Goin' South

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The New Mexico Activities Association denied the appeals of 16 of 17 schools heard on Thursday, Dec. 5, leaving the Belen Consolidated Schools and Los Lunas Schools to consider their options going into the 2014-15 athletic season.

The Belen and Los Lunas school districts appealed their placement in the new District 3-5A, which will send teams from Belen, Los Lunas and Valencia high schools to play three schools in Doña Ana County — Las Cruces Centennial, Chaparral and Santa Teresa.

Both Los Lunas Athletic Director Wilson Holland and Belen Athletic Coordinator Jason Baca expressed disappointment with the decision made at a special meeting of the NMAA board of directors in Albuquerque following the activities association's new alignment, which was revealed in early November.

Holland, who characterized the redistricting as an "unfunded mandate," was particularly vocal in his disagreement with the decision.

"We didn't just go in complaining," Holland said. "We had good proposals. We had 10 minutes and we went in and communicated the same concerns that a lot schools had. But they (the NMAA) decided to go in a different direction. So we're truly disappointed."

At issue was travel time to between the Valencia County schools and their Doña Ana County counterparts — a trip that at its furthest is almost 475 miles round trip — and the affect that it will have on student academics, as well as travel costs for the district and student safety on Interstate 25.

The past four years, Valencia County schools traveled only as far as Gallup, the furthest trip being a little more than 300 miles.

Holland said he would be having conversations with school officials from Los Lunas, including Superintendent Bernard Saiz and Los Lunas Board of Education President Charles Tabet as to what steps the district will take going forward.

"We're just going to do what's best for student athletes at the Los Lunas Schools," Holland said, adding he could not comment on the possibility of a lawsuit against the NMAA. "We have not had that discussion."

Holland said district officials would be working in the next few weeks to "formulate a plan that was in the best interest" of the district.

Belen Superintendent Ron Marquez presented a report to the Belen Board of Education on the NMAA's decision during a regular meeting of the Belen Board of Education on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Bacahas since begun consulting with Baca and Belen High School principal Rodney Wright, according to Baca.

In his report, Marquez said the BCS expects to make 12 trips to southern New Mexico with an approximate cost of $13,000 for fall sports alone — which would include boys and girls cross country. boys and girls soccer, volleyball and football..

He also expressed concerns about drivers' maximum driving times as well as the necessity of purchasing hotel rooms so drivers could rest for the return trip home.

Marquez concluded by saying the district was "exploring all avenues," including consulting with the state Public Education Department to see if the NMAA would consider changing the redistricting plan.

"The board has expressed concerns and asked that we look into doing what we can to continue making the right choices for students and working with resources available," Baca said. "We're looking into how we can better improve our situation."

In the meanwhile, both districts are going forward with planning and scheduling in the new district. Baca said he expected officials from the four school districts — Belen Consolidated Schools, Gadsden Independent School District, the Las Cruces Public School and the Los Lunas Schools — to meet in mid-January to begin drawing up schedules and planning championship meets for the fall.

"We're moving forward and preparing to get everything lined up in new district," Baca said, "(The NMAA situation) is ongoing and we'll continue to try to improve our situation. But we're moving forward and it'll be business as usual on the other end.

"We're hoping things work out but we want to be prepared anyway we can be," Baca said.

(News-Bulletin reporter Barron Jones contributed to this report.)