Taos football and soccer athletes

Players from the Taos boys soccer team pose for a photo on Monday (July 13). It was announced last week that contact sports – in which soccer is part of – would not be permitted, according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

"Because it's my senior year, it's super disappointing," Aidan Heflin, a senior on the Taos boys soccer team, said. "[But] it's for the better. … It's for the betterment of the community to postpone [the season]."

On Thursday (July 9) Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a press conference that contact sports this fall would not be permitted, meaning that the Taos boys soccer team - and Heflin - will have to wait for what they hope is only a delayed season.

And, they may get just that. Pending on how the pandemic plays out, contact sports such as football and soccer will get a spring season, the New Mexico Activities Association said last week. However, information was bare outside of the hopeful statement relayed by NMAA executive director Sally Marquez in which she tells New Mexico athletes "chin up, we are going to play again, New Mexico."

Taos football coach Art Abreu Jr. said that he has hope that a spring season will come to fruition.

"Right now I have hope - and that's all I'm going to have right now," Abreu said. "I'm going to stick with it until I hear it doesn't happen, then it is what it is. That means we aren't in a good place in finding a vaccine and that's more important right now."

For Ricky Nichols, another senior on the Taos boys soccer team, a hope that a season may start if the state is successful in containing the novel coronavirus. But right now, he isn't that confident because cases continue to be a problem, he said.

"I'm not that confident [right now] just because it has been so difficult to make sure that cases stay down," Nichols said. "It's still pretty much up all in the air, but I do have high hopes to have a spring season. I do think if we start seeing some really good results then I can be really confident about the direction we are going into."

Heflin, who is in his fifth year in playing soccer, said that he initially thought soccer would be on track to having a normal season. Then, the tourists came and the cases began to rise.

"At first, based on the way the state reacted, I thought we had a pretty good chance at having a normal season," Heflin said. "And then, we started getting a bunch of tourists and cases continued to spike, and based on what my mom has been saying it became pretty obvious that it was either going to get delayed or canceled."

Michael Hensley, the head coach of the Taos boys soccer team, said that with the novel coronavirus being uncontained, that he was surprised Lujan Grisham didn't take more drastic measures.

"I'm surprised she didn't cancel all fall sports," Hensley said.

Hensley is concerned that moving the fall season over to the spring won't work.

"Sally Marquez said she would like to try to do a February schedule of sorts," Hensley said. "But I just don't see how that will work because that's our coldest and snowiest month of the year. We'd have to train indoors and there's the basketball team and wrestling team; I just don't see how this can work."

However, Angel Polanco, a senior on the Taos high school football team, said that the cold isn't a factor for him, and if football starts in February then that's better than no football at all. He's just happy the football season wasn't canceled outright.

"I don't care if we have to play in February, I just want a season," Polanco said. "I'm trying to play my last year here in Taos and for coach Abreu. We have some unfinished business we need to take care of."

Hensley said that he thinks cases will continue to spike and he believes, at least here in Taos County, a lot of it has to do with the tourist season.

"In two weeks time, cases will be considerably higher than they are right now," Hensley said. "We have had such a huge influx of people here from other states that are bringing [COVID-19] - and they aren't wearing masks or anything."

Abreu said he expected for football to be postponed or "not permitted" but still felt a sense of shock when he saw the governor utter those words.

"We saw this coming. We've heard talks about it, about the planning stages of what the NMAA was thinking and what the governor may have been proposing. It was expected," Abreu said. "But still hearing it, it's just a shock. … Just seeing it put a bad taste in my mouth."

Abreu said that he is disappointed mostly for his seniors who won't be getting a "normal fall season," he said.

Abreu said this extra time before a potential spring season does have its upside, though.

"This gives us more time to prepare," Abreu said. "Some who had lingering issues get to fully recover. Another long while with my brand-new quarterback. I'm going to take this as a positive and see this as a blessing in disguise to get the Taos Tigers better."

About five players from the Taos boys soccer team - Heflin and Nichols among them - have been practicing at Taos Eco Park on some days to keep fresh for a season that may yet happen.

"Seeing as we can't do anything about what happened this fall, all we have is hope for the spring season. So yeah, I'm hopeful," Heflin said.

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