On Friday (Jan. 26), text messages received by coaches sent panic into the small community of Questa that lasted well into the weekend and raised questions about the future of spring sports in the school district.
Amidst an impending budget shortfall, Questa Independent Schools has been faced with tough choices in the past few months trying to shore up a nearly $78,000 cash reserve balance in its 2017-18 budget. The state requires the district to keep more than $200,000 in cash reserves as a safety net in case of unexpected expenses.
The district held several meetings with community members late last year to gather ideas on saving money and possible avenues to cut or reduce spending. Everything, even sports, was on the table. Baseball and track are the only spring sports in the district, and a text message sent last week implied that the programs may be in jeopardy and subject to alteration due to the budget cuts.
"I love sports, I'm really a sports fan, and so are the board members," said Questa Superintendent David Albert in a recent phone interview. "Maybe we would have to reduce but never to eliminate. Too many kids rely on this stuff."
In past meetings, board members had said sports and student services would be low on the list of possible cuts to save money; however, coaches and community members remain unconvinced. As of Wednesday (Jan. 31), baseball practice for Questa High School had yet to start even though the official New Mexico Activities Association practice season began Monday (Jan. 29).
Albert said at most the school's baseball and track schedules would be altered to limit the miles traveled and possibly the number of games but that the sports as a whole would not be outright cancelled. According to the NMAA handbook, teams in the 5-2A district could face a $500 fine per game cancelled; however, NMAA Associate Director Dusty Young said all school districts are handled on a case-by-case basis. He could not say if Questa would be fined if any games were canceled.
In order to cancel a sports season, Questa would have to contact the NMAA and alert the organization to the status of the season as soon as possible. As of Tuesday (Jan. 30) Young reconfirmed a Jan. 26 Taos News conversation with NMAA Director Sally Marquez, where Marquez stated the NMAA had not received any confirmation of Questa's cancellation of spring sports.
Other ramifications of a cancellation would be the absence of Questa in the upcoming Northern Rio Grande track meet. Replacing outgoing Coronado (Gallina) High School in 2014, Questa is the newest member of the 70-year old conference and has participated in the annual basketball tournaments and track meets since joining the eight-member league.
"I see a very involved community that doesn't want this to happen," Albert said during a Taos News phone interview. "In the end it's a board decision, but I just don't see (cancellation) happening."
Reports flooded the town over the weekend saying that spring sports had been cut to save money, and Albert said he had been "running around the district" to settle the rumors. According to Albert, no decision was made by the school district's board, himself or athletic coordinator Miguel Romero to cut the two sports programs. Responding to a Taos News request for public information, Albert said no written communication existed between himself or board members concerning spring sports being canceled, indicating that any such decision did not officially take place on the record.
In an interview with The New Mexican, athletic coordinator Romero did suggest the claim that spring sports may be suspended had some validity.
"It is on temporary hold until the district can find some money," Romero said, reiterating that boys and girls basketball programs, which are in the middle of their seasons, would not be affected. He added that he hopes to know more about the district's intention by the end of the week.
Cheer, which falls under the spirit program - also considered a winter sport - is likewise, not affected. The Questa Wildcats were state champions in 2017 and will have the opportunity to defend their title in Albuquerque March 23-24.
"I"m hoping the board and the community get together and keep the sports for the kids," Romero said, "because it's really for the kids."
Romero's statement comes on the heels of repeated inquiries by The Taos News via phone and e-mail to Questa administrators about rumors of spring sports being canceled that had circulated in the community for several weeks.
New Mexican Sports Editor James Barron contributed to the story.