA and no Fs. If they do have one F, they can use the cumulative from their freshman year to their senior year and if that’s above a 2.0 they will be eligible in every single sport. Now that the sports have been shifted to second semester, for every single sport, every single activity, the semester grades are going to determine their eligibility from January until the end of June.
When do the out-of-season coaching rules begin and what does that mean for coaches and athletes?
Right now, every sport is out of season, we’re not in any season until next semester. However, our coaches can still work with their athletes. The rule is seven-and-a-half hours, but I have talked to athletic directors and the coaches because within that seven-and-a-half hours we are in such small pods and some of them have large teams, they can take seven-and-a-half hours to go through just one workout with every single athlete. The coaches and the athletic directors need to work within what is good for their school and how many athletes they have participating and then make that determination of seven-and-a-half hours. The one thing we did change is that they can now work out on Saturdays. Out of season was considered Monday through Friday, but now we are allowing Saturdays because Saturdays are a little bit easier to do multiple pods, so that is the change.
If an athlete competes in multiple sports, can they go from sport to sport workouts with difference coaches as long as the pods remain 4:1?
That is correct. We want to make sure that we really support our multi-sport athletes. We have those that are playing basketball and volleyball or basketball and football and they’re working out with their coaches, so they can go to the multiple sports. They can have seven-and-a-half hours with football and seven-and-a-half hours with basketball and so on.
Has it been decided where cross country and volleyball have been moved on the calendar for the second semester?
We’ll be announcing that in the next couple days. Right now, we are really focusing in on volleyball to make sure, especially in our small schools, that basketball and volleyball are not overlapping too much and that there is a minimal overlap between volleyball and track. In small schools, those are the three sports that most of our female student athletes play. In cross country, we did talk to the coaches and they would like a five-week season. So we are going to put that in in a place on the calendar where the athlete can compete in cross country and then take a little bit of a break before they start track and field.
Can schools participate in “virtual” cross country meets? What does that involve?
You can do anything virtual, as long as you maintain the pods. Some of our cross country coaches are talking and within a practice session they’ll do a three-mile course, time it, and somebody else will do a three-mile course and they will compare times just so kids can see where they stack up with everybody in the state. You are able to do anything virtually.
Are runners still required to wear masks?
That is a big yes. Runners need to wear masks, football players need to wear masks, volleyball players need to wear masks, for all our athletes it is mask wearing 100% of the time.
With so many sports scheduled for the second semester, is there a concern for a shortage of officials and gym availability?
There is a concern and that is why we haven’t announced the volleyball and cross country schedules yet. We need to make sure that overlap is correct. Are we concerned about officials? We are. But we have always had that overlap in sports with officials, so we believe we are going to be ok with officials. We’ll need to talk with our athletic directors when it comes to scheduling of some games, we might need to shift a little bit. We feel like we’re going to be fine with officials, but now we really need to focus on the multi-sport athlete to make sure they are able to do all the sports they love.
Lastly, with fall sports being postponed until second semester, what is the focus of the NMAA right now?
I had a spirit clinic this past weekend. When I talked with them I told them it’s not the same. It’s not the same where you practice your routines or go to a football game and work on the sideline cheers. The focus for all our sports and all our athletes and everyone in the activity world is the social and emotional well-being of our students. That is the number one focus. Number two would be scholastic eligibility. Someone asks, ‘Is it worth working in 4:1 pods?’ It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to get ready for the season, then probably not. If your goal is to meet those students and make sure that they are ok, make sure that they are on track to have their scholastic eligibility and have their grades where they need to be, if that is the focus, then yes. We need to make sure we are meeting with those students. The focus should not be on the blue trophy or what offense are we going to run or what defense or what cheer we’re going to do. We need to continue to look at the social and emotional well-being of our students and make sure they’re on the right academic track because we will play again New Mexico.