WEEKLY INTERVIEW WITH NMAA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SALLY MARQUEZ FEBRUARY 22, 2021
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.
Today, February 22nd is the first day schools that have been in hybrid for two weeks can work out as a team. What’s going through your mind on a day like this one after going so long without sports?
I’m excited for those kids. They’ve already been in hybrid for 14 days and they’re ready to work out fully. It’s an exciting time because what that means is when they got into hybrid, that school did everything safely and the kids are ready to go and we’re ready to go in sports. It is an exciting day, but we still have much to do in order to make sure we get to the finish line.
How many schools or districts have chosen to go to hybrid learning that will be able to participate in fall sports?
Currently we have 160-member schools and out of those 160 high schools we have 105 that have, right now, today, committed to playing fall sports. Beyond the 105, we have a lot of schools that are committed to starting in the winter. We have 105 now, maybe we’ll have 120 next week. As schools come in, we will make sure that we accommodate them and make sure that those kids are able to play.
In the sports soccer and volleyball, why are some of the districts smaller and different than some traditional matchups?
I just said 105, and when you have 105 and you normally have 160, that means some schools are not able to participate. We have some districts that might have six schools and four of those aren’t able to play, leaving just two teams. What we had to do is combine some districts. While we combine districts we have to make sure we stay within the governor’s orders of playing within a region. We had to mix and match and make sure that all schools are playing in the region and have a district that they can compete in.
If a school is in hybrid learning, but a student chooses to remain virtual, can they participate in athletics and activities?
They can. We have schools that are in hybrid. The definition of hybrid is that a student can choose to do remote learning 100% or they can go hybrid, whatever they like and wherever they feel comfortable. When a school district is in hybrid and a student decides that they are going to stay remote, they are still able to participate with the school because that school is in hybrid.
The NMAA Board of Directors voted last week on an item about transfers due to COVID-19. What is the bylaw they passed and why?
We have 160 member schools and right now 105 have said ‘yes, we’re going to play fall sports’. The schools that are in remote learning right now aren’t able to play. We are concerned that we are going to have a mass exit of those kids in remote going to a district that are hybrid. Why did we pass this rule? Is it fair for those kids that are in remote? We need to also look at the kids that are in hybrid. A lot of the bylaws are made because of displacement. We do not want to displace kids. Whenever we have transfers coming in from a school, some kid that has been at that school all of these years is going to be displaced. What we saw in these transfers was that we were going to get a lot of students that are going to transfer to one school and that would displace those kids that are already in that hybrid school. Some people might say that’s not favorable and not fair, but we have to look at it statewide and find what is correct and what is best for everybody and our Board of Directors felt that wen needed to make sure we had those schools that are in remote try to get into hybrid so their kids can play instead of us having so many transfers.
A couple of the first dates for competition have changed since we last spoke. What are the new dates for the first games?
That will depend on the school. We need to make sure, with the governor’s office, that our kids are safe. First and foremost, they need to be in the classroom and the schools need to be safe with all the safe practice guidelines, all the guidelines to return to school that the Public Education Department put forth, we need a two week period that everything is right, everything is ready, before sports start. So depending on when the school gets into hybrid, they will have a 14-day period where they are still only in pod work outs to make sure that everything is right and everything is safe before we open up for sports. For some people, they might have been in on February 8th when the governor said their school can return. Today, February 22nd would be their 14 days. If all their cases are low and nothing has happened and there’s no outbreaks, then those kids will be able to start practice. Other schools may not be able to get in until today, February 22nd. They will have a 14-day period also and it will not be until March 8th when they will be able to open up and that is only if their cases are down, the community is safe, the kids have returned to the classroom safely, then sports will be able to take place.
Will fans be allowed?
At this time there are no spectators, and that’s a hard thing for me to say. As a mom, I can’t imagine not being able to see my sons participate in sports. But what we have to look at is this is what’s best statewide. You see many colleges that do not have spectators and pro sports that do not have spectators. We are going to respect what the governor has said in regards to no spectator policy and we are going to make it work. We will stream the games. Parents, I know this is hard that you cannot see your kids play, but we still need that support. If we can show that the cases keep going lower and lower in our communities, then maybe they will look at it and say yes, maybe we can open up later on. But to start this season, it’s going to be no spectators and we are hopeful that will change soon.
We’ve talked about athletics. What about activities, how are they affected?
Activities are the exact same as athletics. They will stay in their pods, but then after that 14-day period their school in in hybrid, then they can open up and practice in larger groups. Activities, however, are a little bit different. It’s not like in athletics where you have two teams going to one location to play. If you have an activity competition, it’s so many schools statewide from all different regions coming together for that competition. So, the activity world is going to stay with their competitions virtual. But at the schools, you can open up at the pods once your school is in hybrid and has had that 14-day wait period.
Lastly, how excited are you for the first fall competitions to take place?
I’m excited. I remember when Dr. Stewart put that February 22nd date up on the slide when he was talking about secondary returning to school February 22nd and here we are. But this is just the start. We have the guidelines in place, we have the public health orders, the Public Education Department has the return to guidelines and we have guidelines. The three entities, when you put those guidelines together, they are safe and it is for the good of the kids. What we need to do, first and foremost, is we need to return to the classroom, we need to get our kids back into the classroom setting with their teachers and then we can play sports. We need to make sure in our communities that we are safe, we are mask wearing, we are social distancing, we are following all of the governor’s public health orders. If we do that, and we show that we can play sports in a safe environment, then things are going to open up a little bit more and it gets me a little more excited. But we need to do the work now. It’s exciting to see that people are getting vaccinated and cases are coming down, but we have to keep those cases down. I urge the communities to please get on board. These kids are returning to the classroom, they’re returning to some type of normalcy in their lives, they’re able to compete in sports, and we just need to rally around them and keep our communities safe. We are going to play sports again New Mexico and now let’s finish and do it correctly.