On Monday, March 8, the Public Education Department announced all public schools in New Mexico would return to normal operation by Monday, April 5. Most notably for county athletes, the two week acclimation period for sports has been waived allowing athletes to return to competition a week sooner than they otherwise would have been able to.

Originally, both districts were planning to return to competitions the week of March 22 but with the Public Education Department reversing course on the two week acclimation period, competitions for all three schools will begin a week earlier.

This change means the Eagles varsity fall sports teams for football, soccer and volleyball will be able to compete in an abbreviated season.

At Tuesday’s Belen Board of Education meeting, BCS Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez said fall and winter sports would only be played at the varsity level due to a current shortage of bus drivers.

When the district was in remote learning, several drivers left and weren’t replaced, Sanchez said.

“We didn’t have anything for them to do,” he said. “Now, we have to rehire drivers and it’s a matter of not having enough drivers or time to get students home from school, get refueled and get a C team to a 4 p.m. game. We aren’t sure if this will be the same issue for spring sports.”

Belen athletic director Steven Contreras said they are hoping the football team will be able to play three games, with the scheduling for football done by the NMAA.

Tentatively, those three games are slated to be against Valencia, Highland and Los Lunas.

The Eagles only trip is slated to be when they take on the Valencia Jaguars, with the other two games playing at BHS.

All three county high schools are expected to open their football seasons on Saturday, March 20.

Contreras said the plan is for volleyball to play four to five games and hopes they will be able to schedule six games for the soccer teams. The soccer season runs an additional week, through April 10, compared to the other fall sports.

Cameron Goeldner | News-Bulletin photo

Initially the plan for Contreras was to schedule games in those sports, and he had partial schedules put together before Sally Marquez, executive director of the NMAA informed athletic directors on the morning of Tuesday, March 9, she would be reassigning teams into districts as more schools opted in and were eligible to compete earlier following the change from PED.

Contreras said he expected to receive the district from the NMAA by the end of the day on Tuesday and schedule with those schools from there.

“We’ll play everyone in our district, that’s what Sally said she was going to be requiring,” Contreras said. “It’s going to make the logistics of it all easier on us.

“I’m happy for the kids to be able to get some games in. I’m sure everyone is excited.”

This change also means winter sports teams will be able to start their seasons on time. The first day of the season for spirit, basketball and swim and dive is March 22.

With Belen’s two-week period beginning on March 8, those winter sports will be able to begin competing on March 27, the first day competitions are allowed. The wrestling season begins a week later on March 29, with competitions allowed to begin on April 3.

Cameron Goeldner | News-Bulletin photo
Members of the Los Lunas football team practice on Monday, March 8. The first full team practice the team has held since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Los Lunas Schools Athletic Director Wilson Holland said he is also planning for three football games for each of his high schools, Los Lunas and Valencia.

He expects the two to play each other as well as Belen, along with schools from Albuquerque Public Schools.

Holland also said there was the possibility of a cross country meet, which was not possible under the previous two week waiting period. In addition, he is waiting on the districts for the two high schools to begin scheduling soccer and volleyball games again.

As is the case for BHS teams, winter sports at Los Lunas and Valencia will be able to start the season on time instead of waiting for the two-week acclimation period.

Holland hopes to have schedules finalized for fall sports by Friday, March 12, and said some teams may begin competitions on Monday, March 15.

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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.