Belen Consolidated Schools filed an appeal Friday to the New Mexico Activities Association seeking to have a “first strike” removed from the Belen High School football program after a scuffle with Valley High School that terminated the Eagles’ football game Sept. 8.
That appeal, which was heard Wednesday morning by the NMAA board of directors, was denied unanimously, keeping the “first strike” in place.
The vote came after an hour-long closed-door, executive session, in which Belen administrators laid out their appeal. Following the vote, Belen Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez said the district would not take further action.
“It was not unexpected, but we had to make the effort,” Sanchez said. “We had supported the originally ruling wholeheartedly, but when it changed, we felt we needed to step up and question the decision-making.
“It just wasn’t clear what constituted a first strike,” and that both teams should be punished equally, the superintendent said. “We’re done” as far as another appeal.
“We’ve had our appeal heard and we respect the decision of the board of directors.”
Along with Sanchez, board members Aubrey Tucker, Jim Danner and Larry Garley attended the meeting Wednesday morning.
Originally, NMAA gave Belen and Valley both a first strike under the new “2 Strike” bylaw and ordered the schools to forfeit a game for “egregious behavior.” A second strike under the bylaw allows for a program to be shut down for the season.
Several days later, the NMAA reversed part of its decision after reviewing additional game film. NMAA ruled Valley will not have to forfeit the Vikings’ next game at Los Lunas because VHS still had enough eligible players.
Video provided by Belen Consolidated Schools
This is the video NMAA executive board members viewed before amending the punishment against Valley High School under its “2 Strike” policy.
However, the forfeit Belen was given for the Sept. 15 game against Deming remained, as did the first strike both Belen and Valley received.
“Board member Jim Danner requested that I contact the district lawyer to see what legal remedies the district may have. The district is asking for the removal of the first strike from Belen football,” Sanchez told the News-Bulletin.
From there, the district decided to file a protest. The appeal letter, obtained by News-Bulletin and signed by BCS attorney Arthur D. Melendres, says the “2 Strike” bylaw, “fails to set forth concrete guidelines for participants, other than the word ‘egregious,’ which is in the eye of the beholder.”
The letter also claims that the NMAA did not provide “specifics” or “facts” to support the sanctions.
“On that basis alone, we believe that the sanctions cannot be supported and must be withdrawn,” Melendres wrote in the letter.
The attorney adds, “the penalties imposed are not warranted by NMAA’s Handbook.”
Before the letter was sent, Sanchez told the News-Bulletin the district wanted to view the film the NMAA “used to make the decision to suspend all Belen kids and not all Valley kids.”
Sanchez also said at that time that BCS was “OK” when both teams were given forfeits, but “now that Valley is going to be allowed to play the next game and Belen is not, that’s why the district is protesting this.”
“When we felt that both teams were being treated equitably, we supported it,” Sanchez added. “We wanted to state our concerns to the (NMAA) board of directors about the implementation of who gets to play and who doesn’t. We still support the NMAA.”
Sanchez said the district decided against seeking a preliminary injunction to be allowed to play the forfeited game because the time frame was compressed. The Eagles’ forfeited game at Deming was scheduled for last Friday, followed this week by homecoming and then district play.
The letter from BCS to the NMAA concludes, “If NMAA determines that it cannot or will not revoke the ‘first strike’ determination, the Board of Education of the Belen Schools requests that the NMAA provide guidance concerning what is ‘egregious’ unsportsmanlike conduct, and amend its bylaws accordingly.”
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.