Empty Pit

Workers clean up The Pit after the conclusion of Wednesday’s games of the state basketball tournaments. Fans will not be allowed to attend the remainder of the games.

On the day the American sports world ground to a halt, at least one school — St. Michael’s — had been planning to take it one step at a time and tentatively planned to go on as scheduled next week.

School officials had canceled a weekend cheerleading fundraiser, but next week’s regularly scheduled on-campus baseball and softball tournaments were still on.

“Unless we hear from some of these other schools, the plan is to go ahead and play them,” said St. Michael’s athletic director Tom Manning.

Then it happened.

By late Thursday afternoon the dominoes that had been falling all day finally got the best of the local sports landscape as state officials announced public schools were shutting down for three weeks at about the same time that the NCAA was canceling the Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque.

Within moments, the NCAA halted all winter and spring sports, a move that forced the hand of the Mountain West Conference and the University of New Mexico to quickly follow suit.

Less than an hour later, the Albuquerque Isotopes baseball team and the New Mexico United professional soccer franchise announced they, too, were halting operations as the country comes to grips with the impact of COVID-19.

In a world where sports help define everyday life, a 24-hour window saw every major American sports league shut its doors and amateur organizations from the college level to New Mexico’s high schools do the same. There will be no prep sports after the state basketball tournament until at least the second week of April when the state will re-open its public school system on April. 6.

New Mexico Activities Association Executive Director Sally Marquez issued an email to athletic directors around the state Thursday afternoon saying she will hold a teleconference with the organization’s board of directors Friday afternoon.

They will determine what to do about the remainder of the basketball tournament, as well as the upcoming State Spirit Championships and the potential cancellation of all spring sports activities.

“Once decisions have been made I will forward you the board’s thoughts,” she wrote. “I am hoping that after this meeting, you will have a common direction in which to proceed with spring events.”

Meanwhile, the state basketball tournament continued to limp along behind closed doors Thursday, the product of a Wednesday night decision to play the final three days of the week-long tournament without fans or media allowed inside The Pit or Rio Rancho’s Santa Ana Star Center.

James Barron and Will Webber discuss the significant toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on sports locally and nationally, and also share their thoughts on a bizarre state basketball tournament that finished in front of no fans.

It made for a surreal experience for the state’s highest-profile sporting event and it was a move that didn’t sit well with those in the middle of it.

“I don’t like it all,” said West Las Vegas boys basketball player Carlos Arellano. “Having our fans here watching us is kind of what makes it fun, you know? I can’t even think about what it would be like with no one there.”

Thursday’s games in The Pit went off without a hitch, but by time word started trickling out about cancellations for major sports leagues around the country, public and private schools around the state were already well ahead of the curve.

Santa Fe Indian School athletic director Eric Brock announced earlier in the day that several spring events were being canceled next week, then the school came out with an even more ambitious plan by shutting the entire school down until April 20.

“We are working to move games and track meets around to find the best solution to preserving the spring sports seasons,” he wrote on the SFIS fan page on Facebook.

Santa Fe Public Schools held a closed-door meeting Thursday afternoon to determine its course of action. At the same time, a river of email correspondence poured in from districts around the state announcing their plans. That’s when state officials stepped in and made it a uniform three-week break, ending speculation about who would and would not be playing in the days and weeks immediately ahead.

Even smaller groups, like the New Mexico United’s fan club, The Curse, announced it would temporarily cease group functions. The North American Hockey League, which used to have a team in Santa Fe and now has one in Rio Rancho, announced it has canceled the rest of the season.

The Isotopes announced they have already postponed their April 14 season opener and will resume operations at an undetermined date. It came on the heels of Major League Baseball shutting down spring training games and Minor League Baseball doing the same.

“With the ever-evolving situation around COVID-19, the prudent and socially responsible thing to do is to proceed with an abundance of caution,” the Isotopes said in a release.

The UNM spring sports calendar is also done. The Lobo baseball team was in Austin, Texas, for a weekend series against Texas when word came down. The school had already announced it would prohibit fans from attending next week’s highly anticipated home series with No. 4 Texas Tech, but now that’s off the books.

The UNM football team is in the middle of spring practices but will resume behind closed doors. The school announced that the remaining workouts would be limited to only players and essential personnel, with no access to the public or the media.

The NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships were among the casualties. Scheduled to begin Friday at the Albuquerque Convention Center, it means more than 700 athletes went home disappointed.

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