8 Sundevils face 2-game suspensions after homecoming brawl
Punishment will come swift and carry a significant impact for the Española Valley football team following Friday night’s game-ending brawl with visiting Bernalillo.
Española Public Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez said eight Sundevils players are facing two-game suspensions in the wake of a melee that broke out in the first quarter with the Spartans, prompting Española Valley head coach Miguel Medina to forfeit the game in the name of player and fan safety.
Officially, Friday’s game will go into the books as a 2-0 Bernalillo victory. It was the District 2/5-4A opener for both teams.
“Coach Medina evaluated the situation and decided it was in the best interest of everyone that we forfeit the game,” Gutierrez said. “I think it was a good call.”
Gutierrez said emotions were running high well before Friday’s kickoff. Recent Española Valley graduate Cameron Martinez, a member of last season’s boys basketball team that won 28 games, was shot and killed Thursday.
A moment of silence was scheduled in his honor during the game, which was also Española Valley’s homecoming. The homecoming court was scheduled to be introduced at halftime of the game.
“There was a lot going on there and I understand all that,” said Bernalillo football coach John Cobos. “It all got out of control really fast, you know?”
Bernalillo was leading 7-0 in the opening quarter when two players, one from each team, got tangled up during a punt. A shoving match quickly escalated when other players joined in.
“A bunch of people came off their sideline right away,” Cobos said.
One parent who attended the game but did not wish to be identified said the fault was clearly with the Sundevils.
“I’m an Española guy, but what happened was wrong,” he said. “I have to say it was our guys’ fault.”
The state’s governing body for high school athletics, the New Mexico Activities Association, confirmed it is looking into the matter and could announce its findings as early as Monday. Associate Director Dusty Young said the NMAA is gathering game film and collecting information from other sources.
Repeated attempts to reach Medina were unsuccessful. He did not return several messages via text and voicemail.
Española Valley athletic director Ruben Salazar also did not return messages seeking comment.
Gutierrez said the school had planned to hold a “spirit walk” through town to promote Friday’s homecoming game, but moved it on campus when law enforcement officials were unable to immediately apprehend a suspect in Martinez’s death.
“We didn’t have school Friday because we were holding professional development and training, something we’d scheduled long before any of this,” Gutierrez said. “There was genuine concern about having our kids out on the streets, so we moved it on campus. It was not well attended.”
That merely added to the tension before the game.
“When you’re upset and someone gets in your space, it becomes that fight or flight instinct,” Gutierrez said. “There were a lot of emotions running really high that they didn’t know how to process it. Unfortunately it just came out over the course of the game.”
Once the players had been cleared off the field and the game officially called off, an impromptu homecoming procession was held before a listless audience.
Gutierrez said law enforcement was on hand to maintain order, and there were no arrests and no one was cited.
School officials discussed the possibility of postponing the homecoming dance until Oct. 26 when the Sundevils host St. Pius in their final home game of the season. Members of the student council vetoed that plan.
“Their plea was simple,” Gutierrez said. “They didn’t want to make a bad situation worse. Boys had already rented tuxes, the flowers had been bought and they’d already decorated the gym.”
The NMAA could levy further punishment against players and coaches from Española Valley and Bernalillo. For Española, this event comes just eight months after it was taken off an extended probation for issues involving its boys basketball program.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether this had any impact on the NMAA’s review process regarding the fight.