With the New Mexico Activities Association having approved a calendar which will see schools operating in the hybrid model able to begin the season for fall sports football, cross country and volleyball on Feb. 22, with soccer beginning a week later on March 1, districts and athletic directors can begin preparing to get their teams back in competitions.

Belen Consolidated Schools has approved a plan that will see secondary students return to the classroom on March 22, after the district’s spring break, and the day that winter sports, with the exception of wrestling, are scheduled to begin their seasons.

For BHS Athletic Director Steven Contreras, this means for the first time in nearly a year, he has concrete dates to build a schedule around in order to get Belen athletes back competing. There is still a lot to be decided before they return to play in any sport.

Steven Contreras
Belen athletic director

“As of now, all of our teams are still practicing; they’re working out in 4:1 pods,” Contreras said. “I’ve been working closely with Mr. (Lawrence) Sanchez, our superintendent, as we try and get things ironed out.”

A March 22 return to the classroom would mean the Eagles would be unable to participate in fall sports, as well as wiping out the first weekend of competition for winter sports. The N.M. Public Education Department requires districts be back in hybrid for two weeks before they can begin competitions.

Sally Marquez, director of the NMAA, has said getting in district games will be the primary focus of the season for playoff purposes.

With those games on the calendar for each school since district realignment was announced in early 2020, the biggest question will be around non-district games, as well as around the elimination of tournaments.

With stricter game limitations this year in order to make the condensed seasons work, non-district games will be limited anyway.

Travel restrictions are also in place, with no overnight trips allowed. The Eagles typically avoided overnight trips anyway, even for trips to places like Las Cruces. The NMAA has instructed teams to remain within their region.

Also for this year, the NMAA will be putting together schedules for the four plus one week format for the football schedule, instead of the athletic directors handling it themselves. All other scheduling will remain Contreras’ responsibility.

For Belen, that will likely mean games against programs  such as Socorro, Albuquerque Public Schools, Bernalillo and Moriarty.

As a result of some of those changes to scheduling, Contreras said he and the other athletic directors for the district have discussed the possibility of playing district opponents three times instead of the typical two, particularly in the event that a team is unable to participate for any reason, though nothing has been finalized.

Even with tentative dates from the district and the NMAA, much is still up in the air as the district opponents of the Eagles make decisions about when and if they will return to campus and resume competition.

Contreras said tentative district schedules will be put together by Feb. 19 to allow each district time to iron out what obstacles remain ahead of their return to competition.

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Cameron Goeldner grew up in Boulder, Colo., and attended the University of New Mexico. He covers everything sports for all Valencia County schools.