A wish list for San Juan County's sports scene in 2022

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Athletes and coaches train and prepare teams for championships and success.

Administrators and parents of athletes across San Juan County also want stability and a chance to reach long-term goals.

As a new year approaches, there's usually an accompanying sense of anticipation for what people would like to accomplish, and that's most assuredly the case as the year 2022 is just days away.

For the most part, the wish list is a simple one. Coaches, administrators and athletes expressed one common theme for their hopes of the new year.

A sense of normalcy

"My wish is that we get our kids back to living a normal life, Farmington boys basketball coach Larry-Don Chitty said. "Not scared to be sick, not having to cover up and socially distance, and not have to meet virtually for every other thing."

Chitty's comments have been echoed by coaches and administrators across the region as schools prepare to reopen next week after the holiday break. 

The New Mexico Public Education Department's most recent toolkit, released on Nov. 1, still requires that students, as well as any and all attendees for indoor sporting events, wear masks in order to help prevent spread of coronavirus.

Fans, a vast majority of them wearing masks, attending a game at the Marv Sanders Invitational in the Scorpion Arena at Farmington High School on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.

The toolkit further recommends that participants and attendees wear masks at outdoor events, as well, particularly for athletes when they are not at play or practice.

"My wish would be for a full spring sports season without masks," said Tom Yost, head coach of the Piedra Vista High School boys golf team and director of programs for the First Tee chapter of San Juan County.

The Panthers girls golf team is coming off a state championship in Class 5A last spring and is hoping to defend that title. The boys team was second overall last spring, but brought home an individual championship for returning senior Quinn Yost. 

For the most part, both athletes and participants appear to have come to terms with the current mandates requiring masks. 

Since earlier this past spring, when high school sports and professional sporting events resumed, the requirements and recommendations have been met with both skepticism and a sense of relief.

"Being a part of the tournament at Shiprock was awesome" said Matt Melvin, head coach for the Navajo Prep boys basketball team after his team went 2-1 in the Chieftain Invitational earlier this month. "Hearing that kind of excitement was great for all of us. They'd missed a lot of that during the last season, and the kids really feed off that energy."

And while crowds are returning in impressive fashion to basketball games across the county, it's clear that frustration to the current situation seems to still exist.

But there is hope, at least from coaches and those most invested in the success of their teams and the athletes in those sports.

"We're hoping for top grades, healthy and COVID-free runs toward another state title," Aztec High School wrestling coach Herb Stinson said.

And that hope is not just reserved for athletic endeavors, but also for the student athletes and the participants who help make the events possible.

More:2021 Sports Year In Review

"I'm hoping for all our coaches and student athletes to experience a positive and encouraging remainder of the school year," Bloomfield athletic director Ben Tensay said

And while there were many challenges and obstacles to navigate during this year, the hope for 2022 is to move forward, both on and off the fields and courts and playing surfaces.

"Let's get back to some sense of normalcy, whatever that is nowadays," said local sports fan Jeanie Brito. 

On a personal note

As journalists, we're not allowed to have a "rooting interest" in one team or another winning a championship. Conversely, we're also not permitted to cheer against a team.

My predecessor to this job, Matt Hollinshead, was a spectator to some great championship moments across the region during his time. He did a great job covering the local sports scene during what can best be described as challenging times.

I'm excited for the possibilities this coming year and hope I'll get to witness some more great championship moments.

The Farmington boys and girls basketball teams are in the midst of very exciting seasons, as are the wrestling squads, and swimming and diving teams across the county. 

The spring brings with it a renewed hope for championships in baseball, softball, golf, and track and field teams across the basin. 

Andrew Buckle gets his backswing going as he tees off on the first hole of the 2021 San Juan Open, Thursday, Sept. 2 at the San Juan Country Club.

Fans of professional sports in San Juan County can count on continuing coverage of auto racing at Aztec Speedway, the San Juan Open and horse racing at SunRay Park & Casino.

An emphasis on outdoor activities this summer like bike riding and running, and the fervor and anticipation that comes with the Connie Mack World Series is both challenging and rewarding at the same time. 

The landscape for high school football will be altered somewhat later in the year with Farmington High School moving up to Class 6A this fall after an impressive run during both the spring and fall campaigns of 2021.

Those changes likely will be of great significance to teams like Piedra Vista, which will be one of the favorites to contend in Class 5A.

The relationships that have been formed with coaches, administrators and athletes of the many sports in this community will hopefully continue to mature. The effort that everyone puts into their work, particularly during these past few months, has been extraordinary.

Happy new year, everyone.

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