Cameron Goeldner | News-Bulletin photos
Joel Hernandez, a senior at Los Lunas High School, speaks during a ‘Let Them Play’ rally at Los Lunas Schools’ central office on Friday. Hernandez plays football and basketball for the Tigers.

LOS LUNAS — Students-athletes and parents attended a rally at the Los Lunas Schools’ central office last Friday, hoping to get the school board — and the district as a whole — to rethink its Feb. 2 decision to remain in a remote-learning model.

Those who attended were upset about the possibility of not being able to play sports due to restrictions set in place by the New Mexico Public Education Department that stipulates teams can’t participate in their respective seasons until their district returns to a hybrid model.

The New Mexico Activities Association has approved a calendar set to begin on Feb. 22 with football, volleyball and cross country and soccer rounding out the fall sports to begin competing on March 1.

The NMAA mandates a two-week re-entry period for schools once they move to hybrid learning before they’re able to begin competition. The NMAA has said it is prepared for districts to join fall sports in the middle of the season.

Los Lunas Superintendent Arsenio Romero stated in a letter to the community that a special board of education meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16, will be held consider reentry.

The special meeting is more than a month before the date set by the school board at its last meeting when they voted to remain in a remote-learning model.

The rally was organized in a matter of hours after the Feb. 2 board meeting, with organizer Jessica Hernandez — a mother of three student-athletes — taking to Facebook and getting responses from other disgruntled parents and student-athletes.

The reason for it, she said, was her disappointment with the school board’s decision not to send kids back to in-person learning, adding depression had played a big factor in her advocating for students in the district.

“The depression — it’s awful,” Hernandez said. “They went from doing all year-round sports and staying active to having nothing. You know it’s affecting them. They’re giving up because the community is giving up.”

Tyler Kiehne, a star on the Los Lunas High School Tiger football team and who signed a letter of intent with UCLA, said he went to the rally in support of his teammates, including those who weren’t starters last year but set to start this season.

For him, this whole process has felt like a “false hope.” He added those who took precautions to not get their family members sick have already opted out of the season.

“Everybody I know, all the athletes, are in favor of playing,” Kiehne said. “Those who aren’t able to play because of situations where they need to protect their family, they’re not at practice, they’re not at the workouts and they have already taken those precautions

“We respect them and we honor that because it’s a real threat to them but, for us, we’ve been waiting.”

Jeremy Maupin, head football coach at Los Lunas High School, speaks during the ‘Let Them Play’ rally at the Los Lunas Schools central office as other attendees listen.

Los Lunas football coach Jeremy Maupin, along with other coaches from the school, were at the rally on Friday to show their support for getting student-athletes back onto the field, court and track.

Maupin said he was thrown off by the requirement that schools and districts must be in a hybrid model to participate in athletics.

“I think APS (Albuquerque Public Schools) is fighting for (sports to be allowed in remote learning). I think even some of our admin has thought that’s the best,” Maupin said.

“I know there’s people fighting for it so if that happens, we kind of look at it as we got two options — our school board can make that decision or the governor can make that decision … We got two avenues and we’re going to fight for both of them. Just like we tell our kids, we’re going to keep getting ready until the day we hear and know for sure.”

Kendall Ostler, a basketball and softball player at LLHS, said it’s been hard for her and other sidelined athletes. Like many student athletes, she said, her hope for a season has slowly been stripped from her as the school year has gone on.

Valencia High School volleyball and softball athlete Miranda Garcia said she was sure — too sure — that at some point this year she’d be back in the classroom with friends and classmates, but that hope began to fade with each passing day.

“My hope before this was that we were going back — that school was going to start up, and now I don’t really have that much hope anymore,” Garcia said. “I still have it, I still have faith in everything but my hope has just gotten lower every single day that I hear, ‘Oh, they pushed us back a little longer. Oh, we might not have this season or school. Schools are not going to start until maybe March.’”

That sense of depression is something Garcia feels, she said, but for her, going back to in-person learning isn’t just about sports — it’s about getting back to a sense of normalcy.

“I will be honest, it’s very depressing, stressful and it gives me a lot of anxiety,” Garcia said. “It’s the worst feeling to be on the computer all day. It gives you headaches. It pushes you to a point where I wake up for school, open my MacBook and I think to myself, ‘Let me just lay down a little longer.’ It’s the worst feeling.”

As the only board member in attendance at the rally and the only one to vote against remaining in a remote model, board member David Vickers said he feels for those students who aren’t able to go back to the classroom and learn, or to even just play sports. He feels a sense of duty, he said, to take a stand.

Jose Avila, left, and Zander Doyle, right, both spoke during the ‘Let Them Play’ rally at the Los Lunas School’s central office. The two were among numerous LLHS football players who were in attendance.

“I support the students and their families, and they want to be back here, and it’s good for them,” Vickers said. “Education-wise, it’s good for their mental health to be back in school, and I support them and everybody else that works in the district should be on the same mission to help students.”

While sports can’t begin without being in a hybrid model, and without any further changes at the state level to let athletes play while their districts remain in a remote-learning, Vickers said the board needs to work with what they have to get those student-athletes back playing.

“Well, it would be great if the (N.M.) Public Education Department and the governor changed their tune about all this, but we have to do what we can do under them,” Vickers said. “They’re giving us an opportunity to make change and I think we need to take advantage of it.”

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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.