The continued COVID-19 pandemic took a huge toll on prep athletics nationwide this past spring, and now in New Mexico some fall sports will feel the same effects.
New Mexico Activities Association Director Sally Marquez announced last Friday that contact sports – meaning football and soccer in Socorro County – will be at the very least postponed until later on in the school year.
The announcement comes along with the Governor’s news that the state is returning to Phase 1 in light of increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Socorro Athletic Director and coach Alex Johnson has spent the summer in Missouri with family working remotely, and said he’s not seeing the same effect there as in New Mexico.
“I am in a state this summer that is very open. I went and watched my cousin in law play baseball this weekend. I didn’t see a mask. I didn’t see social distancing. It was very much on top of each other,” he said. “My perspective might be a little skewed because it’s just different. What I have told my friends and family back in Socorro is I’m really proud of the way New Mexico has responded. In spite of my own personal feelings toward how difficult it may be to switch sports around because we’re not seeing the same issues in (Missouri).”
Johnson said while erring on the side of caution can be frustrating, there’s just no way everyone is going to be content when and if school does start back up in the coming weeks.
“If we go back with masks, there’s going to be a camp that says I’m not putting my kids in school. If we go back without masks there’s going to be a camp that says I’m not sending my kid to school.” He said. “You’re never going to please everybody, but when somebody has the best interest for the people I think that’s what we really have to look at.”
While the decision to postpone fall athletics is no doubt a disappointing one for student athletes around the state, there may be somewhat of a silver lining.
“We’re approaching it from the standpoint that we’re going to play football, and that’s what we’re going to do. Whether it’s this fall or in the spring or the winter we’ve been told that we’re going to play, so we’re approaching it like we’re going to play,” said Warriors football coach Al Ocampo. “We’re working hard. We’ve kind of had to adjust, especially in the last few days … so instead of trying to get ready for starting in two weeks now we have more time. Seowe’re going to go back and try to get the kids a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger then work on speed.
“We tell the kids all the time when gives you lemons, make lemonade and that’s what we’re doing,” he said. “The positive side of this is we do get four months now of really good, solid preparation.”
The news couldn’t have come at a worse time for Lady Warriors coach Mike Olguin and his team however. The same day he received clearance from the city to begin no-contact workouts at the Socorro Rodeo Arena and Soccer Complex is the same day he received word of the Governor’s decision.
“It’s super disappointing. Normally this time of year we’d already be two weeks into training. The girls' mind's were finally starting to get focused on the season and school. Now it’s just an overall different feeling,” he said.
While the coming weeks and months will provide unprecedented challenges for students, coaches, teachers and families alike, Olguin said his job right now is to keep his players emotionally positive and engaged.
“I think the whole thing is just trying stay positive because this is all new to everybody, and it’s trying to figure out how to proceed effectively, but also safely,” he said. “I think everybody at this time is having to adapt to whatever is given to them, and I think we’ll continue to adapt and make it work however we can.”
And Johnson had a similar message for Socorro coaches.
“The thing I’ve been preaching to my coaches is okay, we’re not playing until January,” he said. “The negative to this is obviously we’ve got a longer wait. But our kids are never going to be more prepared for a season.”