ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – High school athletes at Albuquerque Public Schools can now compete in state-sanctioned sports this spring. APS announced Wednesday that it has worked out a plan with the New Mexico Department of Education. “I was excited to get back out on the court and play and compete,” said Ty Christiansen, a student-athlete at Cibola High School.

“It kind of felt surreal like it didn’t even feel real, and I was like somebody pinch me this is actually happening,” Taylor Christiansen, a senior student-athlete at Cibola High School said.

The district struck a deal with the Public Education Department, which tied sports to hybrid learning. Starting Monday, March 8, the district will offer voluntary small group, in-person learning at all of its campuses. Also on March 8, students at the 13 APS comprehensive high schools can work out in small groups, for 14 days. The district says if there are no COVID-19 outbreaks during that time, teams may begin full practices and even some games and competitions the week of March 22. “It kind of felt like…a big sigh of relief, ” Ayana Lloyd, a senior student-athlete at Cibola High School said.

“Just the opportunity it brings especially for like, college scholarships, it’s like refreshing almost,” said Sophia Sena, a senior student athlete at Cibola High School.

Some members of the Cibola girls basketball team were together when they heard the news. “Just the opportunity it brings especially for like, college scholarships, it’s like refreshing almost,” said Sophia Sena, a senior basketball player at Cibola High School.

However, the games will look different. No spectators will be allowed at practices, games, or competitions. “Well, it’s hard because that’s one of the things we look forward to as parents, is to see your kids excel in the sport they love and to play in those sports. So, it’ll be sad for us but again we’re happy for the kids…we are just excited for them,” said Stephen Christiansen, who has two student-athletes in APS.

The district also says all fall sports including football, soccer, volleyball, and cross country will compete within the district on an abbreviated schedule. The district says they won’t be able to travel out of the district because their season, which will start a couple of weeks after many others in the state, doesn’t align with the New Mexico Activities Association’s calendar. “I’ve heard from a few friends and I think just, they’re just excited to play. So, whatever they can get is awesome to them,” said Ty Christiansen.

“One of my friends and my sister, they both play volleyball. And they really thought that they weren’t going to have a season this year. So, just hearing at least that they’re going to be able to play is just, it’s really nice for them,” said Grace Salmon, a senior student-athlete at Cibola High School.

The district says spring and winter sports including basketball, cheer, dance, baseball, softball, and track will also be included in NMAA competitions. Teams have been given the choice to participate, so not all sports will be represented by all schools.

The APS Athletics Department hopes to post a schedule of events by mid-March. After not having sports or even expecting a season this year, APS athletes are coming back to the court with a new perspective. “To take every opportunity you receive and to just you know, never take things for granted,” said Sena.

“Everyone just play their hearts out. Leave it on the field, leave it on the court, just give it all you got,” said Azia, a senior student-athlete at Cibola High School.

“There are lots of reasons why we fought to resume high school athletics this spring,” said Interim Superintendent Scott Elder in a news release. “Not only do sports keep kids fit, help improve academics, and teach teamwork, leadership skills, and time management. But maybe most importantly for students in the midst of a pandemic, they allow for social relationships that have been so missed over the past year. We are grateful to all of those who came together to make this happen for our students.”

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart issued the following statement:

“Throughout the pandemic, the New Mexico Public Education Department has been open to innovative options presented by school districts that adhere to our guidance and meet our goals to assure student, staff and community safety, optimize opportunities for in-person learning, and base decisions on available data and evidence. Albuquerque Public Schools was able to work with its high schools to offer in-person learning in the hybrid mode for families who choose to opt in. We are happy the district was able to expand in-person learning — a critical step in resuming athletic and other activities. This is a strong first step in the process of getting all students back for in-person learning.”

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart