WEEKLY INTERVIEW WITH NMAA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SALLY MARQUEZ JUNE 28, 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.
It’s official. You have completed the 2020-2021 year. What’s your feeling right now?
I’m so excited. We set a goal. It started back in March of 2020 and here we are at the end of June 2021, 15 months later and we did it. We did it as a state. It’s so exciting to see that all the kids were able to play the sports that they love. Back then, we started with ‘We will play sports again New Mexico’ and right now I’m wearing a t-shirt that says, ‘We finished’, we made it to the finish line, and that is every single person in the state of New Mexico. It starts with the superintendents. Back in summer, I went to the superintendents, and I said ‘We have to shift this calendar. Is there any way, even though school ends in May, that we could end sports at the end of June?’ That gave us six more weeks to play the sports that we love and that was crucial. The superintendents have been fantastic through this whole thing. They have supported the NMAA, they have supported our ideas. At the school level, they have done everything they can to make sure kids are able to participate. Going back to the school level, we are also talking about athletic directors that have put in time and time into their work making sure the kids have transportation, have the games, rescheduling, and they never gave up, and they were there from the beginning, every step of the way. If anybody knew how many zoom meetings the athletic directors and I had through this whole pandemic, we were there communicating the whole time. The coaches never gave up, they stayed positive and made sure their kids were emotionally ok, and that was crucial. The kids were getting down and depressed there for a while, but the coaches always made sure those kids had a purpose. My hat is off to these coaches. We always say we are education-based athletics and those coaches have taught life-long lessons throughout this whole season. The athletes never gave up. They practiced even harder. Sometimes they wondered if they were even going to play, and they had those doubts, but they never gave up. When they were given the go, they have it their all. Sometimes they were on the bus for hours, but they would travel, play at neutral sites, they didn’t care, they just wanted to play the games that they love. For the parents, it was difficult. I know some of the parents wondered why we were doing this or why we were doing that. In the end, I think the parents were able to see that we had to put so many pieces together to make this work. Even though it was not ideal, the parents were still there supporting their kids and supporting their athletes. It was a team effort from the top all the way to the parents, and for that I am very, very thankful.
What was the biggest obstacle to overcome in trying to organize and host athletic seasons during a pandemic?
I think the biggest obstacle was not knowing what was going to happen. From week to week, things changed. The pandemic was here, and we told ourselves ‘Let’s do the calendar’. We shifted the calendar four times. Then the questions came up about mask wearing. We had to determine how to change our sport guidelines to make it work. We also had to focus on communication. That was one thing I really wanted to do from the beginning was communicate the messages to everyone. We’ve done that through these videos and with all the zoom meetings we’ve had, that is so everyone would know we were working towards getting back. We worked every single day to make this happen. The biggest obstacle with the pandemic is we never knew what was going to happen. It was different in April; we didn’t know what a pandemic was. We were ok a little bit in August, but still treading water, and then it spiked again, and we were back closing until we were able to start back again at the end of February-beginning of March. The communication we had with the Public Education Department and the governor’s office helped so much to be able to define what we were going to be able to do. The biggest challenge was the up and down roller coaster.
Did you ever have any doubts that you would make it to the finish line? How were you able to pull it off?
Back in the summer, we had kids reaching out. There was one student-athlete from Centennial High School that emailed me in July. It really hit home on how important sports were. It was a soccer player who was trying to get to the next level, and she didn’t know how we were going to make the club world and the high school world come together. I’ll never forget that email. I took her quote and kept it on my desk the entire time. It said, ‘You guys have a hard job like trying to put a puzzle together after the dog ate half the pieces and you lost the lid with the picture.’ It was emails like that from kids that gave me the motivation to say we’re going to continue to play sports, we’re going to reach that goal and we want all kids to play every sport in this school year. I am here to say we have put that last piece to the puzzle in and the picture that we see is that kids are smiling through education-based athletics and activities.