Expensive road ahead for Aztec Tigers football

Kirtland Central ,Aztec and Piedra Vista face long road trips this weekend

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — Getting to the playoffs is hard enough for any athletic program.

For the Aztec High School football team, just days ahead of their scheduled first round playoff game, there's yet another issue to resolve. 

The financial burdens of this weekend's road trip for the Aztec Tigers to face Ruidoso on Saturday afternoon in the opening round of the New Mexico Activities Association Class 4A State Football Championships are going to weigh heavily on the school's athletics budget.

The school's athletics and activities department posted on Facebook earlier this week, asking parents as well as sponsors and boosters to do what they can to help share the burden.

More:Playoffs begin with Aztec, Kirtland Central, Piedra Vista and Navajo Prep on road

The post states in part, "Because of the current rules we have to operate under due to the pandemic it will be a considerably more expensive trip than normal. This will be very taxing on our athletic budget."

Aztec High School athletics director Bryan Sanders said the cost is higher this time around because of rules implemented by the NMAA and the New Mexico Public Education Department's guidance regarding overnight travel.

The latest PED toolkit, released Sept. 14, includes a section on students and staff members traveling for school-related events and states, "Unvaccinated individuals, who are not household members, may not share sleeping quarters." The NMAA's Guidance for Participation memo, released last summer, are in accordance with the New Mexico Department of Health and the PED.

The sheer size of getting a football team on the road makes the matter greater. Sanders estimates as many as 44 students on the roster are making the trip to Ruidoso, in addition to coaching staff, which makes expenses greater as a whole.

More:2021 New Mexico high school football playoffs schedule, scores

The Aztec Tigers will travel by bus nearly 720 miles roundtrip this weekend to face Ruidoso in Saturday's first round playoff game of the Class 4A State Football Championships.

"We've always had a state travel budget for all our competition in sports," Sanders said. "But this is a more extreme one for sure. Instead of putting four kids in a room like a normal life, you may have a kid who has their own room. So we're having to get 40 or so rooms when we normally would have 20." 

Sanders estimates the school has reserved 43 rooms for the overnight stay Friday before the football team takes the field the following afternoon to face Ruidoso.

Factor in the rising cost of gas, a long trip back and forth as well as meals and it's believed the cost of the trip will exceed $8,000.

"The cost of each room where we're staying is about 69 dollars without taxes, which isn't bad, but when you factor in the number of rooms on top of everything else, that's where it gets expensive."

According to Google Maps, the round trip between Aztec High School and Ruidoso High School is 718 miles. 

Aztec High School athletic director Bryan Sanders.

Aztec's football team isn't the only one making a long road trip this weekend. In fact, it's a shorter trip than that being made by other San Juan County teams competing this weekend.

Kirtland Central is visiting Silver City (848 miles round trip) in another Class 4A matchup, while Piedra Vista, representing Class 5A, goes on the road to face Santa Teresa (886 miles round trip). 

Navajo Prep, representing Class 3A, is also on the road this weekend, scheduled to play Friday night at Wilson Stadium in Albuquerque to face Hope Christian. The Eagles road trip (376 miles) is by far the shortest round trip of all four local schools scheduled to play this weekend.

More:Bobcats, Scorpions and Eagles capture district football titles Friday night

When all is said and done, the four football teams will have logged over 2800 miles on the road.

According to New Mexico high school football historian Dan Ford, the furthest a team has traveled for a game is nearly 1200 miles round trip.

Three times between 1985 and 1988, Animas, located in the southwest corner of the state played against Clayton, located near the border of Texas and Oklahoma, 587 miles away.

The logic, or lack thereof according to Sanders, behind the ruling of not allowing unvaccinated individuals to stay in the same hotel room after being in close contact during multiple 8-hour bus rides, is hard to find.

"Don't try and make sense out of that. There is none," Sanders said. "These kids hang out together, they ride in the same cars together, they spend the night at each others houses. That's what they do." 

The expense of the trip is a greater burden because of lower enrollment numbers of late at Aztec High School.

"We've gone the wrong direction the last few years," Sanders said. "Our enrollment's dropped a little bit, there's been some other factors and our athletics budget has gone down the last five years while the cost of travel has gone up." 

Sanders is grateful that people within the community are offering to help offset some of the costs of the trip, but admitted it's a difficult thing to accept.

"I had grandparents calling offering to help pay for hotel rooms. I had a local business man call me and tell me he was willing to donate some money for the trip," Sanders said. "I don't want them to have to do that. I hate it."

Farmington Municipal Schools athletics director Isaac Gamboa, representing both the Scorpions and Panthers in the Class 5A football playoffs, said the burden of the costs involved for Piedra Vista's road trip and overnight stay in Santa Teresa was a shared one.

"Some parents are helping out with the costs for the overnight stay by staying with those kids who need to have their own rooms," Gamboa said. 

The idea of separating students in their own individual rooms because of vaccination precedents set forward by the NMAA and the PED has resulted in some expensive consequences, according to Gamboa. 

"I understand the rules set forward to try and limit the spread of the virus," Gamboa said. "But the costs of it are a definite burden on all of us."

Central Consolidated Schools athletics director Mark Archuleta, also facing similar costs of a long road trip and overnight stay as Kirtland Central travels to Silver City, said the expense wasn't a factor on the district's budget.

"You have to be a little creative when you're planning something like this," Archuleta said. "But we made some adjustments to the roster and we don't think the cost of the trip is going to be a factor." 

Three of the four teams playing this weekend would be on the road again next weekend should they win their first round matchups.

In Class 4A, Kirtland Central would face top-seeded Lovington (968 miles round trip) in the quarterfinals, while Aztec would play St. Pius (356 miles round trip). 

In Class 3A, Navajo Prep would be on the road facing top seeded Raton (615 miles round trip).

In Class 5A, ninth-seeded Piedra Vista, should they beat Santa Teresa, would technically be the road team in a rematch of a game played last weekend and against crosstown rival and top-seed Farmington.

The distance between Piedra Vista High School and Hutchison Stadium is less than five miles.


Class 3A Playoffs — Navajo Prep vs. Hope Christian, Friday, 7 p.m. at Wilson Stadium in Albuquerque

Class 4A Playoffs — Kirtland Central vs. Silver, Saturday, 1 p.m. at Silver High School

Class 5A Playoffs — Piedra Vista vs. Santa Teresa, Saturday, 1 p.m. at Santa Teresa High School

Class 4A Playoffs — Aztec vs. Ruidoso, Saturday, 2 p.m. at Ruidoso High School

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.