Two weeks ago marked my first day of soccer practice in I don’t know how long. I got up at 8:30 a.m. and went to Aspen Community School to meet a bunch of friends to work on conditioning, technical skills and penalty kicks for two hours. As much as I don’t like waking up early, it was great to spend the morning doing something I love. Slipping on my cleats, passing the ball, joking with friends — it made me feel alive again.

But I keep wondering: Will high school athletes be able to compete this upcoming school year?

I think we should.

The New Mexico Activities Association announced high schools could start practices June 15 in small groups of five, with one coach. Still, my school, Academy for Technology and the Classics, is taking extra precautions and hasn’t officially started the season for either soccer or cross-country — the two sports I compete in during fall. Not being able to train with my team not only is emotionally hard for me, but it puts my teammates and myself at a disadvantage compared to those who are preparing or competing now.

The first week of summer break, my cross-country coaches had the team start logging our runs in an app called MapMyRun so they can track how much we work out on our own time. It’s held me accountable and forced me to stay motivated — something I have struggled with amid the pandemic because I don’t like training alone.

I just miss my team. For me, playing a sport is about working with others and supporting one another. This pandemic, however, has taken that from me. I miss having people there to push me. When they run fast, I push to be by their side. When a teammate compliments my ball-handling skills, it gives me confidence to keep going. If a coach gives me tips on how to improve a skill, I do my best to use that advice.

When my track season was canceled in the spring, my teammates and I were devastated. And I know other high school athletes across the state felt the same way. If sports are canceled this coming school year as well, it will definitely take a toll on so many teens’ emotions, mine included.

There are so many reasons I love playing sports. It helps me clear my head, bond with new people, release stress and feel a sense of purpose. I’ve never gone a day without feeling happy to see my teammates. Being part of a group of like-minded people — all of us have the same passion and are working toward a common goal — has shaped me into the young woman I am today.

The NMAA already has established some guidelines on practicing safely, and if we continue to follow them responsibly, I hope we can have high school sports this coming school year. Because really, it’s so much more than playing a game.

Sofia Barker will be a sophomore at Academy for Technology and the Classics. Contact her at 10073@atcschool.org.

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