James Yodice: It’s been a tough prep season, but we’re moving forward

From left, officials Candace Aragon, Curtis Vigil and Cory Collins talk during a break in the action during a recent Sandia Prep-Bosque game. Officials have been overwhelmed this season, at least locally. (Mike Sandoval/For the newspaper)

The prep basketball season is rolling for the house, with two things very clear.

First, it looks like we’re on track to reach March 12 without any major, widespread disruptions that have trashed the regular season or the playoffs. As tedious as COVID-19 is, and in as many ways it needs our patience, it qualifies the 2021-22 season as a success.

And for the first time since 2019, on the Saturday of the championship, the last day of the season, the Pit will be able to accommodate as many supporters as there are places in the building. This is good news for everyone. How refreshing it would be to hear the Pit at full throttle for a state tournament game. We missed it a lot.

So, in a sense, we can honestly say that the glass is half full. And there is much to be grateful for.

However, it can be accurately said that the glass is also half empty.

It would be an outright lie to suggest that this season hasn’t been messy — even tragic — on any number of levels, and that there are potentially uncomfortable days ahead.

COVID-19 has caused game forfeits, postponements and schedule interruptions. Players and coaches fell ill and were sidelined. Leonard Torrez, the 37-year-old women’s basketball coach at Mesa Vista, died of COVID last month. Just like his father, Leo, assistant coach. They died on consecutive days, breaking the hearts of the Trojan community. It was a terrible reminder that in some ways COVID is ingrained behind the wheel.

Some schools have closed or gone virtual. At least one district for sure – Menaul’s 2-2A – won’t have a district tournament, as they need this week for more games to be rescheduled. Others could follow suit, as this option has been offered to them in this exceptional season.

Fans were either banned or restricted to some degree during the season. And there’s no promise the coronavirus won’t rear its ugly head again over the next four weeks, with schools feeling the pain and possibly having to forfeit the playoffs.

Then there’s the plight of overstretched public servants, many of whom are simply overworked as New Mexico — like just about every state, to be fair — tries to recruit and retain enough men and women to replenish the ranks.

“We are exhausted,” a longtime local official told me a few weeks ago. This refrain is familiar.

I’ve spoken to probably half a dozen familiar faces among Central Region (metro area) officials over the past two weeks; not a single one of them said anything else that this season has been incredibly taxing on them physically. Many work around 25-30% more games than usual. One official put the number of games worked at 75 so far this season, compared to the 50 that would normally be the case in mid-February.

The reasons, of course, are simple. There isn’t enough for everyone, and more than a few games have had to be mixed up in the schedule as a result. Too often, crews have to work back-to-back games (less than ideal), even three back-to-back games in rare cases, according to a veteran official.

It boils down to this: men and women are either reluctant to try refereeing or, for those who try, too few stay long enough. New Mexico Activities Association Officials Commissioner Zac Stevenson told me that the number of basketball officials has increased in the state from last season (from about 100, from 520 to 614), but had declined (by around 85) since the start of the pandemic two years ago. .

Fair play remains a thorny issue in general, and especially for referees, the vast majority of whom only do so as a side game to begin with.

At the recent Farmington-La Cueva girls game, something amazing happened. La Cueva’s PA announcer, in the middle of the game, took a specific Farmington fan to task for his bad behavior, and did it with a hot mic, so everyone could hear. Many officials have had their dose of spectator idiocy. And who could blame them?

And, let’s not forget, the second week of the state tournament, for the third consecutive year, will be negatively altered. And it’s not just players and teams that are going to feel this pinch.

There will only be three days of basketball at the Pit (March 10-12) instead of five, as it will only host semi-finals and championship games. The first round and quarter-finals will be played at campus venues. However, it is fantastic that we are back on 16-team pitches in March, following the eight-team pitches of the abbreviated 2021 season.

Going forward, and following the lead of the University of New Mexico since that is the venue for UNM, fans wishing to attend state tournament games at the Pit will be required to present membership cards. proof of vaccination, or proof of a negative COVID test, to enter. This policy will only apply to games at The Pit, not Bernalillo High or the Rio Rancho Events Center.

So yeah, it’s been a bumpy ride, sure. And there could be more bumps in the road in the weeks to come. But we are moving forward. And there is always strength to move forward.

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