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The future of high school sports remains very much in doubt due to the pandemic, but at least one element of the New Mexico Activities Association is alive and well.

The state’s governing body for prep athletics and activities announced it has partnered with National Federation of State High School Associations and PlayVS to expand its footprint for esports in New Mexico.

A pair of wildly popular game titles, Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21, have been added to what remains of the 2021 season.

Games such as SMITE, League of Legends and Rocket League, have long been a part of the gaming platform that culminates in an annual state tournament with participation numbers that have risen sharply in the last few years.

The NMAA had sought to add the football and soccer games after receiving input from schools around the state. Both games will be added this spring.

“Esports has become one of our association’s fastest growing activities and the addition of these titles will only help to increase student participation,” NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez said.

The NMAA’s esports program was launched three years ago but has been an unofficial activity in the state for several years.

The number of teams more than doubled in the first two years, topping out at 53 and more than 700 participants in a 2019-20 season cut short last spring due to the pandemic.

Those numbers are expected to climb much higher this year amid the coronavirus shutdown that has postponed all in-class learning and suspended traditional sports until at least next month.

The NMAA has similarly planned a centralized state tournament for early May, assuming the state’s health restrictions allow for it.

“The NFHS Network is proud to support the addition of FIFA and Madden to the high school esports gaming portfolio,” NFHS Network Vice President Mark Koski said. “These are incredibly popular game titles among students — as our first sports titles — we will now offer a new kind of competition to our players and expand the appeal of our platform to a larger audience. We can’t wait to recognize the first-ever FIFA and Madden high school state champions across the country.”

The 2021 season is set to begin in February and will include an 11-match schedule and two weeks of state playoffs for each game title. Schools in two classifications, Class 1A-4A and a separate division for 5A, will earn points toward an overall esports championship based on participation and success in all five games.

Prep notesPojoaque Valley announced Thursday that girls basketball and cross-country assistant coach Kimberly Martinez died from complications of COVID-19 this week.

A standout athlete at McCurdy, she graduated from New Mexico State and was working at Los Alamos National Laboratory at the time of her death. Her daughter, Kaylee, is a student in Pojoaque.

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