NMAA vote could send teams south

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The New Mexico Activities Association will unveil its realignment plan for the state’s high school sports teams at its next board of directors meeting on Wednesday. Nov. 20.

Administrators from both the Belen Los Lunas schools fear that plan will have their district’s sports team traveling hundreds of miles south to play their district games.

The question of whether Valencia County’s three large high schools will have to the travel to the southern New Mexico communities of Santa Teresa and Chaparral for the next two years and beyond has been on the minds of its current and former athletic directors for a few weeks now.

The Belen Board of Education discussed the possibility during a workshop on Oct. 24. It will be discussed again at the next school board meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Dusty Young, NMAA associate director for media relations, said the association, which includes 159 schools in the state, is confirming enrollment numbers from member schools with the state Public Education Department.

The three-year average of enrollment numbers will determine where schools will fall in the six new classifications the NMAA, which will begin with the 2014-15 season.

“The district alignments have not been released,” Young said Monday. “The only thing that’s been sent out is the time line on when everything would come out. Nothing has been sent out as far as how schools will be classified or aligned.”

The NMAA now splits the state’s schools into six classes, ranging from Class B up to Class 5A. Next season, the classes will change to range from Class A to Class 6A.

Class 4A — the class Belen, Los Lunas and Valencia high schools currently reside in — will become Class 5A. Nearly every Class 4A school will be moved into Class 5A; that much is not in question.

What is in question is which district the three large Valencia County schools will be placed in. This season, the schools were in a district with Gallup High, Gallup Miyamura and Grants.

A preliminary re-districting plan released in February had Moriarty High School joining the three Valencia County schools to make up District 6-4A. On Monday, Young said that plan was “a preliminary thing.”

“That was sent out so that schools and their boards could see what was possible,” Young said. “It was not concrete.”

But area administrators now fear that since the NMAA is looking to eliminate three-team districts, that change could lead to Belen, Los Lunas and Valencia having to make the nearly 500-mile round trip excursion to Santa Teresa and Chaparral in southern New Mexico.

In his presentation to the Belen Board of Education, Superintendent Ron Marquez asked if the district should appeal a southern placement or simply “let the cards fall where they may.”

Discussion in the workshop covered such items as travel costs, time away from classes and safety. The biggest concerns were road safety and academics — making sure that athletes did not miss class due to travel.

“The safety of the roadway is a big deal,” said Marquez.

In the workshop, former Belen athletic director and current BHS principal Rodney Wright said he had submitted ideas to the NMAA in December 2012.

“At that time, we were looking not at distance but at safety and ease of travel,” Wright said in the meeting.

Wright and current Athletic Director Jason Baca said that their feeling that Valencia County schools would be placed in a district with the two southern New Mexico schools was based on impressions drawn from regional meetings with NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez.

Los Lunas Schools Athletic Director Wilson Holland echoed the opinion that the NMAA was at least looking into coupling Valencia County’s three soon-to-be Class 5A schools with Santa Teresa and Chaparral, which are part of the Gadsden School District in Dona Aña County.

But Young said any talk of how districts will end up is premature and based purely on speculation.

“We can’t finalize anything until the numbers are finalized with PED,” Young said, stressing that everything up to now is “preliminary” except the move naming the classes A-6A and the breakdown of the classes — 24 schools in Classes 4A, 5A and 6A and 29 schools each in Classes A, 2A and 3A.

With diesel fuel prices averaging about $3.71 a gallon in the county this month and buses having a capacity of up to 100 gallons, budgeting for athletic teams’ travel is no small matter.

But administrators feel they can handle the costs no matter which district the three county schools are ultimately placed.

What is of paramount importance is safety.

“I would agree with Rodney in saying that safety is first,” said Holland. “Keeping our kids local, if possible… if they’re going to put us in a district, we’d prefer to play locally.”

Holland said he wouldn’t mind being in a district with Moriarty, which is about 124 miles, round trip, from Belen High, 125 miles from Los Lunas High and 170 miles from Valencia High, or any Albuquerque-area schools such as St. Pius X or Del Norte.

“We will have a discussion with our athletic department,” said Holland. “We’re going to do what’s best for Los Lunas Schools. We’re going to provide them without suggestions and needs as a school district.”

Baca said he felt confident that athletics in the Belen Schools were on “an upswing” and would continue that way, no matter what district foes the Eagles end up playing.

“There’s nothing official,” Baca said of the NMAA plans. “In talking to the board, it’s real important to know that with the community of Belen, regardless of what district we end up in, we have the support of the community. So any district we end up in will be a good situation.

The NMAA board of directors will meet at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 20, at the NMAA offices in northeast Albuquerque.

After the new district alignments are approved, appeals from school districts as to the changes will be heard on Thursday, Dec. 5.