LA to remain put in NMAA proposal

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State > Move to Class 5A will have little effect for ’Toppers, other prep programs

By Mike Cote

 There will be a bit of a name change, but little else will change for the Los Alamos Hilltopper sports programs under the new proposal set forth by the New Mexico Activities Association.

However, the Santa Fe Demons are in for a major move and, very possibly, a humbling one.

Los Alamos, Capital, Bernalillo and Española Valley will remain in District 2, although it and most of the rest of the current Class 4A will move up to the proposed 5A classification.

Under the proposal released Wednesday by the NMAA, the governing body of most interscholastic sports in the state, Los Alamos will be in Class 5A for the block spanning 2014-2016. 

However, there is little difference between the proposed Class 5A and the current Class 4A — Class B is becoming Class A and Classes A-5A are just adding a letter to their designations as opposed to there being a gigantic classification overhaul as there was in 2000.

The rumors the week before Thursday’s release were flying. Some potential proposals had Los Alamos in a district with the Four Corners teams, while others had Los Alamos, Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius X as possible district rivals.

“I’m glad we’re not going to do a whole lot of extra travel,” Los Alamos athletic director Vicki Nelms said. “Santa Fe, we’ll miss them. They’re competitive in a lot of things. Girls basketball is probably the most excited because this is the last year we’ll have to play them in district.”

Del Norte, which currently resides in District 5-4A, will move over to District 2-5A to replace Santa Fe. 

Del Norte is part of the Albuquerque Public Schools system and is the only public prep program in Albuquerque that isn’t part of the largest classification.

Hilltopper baseball manager Mike Gill did a stint in the late 1990s at Del Norte under then-manager Stan McKeever, one of the most respected figures in prep baseball, and said his recent contact with the Knights has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I know Del Norte has a competitive team for baseball,” Gill said. “As far as competition, they’re pretty solid. They’re a class program. Their players play hard and they’re quality young men.”

There will be 24 schools for most team sports in Class 5A, as well as an equal number in Classes 6A and 4A. They will be separated into five districts again, the nucleus of those which will be similar to what is currently in place.

To preserve competitive balance throughout the new system, Lovington is moving up from Class 3A to join District 4 along with Artesia and the two Roswell schools, while Albuquerque Valley, which has a population in line with the new Class 5A, will stay in the top classification and will be joined by Deming, which two years ago had the largest student population of any 4A team in the state.

Schools not happy with the current proposed alignment system have until Monday to file an appeal with the NMAA and can make their cases to the NMAA Dec. 5.

Santa Fe High may be one of those schools.

Santa Fe has seen a population spike for this year and the previous two years — the average of the 80-day count for 2011-2013 were used to determine classification for the next 2-year block — and now has a population count in line with the bigger schools.

However, Santa Fe will go into District 1-6A, perhaps the toughest district in the state. The Demons’ new district mates will be Cibola, Rio Rancho, Volcano Vista and Cleveland.

Before the Demons dropped from Class 5A to Class 4A in 2009, they had a rough go of it against the bigger schools. Between 2000-2009, the Demons qualified for state in only one team sport, baseball.

When it entered 4A, Santa Fe was the largest school in that classification.

Santa Fe’s teams have definitely been more competitive in District 2-4A since its drop-down, although Los Alamos has been the dominant program in most sports since that time. Against those schools from the proposed new 1-6A, the Demons may be in for a world of hurt.

“They all knew they were going to 6A,” Nelms said. “Their hope was they would go into District 5 instead of District 1. What a district to move into.”

Competitively, District 5-6A (Albuquerque, Atrisco Heritage, Rio Grande, Valley and West Mesa) would be a much better fit with Santa Fe, but the NMAA’s districts are usually drawn geographically. In the case of logistical considerations, Santa Fe’s placement in District 1 is the correct one.

While some are sympathetic with the Demons’ plight, at least one Los Alamos coach isn’t.

“If your kids aren’t going out for sports, you’ve got to work on that,” said Hilltopper head wrestling coach Bob Geyer.

Santa Fe often has low turnout for its sports programs, but Geyer, Los Alamos’ Coach of the Year in 2012-13, was in the same position with the Los Alamos wrestling program a few years ago. 

Geyer said he found a way to get around that problem himself, and that’s something the coaches at Santa Fe have to figure out.

“If your school goes to losing, you just drop down?” Geyer said. “You’ve got deal with it. I feel the NMAA got it right for the most part.”

The proposal released Wednesday won’t be finalized until Dec. 7 after all appeals are heard by the NMAA.

Nelms, however, said she isn’t going to waste a lot of time trying to get fall 2014 schedules coordinated and is hoping to get all the district ADs together by next week to get that ball rolling.

She said it was still possible that Del Norte could request a move to District 5, but didn’t have the impression that was a likely scenario.

For baseball, the current Los Alamos district calls for three games against each opponent — two at one school, the third at the other school. Gill said he didn’t know if Del Norte, or the other schools in 2-5A, would want to keep that format, but other than that, he said it would simply be a matter of picking up a few more games.

“We’re still at 26 games,” he said. “Next year, we could just have three games with Del Norte instead of Santa Fe. It’ll be good. We’ll see if it stays.”