So it looks like the start of the high school football season could fall, at least partially, on a Monday night with some of the matchups not being announced until the week of the game.

That sounds like fun. Imagine being a fly on the wall of some random coach’s office (cough cough, Bill Moon) if that ever actually happens.

Welcome to the latest in a nauseatingly long line of twists and turns courtesy of the pandemic. The coronavirus lapped upon the shores of New Mexico’s sports landscape nearly a year ago, scrubbing away fan participation for the final three days of the 2020 state basketball tournament and setting the stage for what has now been more than 11 months without high school sports.

How fitting, then, that the return of prep football would come on the weekend that is traditionally reserved for the start of the state basketball tournament.

It’s not all fun, though.

The biggest casualty for what amounts to an abbreviated four-game football season is the loss of Santa Fe’s beloved intracity rivalry between Santa Fe High, Capital and St. Michael’s. Every fall, those three give us a chance to tailgate, swap war stories and bring together families with generations of graduates on all sides.

The annual Demons-Horsemen game is a must-see event at Ivan Head Stadium, and in recent years the Jaguars-Demons game has had playoff implications beyond the usual bragging rights. Regardless of records, the games are always able to draw solid crowds and, for a few hours at least, be the biggest story in town.

Those Friday night reunions will have to wait a few more months, and that’s a loss all of us will feel.

The New Mexico Activities Association has taken over scheduling for prep football’s return, and it’s only allowing games against district rivals. The association wants to minimize travel and create a sense of competitive balance, essentially ending any hope of the games people really want to see.

Should a district lose a few teams because they’ve opted out of fall sports, the NMAA reserves the right to fold one district into another to keep teams from the same classification together. With St. Michael’s in Class 3A, Capital in 5A and Santa Fe High in 6A, the earliest any of us will see a Horsemen-Jaguars-Demons troika will be in the fall.

“I think that’s a loss for everyone in Santa Fe, honestly,” St. Michael’s athletic director Kevin Garcia said. “Those are the games people want to watch, but those are decisions the schools can’t make for themselves. We want to play but, you know, we go where they put us.”

The same scenario will play out in other sports, as well. Say goodbye to seeing Santa Fe High play St. Michael’s in volleyball or watch the Horsemen play the Jaguars in soccer.

What’s more, it’s not a problem unique to Santa Fe. In Las Cruces, Mayfield is a 5A school for football while arch rivals Las Cruces High, Oñate and Centennial are in the same district in 6A. It means a temporary halt to the state’s biggest attraction, the annual Mayfield-Cruces game that has drawn crowds of 25,000 or more to Aggie Memorial Stadium.

To the west, city rivals Gallup and Miyamura are in different classifications in football, and in Albuquerque traditional rivals St. Pius and Academy are in different districts for soccer and volleyball, meaning those rivalries might be played.

While it’s great to have prep sports on the verge of returning and, at long last, having someone turn on the lights for football, it somehow feels like we’re being deprived of the games that get us excited the most. A return to sports means a celebration of normalcy, of acclimating back into a life where school colors and longstanding traditions are a reason to feel proud of what side we’re on.

Until the days our familiar rivalries finally return, we’ll take what we can.

Bring on sports. It’s been way too long.

Will Webber is The New Mexican’s sports editor. Contact him at wwebber@sfnewmexican.com.

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