Log In

Reset Password

Schools to vote on NMAA proposal regarding behavior

A bench-clearing brawl began after Pittsburgh Pirates' Oneil Cruz was injured in a collision with Chicago White Sox catcher Seby Zavala on April 9. New Mexico Activities Association is one step closer to cracking down on unruly behavior at sporting events.(Gene J. Puskar/The Associated Press)
‘Two strikes’ rule would call for penalties for conduct at prep sports

FARMINGTON – The New Mexico Activities Association is one step closer to enacting a rule that would seek to create stern penalties against schools and its fans, participants and coaches for unruly behavior at sporting events.

The “two strike” rule was proposed earlier this year by the NMAA after an incident in the final moments of a boys basketball game between Roswell and Carlsbad on Feb. 10.

Video of the incident showed Carlsbad’s Damian Perez and two Roswell players chasing after a loose ball on the middle of the court as time ran out and a fight ensued between both teams.

That incident, along with reports across the region and around the country of fans acting out at prep sporting events, led the NMAA to seek passage of a new rule that would suspend fans, athletes and coaches from participating in sporting events after repeated infractions.

The NMAA's board paved the final piece of the administrative road this week as it unanimously voted in favor of the “Two Strikes” proposal. It was created to help neutralize the type of behavior from fans and/or participants that the NMAA feels has become far too intrusive, and something it very much wants to eliminate.

According to a statement from NMAA executive director Sally Marquez, the latest step now leaves the decision of implementing the rule change for the upcoming school year in the hands of NMAA member schools.

“We have to send the message that it is not OK to act out, it is not OK to verbally abuse officials, it is not OK to fight, it is not OK to cuss at opponents,” said Marquez. “We need to do better.”

A referendum will go out sometime next week, at which point the member schools will have a time to reply. It is anticipated that they will follow the lead of the NMAA Commission and the NMAA Board of Directors.

The first two sections of the proposed new bylaw contain the following provisions:

“Any time an egregious act of unsportsmanlike conduct by a team participant, including a coach, occurs two or more times during the same season, at the same school, in the same activity, the team will be suspended from participation in that activity for the remainder of the season.”

“Any time an egregious act of unsportsmanlike conduct by a nonteam participant occurs two or more times during the same season, at the same school, in the same activity, the nonteam member, along with all school spectators will be suspended from attendance in that activity for the remainder of the season.”

This is not the first time the NMAA has enacted rules looking to hold people accountable for their actions at sporting events. In 2018, the NMAA passed a similar resolution calling for sanctions against schools and programs for allowing unacceptable bad behavior.

Officials break a brawl between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

That rule, which was passed by a wide margin among NMAA schools, came about after an incident in the 2018 state wrestling tournament at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. A brawl nearly broke out between parents of students from Belen and St. Pius while those athletes were participating in a match.

One of the main reasons bad behavior from fans has become such an intense issue is that it often targets athletes, primarily students. The parents of those athletes and administrators at these schools have been called into action and have demanded stiffer repercussions.

“I don't believe that what we are doing as far penalties for severe issue are harsh enough,” said Bloomfield High School athletic director Ben Tensay. “Maybe we do need a harsher penalty to send a message that New Mexico schools that participate under the NMAA need to be held at a much higher standard.”

Several states have instituted similar guidelines as part of their high school sports associations.

The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activity Association implemented a new “sportsmanship rule” last summer. With the new rule, teams can be suspended for the rest of the season after two reports of unsportsmanlike behavior.

Louisiana and Washington have also added versions of “Two Strikes,” and many states, like New Mexico, are joining the fray. The New Mexico approach would differ only in the sense that both spectators and athletes are going to fall under the same category.

Marquez said hostile fans have been more of an issue of late than players or coaches being overly aggressive. As such, the NMAA does not want “to hurt kids for what’s going on in the stands,” Marquez said, adding that school administrations and officials must be active in policing their own fans.

“We’re not consistent from one school to the next,” Marquez said.

Coaches and administrators across San Juan County are in favor of the likely rule change, but hope for the best from spectators and participants alike.

“We are losing coaches and officials both locally and at a national level at an alarming rate,” said Kirtland Central boys basketball coach Brian Dowdy. “The things that are directed toward players has to stop. It’s embarrassing to hear what comes out of some people’s mouths.”

Examples of egregious behavior in the new bylaw also include “constant verbal attacks on officials” by fans or coaches, and inappropriate chants by student sections directed at “individuals, teams, or officials.”

“I think (the proposal) is a great idea,” said Leonard Longhorn, who officiates a variety of prep and youth sports across San Juan County. “The type of behavior we're told to look out for makes it very difficult to recruit newer or younger officials.”

Not all school's sports fans are the same, likewise not all sports participants are the same, and some athletic directors understand that there's a bigger narrative than just their own fan base.

“I think our fans are great, but I do feel that harsh punishments need to be given when someone demonstrates egregious behavior,” said Farmington Schools athletic director Isaac Gamboa. “We need to set the example of good behavior for our kids.”