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'Let us play:' Las Cruces-area athletes react to fall sports moving to 2021


Jason Groves   | Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES - Centennial sophomores Madelyn Anderson and Lauren Ocampo have been practicing for weeks, preparing for the beginning of the 2020 cross country season. 

But the weekend of their first planned meet, the girls weren't racing for first place. Instead, Anderson and Ocampo were among a group of student athletes who gathered Sunday to voice their disappointment over the postponement of fall high school sports in the state.

"Because of the virus shutting down sports, I have already lost my track and soccer season so I joined cross country to get in shape and compete and I was excited to be back out there with my friends doing something," Ocampo said. "I was pretty mad and upset because there has already been so much taken away from kids.

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"We are missing out on learning and having human interaction that doesn't involve wearing masks and that isn't over a screen."

On Thursday — days before the New Mexico Activities Association was hoping some competition would start again after having been canceled since March — the governor announced a public health order in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 would not be updated to allow youth and K-12 sports or competitions this fall.

High-contact fall sports like soccer and football had already been moved to the spring. On Wednesday, as it became clear the state's public health order would not allow competitions, the NMAA stated other fall sports, such as cross country and volleyball, would also be moved to the spring.

The postponement of sports comes as COVID-19 cases spike in the state. Newly reported daily infections hit a record of 488 on Friday. On Saturday, the state recorded an additional 486 infections. Doña Ana County, similarly, registered a record number of weekly cases the first full week of October.

"We are at extreme risk of uncontrollable spread," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday. She warned of reimposing business and activity restrictions if New Mexicans don't limit their behavior and follow health guidance.

"You have to limit travel outside your home," the governor said, adding to avoid large gatherings. "The virus isn't going away ... Our ability to prevent it from actively spreading, that's on us."

'It just sucks'

Students were aware of the current state of the virus in New Mexico, as all of Sunday's protesters — roughly between 50 and 100 — wore masks and stood six feet apart in front of the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library along Picacho Avenue, downtown. 

"Our state did go back into the red and we do want to be more on it with our sanitizing protocols," Oñate senior volleyball player Madelyn Moore said. "It just sucks because it's my senior year and they are cutting my season little by little every time they postpone the season. As it is, we can't go to school, can't have a prom, cant interact socially with my friends socially at school. Volleyball was the last hanging onto school thing for me other than online class. It was kind of disappointing." 

Moore, along with volleyball and cross country athletes across the state, have been practicing, with masks, in groups of nine athletes to one coach. 

"We weren't even allowed to high five each other in between our plays, so we were following protocols, staying socially distant and sanitizing so I think we could have proven to the governor and the state that we could have kept it under wrap, at least speaking for my school," Moore said.

Moore's mother, Christine West, helped organize Sunday's protest in conjunction with similar outings throughout the state.

'Field of Lost Dreams'

Local businesswoman Marci Dickerson also helped organize Sunday's event. She said those wanting to protest could also hang cleats at the fence at the Field of Dreams stadium to symbolize a lost season.

On Sunday, several pairs of sneakers were tied to the fence, as well as a sign stating: "Field of Lost Dreams."

"I know this is scary for everybody but if we can go to restaurants and play golf and walk into Walmart, why can't we have the choice to play in a sanitized, controlled, clean environment where we know who is there every day," West said. "It should be a choice for these kids."

West also runs a club volleyball team, New Mexico Storm, which typically competes in the spring, setting up a difficult choice of club or scholastic competitions for many sports this spring. 

"Now these kids are going to have to pick," West said. 

Las Cruces youth soccer league coach Alfred Montoya said his girls club's participation has steadily dropped off, even while practicing in small groups. 

"Places around us are playing so it doesn't seem fair to be honest," Montoya said. "It's very difficult to motivate kids and parents to come out if there is nothing to play for.

"I honestly would not be out here if I wasn't convinced that it's safe for them to play."

Jason Groves can be reached at jgroves@lcsun-news.com or @jpgroves on Twitter.