The football field at McCurdy Charter School will remain empty on Saturday afternoons this coming fall.
The McCurdy football team, which typically plays its home games during the heat of the afternoon because of the absence of stadium lights, will not play anywhere in 2019 — home or away — after the school decided to cancel the football program for the upcoming season.
The decision, which was made after the conclusion of the spring semester by the school’s administration and athletic coordinator Christian Lopez, comes solely from nearly half of next year’s expected roster being declared ineligible for the season after falling to make grades this past semester.
The New Mexico Activities Association’s Scholastic Eligibility — put in place for 2018-19 — uses second semester grades for fall eligibility, and states, “A student must have a minimum GPA of 2.0 and NO F’s in order to be eligible to participate in activities/athletics.”
Lopez said Monday that he gathered all the potential student-athletes who would play football next year, which was a list of 26 players. After four different grade checks during the course of the spring semester, it was determined that nearly half of those players were deemed ineligible for the fall after the final check on May 24.
“When I knew for sure we wouldn’t have enough to field a team safely, I told Sally Marquez (NMAA Executive Director),” Lopez said. “I can’t put 13 kids on a football field, you just can’t. You can’t put 14, you can’t put 15. You have to have 20 to 22 kids, at least.”
Along with the program shutdown, McCurdy also decided to part ways with head coach Ron Gallegos, firing him after four seasons. He was also relieved of his position as assistant baseball coach. Overall, Gallegos coached in some capacity at the school for 10 years and guided the football team to a 13-28 record in his four seasons at the helm.
“It was an administrative decision and one that went over me,” Lopez said about the firing. “There’s a lot to it that I can’t get into, but you saw our season last year; I don’t think McCurdy’s ever had a season like that.”
The 2018 Bobcats finished with a 1-8 campaign, which included a forfeit loss in the second game of the season to Cuba High School. The week prior in the opening game against Cloudcroft High School (62-33 loss), Nikko Valdez was handed a 1-game suspension and Lopez, Gallegos and Valdez had to travel to the NMAA offices the following week to try to appeal the suspension, plus the potential suspensions of two other players.
“There was a lot that went into it (firing), and player ejections (was one of those things),” Lopez said. “Everything kind of just worked itself together. We didn’t decide one day, ‘Hey, we need a new football coach.' We forfeited one game and we almost forfeited another. We had never forfeited a game before.”
Gallegos said in a sit-down interview Tuesday that the cancellation of the season had nothing to do with numbers or ineligibilities. He believes the plan from Lopez and the administration to shut down the program has been in place since the end of the football season.
“Christian was going around and mentioning to kids during the spring in track and baseball season that there wasn’t going to be football next year,” Gallegos said. “Kids were getting confused, and rightly so. They come to me and ask, ‘Coach, are we going to have football?’ I said, ‘Yeah, until they tell me otherwise.' So, they had this planned in advance.”
Gallegos further believes the cancellation was predetermined based off the third bylaw in the NMAA’S eligibility, which allows students the opportunity to regain eligibility with summer courses. The bylaw states that students can “make up multiple courses to attempt to gain eligibility.”
“Who’s to say ahead of time these students weren’t going to be taking summer classes or trying to get credit recovery,” Gallegos said. “You have an athletic coordinator who doesn’t do his business. He spreads himself thin: athletic coordinator, security, maintenance and coaches softball and volleyball. How much time does that give to the students who are not passing to give them time to provide adequate tutoring or tell me, ‘Coach, this kid’s in trouble, come help them out.’ If he wasn’t busy doing softball and all this other stuff, then he could actually tell me, ‘Look, we have these kids who are in trouble.’”
Gallegos and assistant coach Nelson Valdez received letters notifying them of their firings on June 3, a letter signed by Lopez and McCurdy Director Sarah Tario. They were required to remove all their personal items from the football field house on June 4, a day before the two headed to Albuquerque to coach the Small-School North All-Stars. The firing came a day later after Gallegos filed for work requests to be done on the football field and facility. The two were not told in person any specifics on why they were fired.
As for the results from the past season, the biggest issue Gallegos had was the school administration’s handling of the forfeit to Cuba. While Nikko Valdez was suspended, two other players suspensions were overturned by the NMAA after reviewing video. With those two players returning and the injury to Brandon Lovato suffered against the Cloudcroft, McCurdy still would have had a large enough roster to play the game against Cuba.
“It was all on the administration and Christian,” Gallegos said. “The NMAA told us we would get that game after we left their offices. They went against the NMAA and forfeited it themselves, through the school.”
With the elimination of McCurdy, District 1/5-2A is starting to get thinner. While Dulce didn’t play a single snap in 2018, they did win a petition last summer to drop to 8-man in 2019. NMAA Associate Director Dusty Young said Monday that Questa High School is on the verge of eliminating their program as well, but the Wildcats are still considering to play as an independent.
The district will now just have three teams in 2019 with the elimination of Dulce, Questa and McCurdy. It will be headlined by Escalante and Newcomb High Schools and rounded out by Albuquerque’s Mission Achievement and Success Charter School.
Lopez said the original plan was to file a petition with the NMAA Board of Directors to drop to 8-man football like Dulce, but the number of ineligible student-athletes gave him doubts about their chances of winning the petition.
Young said he couldn’t speak on behalf of the Board, or the potential outcome regarding McCurdy’s exact situation.
“For a school of McCurdy’s size, to drop down to 8-man, they would have to play as an independent and they wouldn’t have a district and they wouldn’t be eligible for state,” Young said. “Over the last couple of years, the Board has approved a few programs to drop to 8-man and independent that aren’t typically eligible for that, and that is Navajo Pine and Dulce. The precedent has been set, and (for McCurdy) there might have been a chance, but again, that is up to the Board.”
Lopez finished the Monday phone interview by saying the school is hopeful to pick up the program again in 2020 and hit the ground running with a new coach who will be up to the challenge of rebuilding, and who is experienced in that realm.
“It was never a thought of getting rid of the program, that’s not even a suggestion,” Lopez said. “It comes down to not being able to field a team, safely. How do I get a kid possibly hurt, then explain to the parents, ‘Well, at least we had a football team.’ You just can’t do that.”
Despite being fired, Gallegos and Nelson Valdez will speak at the McCurdy Governance Board meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday (6/20) to fight to keep the football program alive — not to fight for their jobs.
“I’m fighting for the kids because they want to play,” Gallegos said. “If I can still help and keep this program going, then why not? I have nothing to lose. This is something that affects the whole school and the community, not just me as the head coach.”