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The week of May 10 was a difficult one for Artesia High School’s spring sports athletes and coaches.

The spring season is by far the busiest. Five programs’ worth of athletes, three of those programs with separate boys’ and girls’ teams, including the largest program of them all: track and field. Hundreds of athletes battling their way through March, April and early May, through tournament after tournament, double header after double header, meet after meet.

In the often sweltering heat of Southeast New Mexico, that’s a grueling row to hoe indeed. As we all know, New Mexico sort of skips spring. It’s more like sprummer.

By extension, spring’s State Week is hands down the most hectic of the entire school year. Except for this year. Week before last, State Week passed in total silence.

The Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs would typically have been capping off their final practices of 2020 — or in the case of tennis and golf, their state events — packing their bags, enjoying their send-offs, and heading to Albuquerque.

Their primary focus would be the blue trophy, of course. They’d be ready to compete, to put a season’s worth of effort to the ultimate test, to prove themselves against all comers. But they’d also be looking forward to the side effects of State Week. Making lifelong memories with teammates over meals and in malls as well as in dugouts and team campsites.

But this year, there were no hot days and cool evenings at the Great Friends of UNM Track and Field Complex. No baseball games on random Albuquerque high school campuses. No sounds of tennis balls batted back and forth, no frantic score tallying among golf squads, and no cheers and screams from a softball team chasing its third consecutive state championship.

The reality that was the cancellation of spring 2020 perhaps hit Lady Bulldog softball the hardest. Back-to-back champs after their 2019 win at the University of New Mexico softball field, the girls in orange had their hearts set on a threepeat. As a team loaded for bear with nine seniors on its roster, that goal was extremely attainable.

You can read more about the acceptance process those seniors, their teammates, and their coaches underwent in the article below by head softball coach Sandra Pulido.

But the Lady ‘Dogs were by no means the only team with a chance to make some noise at this year’s state events. The Bulldog baseball team was coming off of a runner-up finish in 2019. The Bulldog track and field team finished third last year at state and the Lady Bulldogs fourth. Lady Bulldog golf was also fourth with an individual state championship from Taysea Powell, who would have returned this year for her senior season. Bulldog golf and AHS tennis were also looking forward to improvements over last year’s campaigns.

It’s been a difficult time for parents, friends and fans as well. They’re accustomed to spending mid-May in busy hotels full of teams from all over the state, embarking on quests for parking spaces, lugging lawnchairs for miles, slathering on sunscreen, and surviving on concession-stand nachos and Gatorade. And while that doesn’t exactly sound like fun, it’s what they happily endure, year after year, for the chance to watch their young athletes compete on the big stage.

It’s everything I’ve happily (for the most part… I do sunburn easily) endured for the past 18 years of my career. And it felt stranger than I can express to watch last week pass without a scorebook on my lap, a camera up to my face, a tape recorder in hand to interview the big winners, and a Dion’s pizza waiting back at the hotel room.

ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt was one of the first big names to acknowledge the pain both high school and collegiate athletes must have been feeling upon discovering their seasons — and in many cases, their sports careers — had come to an abrupt, unceremonious end. He invited people to share photos and videos honoring those athletes and their hopes and dreams, now frozen in an unprecedented moment in time.

Believe it or not, he took some flack, most prominently from some mouthy local sports anchor who asked why sports should be a concern when people around the world are dying.

The answer should have been obvious.

Sports obviously take a firm backseat to a global pandemic, but that doesn’t mean empathy has to disappear as well. Particularly for teenagers, who haven’t yet ventured out into the world, school, sports and other activities are their world. And they’re capable of being upset that that world was turned upside down while still understanding why it was.

They’ll all come out wiser on the other side. They’ll mourn what could have been, just like anyone who’s experienced a setback. But then they’ll move on, and they’ll do so with a perspective that isn’t often afforded to people of their tender age — a clear understanding of what’s important in life and a profound knowledge of why we should all appreciate what each day brings and live that day to the fullest.

These young athletes have learned to take nothing for granted, to appreciate even the seemingly mundane moments, and to never leave anything untried or unsaid.

In short, they’ve won.

Congratulations, champs.

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‘You will always hold a special place in my heart…’
AHS softball coach shares perspective

 

ARTESIA — The Daily Press has reached out to Artesia High School’s spring sports coaches for their perspectives on the “season that wasn’t.” Following is Lady Bulldog softball coach Sandra Pulido’s story.

——————–

 

(Brienne Green – Daily Press)

 

By SANDRA PULIDO
For the Daily Press

This season started with losing senior shortstop Kamiley Marquez to a torn ACL in the fall and having to make moves within the team to give us the best opportunity to be successful.

Every January, we start with Lady ‘Dog Days, as the girls like to call them. It consists of conditioning, agilities, weight lifting, and team building activities. We then transition into skill-based practices. This year, we added three eighth-graders to our roster, and we were looking forward to seeing what they could do as Lady ‘Dogs.

With all of the work the girls had put in in January and February, we were looking really good. We were putting in the work, girls were ready to do whatever they needed to do to help the team, and if that meant
playing a position they haven’t played, they accepted the challenge and excelled.

Two days before we knew the season wasn’t going to happen, we were gearing up for our first games of the season in Las Cruces. We were all packing to leave the next day when I started getting phone calls from coaches around the state about the tournament being canceled. Once I received confirmation that it was true, it was then my turn to make the phone calls and send the texts.

The next day at school, the girls were upset and they had every right to feel that way. Up to that point, we had yet to play a game against another opponent. We had an alumni game and a scrimmage against Roswell and Goddard High Schools. We were all tired of practicing and were ready to play, ready to see what we could do, ready to fight for a chance to compete at State.

It rained that day, Thursday… and yes, we practiced. The plan was to continue to prepare for our games the following week, so we scrimmaged. This was a teachable moment with all of the emotions flying and not knowing what would happen next. We told them before our intersquad scrimmage that this could beat us or it can make us better; we can let it bring us down or we can overcome the news and adversity and have the best practice we can and enjoy being out there.

That’s exactly what they did — they went out there, in the rain, and had a blast! They were talking, executing plays, cheering for each other, laughing, and enjoying the game with their closest friends. What more could a coach ask for?!

The next day when we got confirmation about the season being over, we called an emergency team meeting, and it was a hard conversation to have. Seeing the looks on their faces is what made it so bad. We were all sad about the season. It’s heartbreaking. I know I cried knowing we wouldn’t have an opportunity to see our girls compete as Lady ‘Dogs this season, knowing we wouldn’t see them every day for the next three months and get to experience their quirkiness.

Going in to State Week knowing we weren’t preparing for it has been tough. We were able to see our girls this week when they returned uniforms and equipment, and knowing we would have been leaving for Albuquerque on Wednesday or that we should have been playing that 8 a.m. game on Thursday morning but instead they were turning in their uniforms was sad, to say the least. But I know it was great to see them in any capacity.

It has been a long two months. All of the Facebook memories popping up over the last two weeks of us in Albuquerque, bonding over Nerf gun wars, buying floppy hats, starting a wave with the crowd, decorating the bus, watching the boys play, and winning State made me happy because it brought back all of those moments.

But it also broke my heart knowing that we should be doing that. We should be making more memories together.

This senior class was our biggest, and they have been in the program since I started at Artesia. They are Lady ‘Dogs! They embody everything that we stand for as a program. It made me happy to watch them grow and excel as young women and athletes over the last four to five years. They had worked so hard this offseason, and we were ready to watch them play their hearts out for each other.

Although they didn’t have the season they expected or wanted, they didn’t have the opportunity to make more memories with their teammates, I know they will cherish the memories they did make. I know they will come out of this stronger than before.

Seniors, thank you for buying in to our program, to the bigger picture. Thank you for all of the memories over the last few years. Continue to work hard, and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it. Always give 100% in all you do. I am proud of each and every one of you, and I know you are going to do great things in life. You will always hold a special place in my heart.

To our athletes returning in 2020-21, we look forward to the day we can work together again to prepare for State next year. I know you’ve all learned a lot through this situation and will not take things for granted. This makes me believe we will come back with more heart and passion than ever.