Swine flu concern postpones Texas athletic tournaments

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

West Texas athletes may not have swine flu, but mounting concern about the illness may keep them from competing in state finals.

The University Interscholastic League, the governing body of Texas high school athletics, announced Wednesday that all athletic events are postponed until May 11.

The order is an attempt to mitigate the possible spread of swine flu.

There are 16 cases and one death reported in Texas according to the Centers for Disease Control Web site (www.cdc.gov). No New Mexico cases were confirmed, according to the Web Site.

“The health and safety of our student activity participants is of the utmost importance,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said in a statement. “Taking every possible precaution to prevent the further spreading of this disease is an important contribution to the welfare of our great state, and altering the schedule of our events is a way to keep our participants safe.”

The decision delays golf, softball and baseball playoffs, indefinitely postpones the May 7 academic state meet and wipes out regional track meets.

Under normal circumstances, athletes qualify for state finals by finishing first or second in their regional meet.

Now, Farwell Athletic Director Larry Gregory said, athletes with the top four marks heading into regionals will go to state.

An extra day of competition will be added to the meet, scheduled for May 14-16.

To second-year Bovina track coach Eric Montemayor, it feels like rules are being changed in the ninth inning.

“The competition wasn’t there” in some area meet events, Montemayor said, and some of his athletes slowed down with big leads in their respective events because:

• They were trying to save energy for other events, and

• They were under the belief their area meet marks wouldn’t matter.

“We tell these kids just get into the top four, just get into regionals,” Montemayor said. “We were in the mindset to get in the top four, and not worry about our fastest time.”

That’s why Oscar Rodriguez slowed down in the quarter mile, Montemayor said, and that’s why Jesus Rocha slowed down in the 800-meter dash.

Now, neither will qualify for those events — a big blow to Rocha, as he was seventh in last year’s state finals and was the only athlete returning from that final heat.

“I think there would be an asterisk by the state meet this year,” Montemayor said. “In my opinion, you don’t have the best kids out there. Everything revolves around that regional meet, and they don’t peak until that.”

Rodriguez is slated to compete in the 200-meter dash, and Yesenia Guevara will compete in the long jump.

While Gregory acknowledges the UIL probably didn’t have many good options, going on times and distances at area meets poses the risk of an uneven playing field.

“Weather conditions could have been different,” Gregory said. “You could have had hand timers versus automatic timing. There are so many different things.”

Bovina Athletic Director Dale Fullerton said he’s heard rumors of legal action, but nothing concrete, and it’s been tough to get a hold of the UIL for clarification because “it’s been busy every time we called.”

And then there’s Muleshoe’s end of the spectrum. The decision means that only two athletes, cousins Lane and Wes Wood, are going in the pole vault through persistence and/or luck.

Athletic Director David Wood said both vaulted at 12 feet at their district meet, which was enough to win the event. Rain hit, David Wood said, and both decided to go for personal highs for fun the following day when the meet resumed.

Wes Wood hit a 14-6, and Lane Wood hit 14-0, both personal highs — and a stroke of luck, because had they settled for the win, 12 feet wouldn’t have qualified them for state.

Muleshoe’s other tracksters, meanwhile, aren’t happy, David Wood said, and understandably so.

“They wanted to compete and win it,” he said. “But right now, their times aren’t fast enough. Some of them are peaking at the right time, and now they don’t get to go to this meet.”

“It’s abrupt and final. It’s hard on them. They’ve been working out for two weeks. It’s like someone pulled the rug out from under them.”

The decision also delays the softball team’s playoff game, David Wood said.

The decision was based on the recommendation of the Texas Department of Health Services and in consultation with the Texas Education Agency, the UIL said.

“My responsibility is to make sure the kids remain healthy,” said Gregory, who is also the school superintendent. “The health and safety of our kids should be the main thing (but) I imagine holy hell’s breaking loose at Austin.”