Rio Rancho Public Schools Executive Director of Athletics Larry Chavez, left, and his son Hilario, the A.D. for Santa Fe Schools, watch Hilario’s Demons beat the Rams in a boys basketball game at the RAC on Dec. 10, 2019.
Garry Herron / Observer

Although not expecting to have any fans in the stands for the — finally — upcoming high school sports seasons, Rio Rancho Public Schools Executive Director of Athletics Larry Chavez said at the Feb. 22 RRPS Board of Education meeting that an estimated 90 percent of the events will be streamed.

Chavez updated board members on the new district, for the 2020-21 school year only, as well as when the teams — with their student-athletes all masked — will start playing their games/matches, plus the latest on middle school sports.

His biggest concern, though, was having parents, coaches and student-athletes staying well. Four rapid-responses in a two-week period not only shut that school down for two weeks but keeps student-athletes out of competition. And, if only one student-athlete on a team tests positive for COVID, that team can’t play.

“Having any stability with these guidelines by the governor (is unlikely),” said state Sen. Craig Brandt. “Four cases, whether or not it was (gotten) at the school? Even if they’re doing it at home and get COVID? This administration has no common sense. None.”

Here are the practice start dates/first competition dates recently approved by the New Mexico Activities Association for fall sports: football (Feb. 22/March 6); cross country (Feb. 22/Feb. 27); boys and girls soccer (March 1/March 6) and volleyball (Feb. 22/March 1).

The ‘Chavez District’

With Albuquerque Public Schools’ athletics in flux — initially canceled because APS was in a virtual-only format of learning — Chavez had to get to work on schedules after RRPS got the go-ahead for athletics and activities in mid-February.

Keeping in mind that he didn’t want any long-distance bus trips for student-athletes, he will have the Rio Rancho Rams and Cleveland High Storm competing against the Santa Fe High Demons and the Capital Jaguars, anticipating a lot of home-and-home contests, with Santa Fe a little more than an hour north of Rio Rancho.

Chavez’s son Hilario is the athletic director for Santa Fe Public Schools, he noted, which could lead to some family tension, he joked.

Cleveland High’s home games will be streamed on Sports Primo; RRHS sports will be streamed by ProView networks. Sports primo also streams Santa Fe and Capital high schools’ home games. Plus, he noted, the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) will have other events at CHS and RRHS being played in the stadiums and gyms, already equipped with cameras, online for events when Sports Primo or ProView Networks aren’t covering.

“So we’re gonna have most, if not all, of our streamed one way or another,” Chavez said. “(Sports Primo is) also gonna try to stream cross country events; they’ve never done that before.”

Fans will only need to buy one “ticket,” he added; the purchase of a Sports Primo, ProView or NFHS ticket will be good for broadcasts on the other two networks.

Middle school sports

Football and wrestling will not be conducted this year in sixth, seventh and eighth grades this school year, Chavez said, because although they are still planned for the high schools, middle-school student-athletes do not have  off-season workouts.

To compete in football, in which Chavez said a lot of participants might be putting on pads for the first time, and wrestling would open the doors for too many liability issues.

But, he said, the city’s four middle schools will be competing among themselves in volleyball, boys and girls basketball, softball and baseball. During the acclimation period, he added, middle school student-athletes would also have the 4:1 pod ratio in place,

Their shortened seasons will end when the school year ends in June.

Chavez said the middle schools’ 4½-week seasons will feature two games each week, with no practices or contests scheduled on Wednesdays.

Schedules for the secondary schools are expected to be finalized soon.

Gerard Pannoni, first-year head football coach at Rio Rancho High School, watches a quarterback hopeful toss a pass during a workout last week. The Rams, who open their 2020 season March 13 at Santa Fe High, need to fill the shoes of last year’s state Gatorade Football Player of the Year, QB Isaiah Chavez, now at UNM.
Gary Herron / Observer

Coaches ready to go

Heath Ridenour (CHS football): “We are so thankful for the efforts that Dr. Cleveland, Renee Saucedo, Larry Chavez and Scott Affentranger have put forth for us to have this opportunity. The people that are running this district understand the importance of student engagement and extracurricular activities. It was no easy task for our students to have the opportunity to play this spring and these people deserve so much credit. We are excited about getting the chance to play and be with our athletes. We are going to take advantage of each day and we will embrace the opportunity. Carpe Diem!

John Shepard (RRHS boys soccer): “I think everyone is frustrated and tired because of the many difficulties brought on by the pandemic, so I believe any safe distraction is a good one. Furthermore, I think sports can be very beneficial for the mental health of our kids, and probably for many parents as well. Yes, there will be difficulties. No, it won’t be ‘fair.’ Yes, there are legitimate arguments for and against. Yes, there are more important issues. But let’s all have a good attitude and make the best of the situation and make positive experiences for kids. And go, Rams!”

Shaun Gill (CHS boys soccer): “I am very excited to hear that we may get to play fall sports. I know my coaching staff and players are all ready to start practicing and playing soccer again. …  To be honest, I really don’t know who all is eligible to participate in fall sports from the southern and eastern sides of the state. However, in the metro area we should be able to find good quality games with the most of the private schools in Albuquerque, such as Sandia Prep, Albuquerque Academy, St. Pius X, Hope Christian and Bosque. All of the aforementioned private schools have excellent soccer programs and would make up a really competitive/tough schedule.”

Greg Rusk (CHS girls soccer): “This is great!  Since a number of my athletes aren’t able to play club soccer at the moment, it will give them a chance to play the sport they love. It’ll be interesting to see what (opposing) teams are available, but I’m sure the (Rio Rancho) Rams will be a home and away.”

Vince Metzgar (RRHS athletic director): “It was a great day on Monday as students arrived on campus since the schools shut down 11 months ago. Even though kids were masked up, we could see it in their eyes that they were happy to be back. The student-athletes were especially excited as we officially started the seasons of football, volleyball and cross country. The coaches are all working hard, making sure that all safety protocols and state guidelines are followed very carefully so that we can have complete seasons.”

Matt Martinez (CHS athletic director): “Excited to see our athletes competing again! A big thank you to our superintendent, school board, parents, coaches and administration for making this happen. Looking forward to a great spring — here come the Storm!”