Under Ortega, change is on the sports menu of the APS

Adrian Ortega, right, is seen in a meeting with fellow APS administrators Michael Huston and Daniel Leyba (foreground). (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

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It’s been over four months since Adrian Ortega stepped into the role of district athletic director, and he’s already set the wheels firmly in motion to overturn some status quos in APS.

Try some on:

  • Teams from far outside the metropolitan area — like the Hobbs boys and girls, for example — are booked for next January’s metropolitan basketball tournament.
  • Albuquerque high schools will be allowed to travel out of state for competitions. It’s on the horizon in a year.
  • Eighth graders will soon be allowed to compete in high school track and field. It starts in August.
  • And there may soon be a new method for fans to electronically consume high school events in Albuquerque.

Ortega, a former boys’ basketball coach at Atrisco Heritage, became district AD in early December. He recently sat down with the Journal for an hour-long interview at APS headquarters where he laid out his ambitions, detailing some of the tweaks and improvements he has implemented, or hopes to implement, to the largest school district in the state.

Take the road

Coaches across the city have long clamored for the ability to leave the state to face competition outside of New Mexico. Ortega said he consulted with all 13 high school principals “and all 13 were supportive of this initiative.”

APS will allow — beginning with baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field next spring — individual teams to take one out-of-state trip per season. This could be in the form of individual matches/meetings, or it could be a tournament.

Fall and winter sports can make a single trip starting in the 2023-24 school year.

“This is a monumental breakthrough for us,” Volcano Vista wrestling coach Ahren Griego said. “Eighth graders (compete in high school) was the first big step, but the trips level the playing field a lot.”

Football teams, as they are on a two-year calendar block for 2022 and 2023, are unlikely to be able to travel until the 2024 season.

“We are delighted with this,” said La Cueva football coach Brandon Back. “I think it’s just about being able to take on an opponent that you don’t often get to play and proving to the schools in our area that our kids can play with anyone.”

Given that spring sports lost the vast majority of their seasons in 2020 when the pandemic began, Ortega said, they should be the first to travel. But the teams themselves have to raise funds and foot the travel bill – for everything. This includes bus transportation, a driver, gas, food and accommodation.

“I think this helps us continue to grow our programs in the state to be nationally recognized,” said West Mesa High cheer coach Stephanie Davy. “It also allows our children to be seen by certain college programs.”

Rio Rancho and Cleveland have been traveling to other states regularly for many years. Rio Rancho, in particular, has annual trips outside of New Mexico for softball and wrestling.

“The opportunity is there for every program. Whether they take it or not is their decision,” Ortega said. “It’s a common practice. We need to catch up with the rest of the state, and specifically (Rio Rancho and Cleveland). »

Under any other name

The metropolitan basketball tournament will retain its title, Ortega said, although it won’t be a purely metropolitan affair.

“My vision is to make it a pre-state tournament,” Ortega said. “You want (1 vs. 16) to potentially be a surprise.”

Ortega confirmed that Hobbs had agreed to travel that week in early 2023 to play in the boys’ and girls’ events. Santa Fe boys and Gallup girls are also reserved. The format will remain a 16-team event over five days.

Ortega said it’s possible other schools from outside the metro area will be added to the domain. APS would like to add the Las Cruces boys at some point.

One key thing: Ortega wants to give APS programs the ability, in any sport, to skip the subways in order to find matches or another tournament that better suits their competitive needs.

Two examples: The Rio Grande Girls and Boys are two of the teams that have pulled out of metro basketball, and next spring Highland said its baseball and softball teams will bypass the metros.

“Not only do we support (the possibility of withdrawing), but that’s what we stood for,” said Highlands sporting director John Barnhill. “We’re just trying to find the best and most competitive tournament possible for our kids.”

APS hopes to do the same with baseball and softball next March, then the following fall with football.

Game limits

For many years, APS teams did not play the maximum number of competitions allowed by the New Mexico Activities Association.

Schools outside of APS can play a maximum of 26 basketball, baseball, and softball games, and 20 football games. APS has been playing 24 and 18 for many years. Typically, this is a two minus concept in all areas. Now, APS teams will have the ability to schedule the maximum, depending on the sport.

Based on budget projections, Ortega believes the additional games/events are feasible without financial hardship for the department.

There are other peripheral advantages, especially when it comes to the playoffs. Won records and team rankings on MaxPreps.com are selection and ranking criteria in many sports, and two more games could prove beneficial.

“It puts us on a level playing field with all the other school districts, and that’s a good thing,” said Sandia High girls’ basketball coach Lee Kettig.

Spread news

Ortega seems ready and determined to challenge the presence of the NFHS network in Albuquerque.

Ortega said he is working on an APS broadcast network, a network where the district can broadcast all of its sporting events.

“Currently,” he said, “we have NFHS networks in our gyms, and frankly, that’s hurting our revenue.”

The vision, Ortega said, is to provide every school with a camera and sell sports subscriptions. It would start with a camera in gymnasiums for sports like basketball, volleyball and wrestling, but Ortega said he would eventually like to place cameras in “all indoor and outdoor APS facilities,” including the APS football complex, with APS pocketing the subscription fee, he added.

“There’s a lot of money made by other entities that aren’t APS Athletics, they’re not even residents of New Mexico,” he said. “I want the money to stay here, the money has to go back to our children. … There is plenty of room for innovation and growth.


Ortega is recorded as wanting to upgrade. The colleges only offer volleyball, basketball, and track and field, and Ortega would like to find a way to expand the offering.

A possible example: spring football at the APS complex, which remains quiet at this time of year.

Transportation to college costs about $80,000 a year, Ortega said. He said if he could convince parents to be more active in bringing their children to sporting events, the APS might be able to free up funds for college-level expansion.

The Journal previously reported in an April 22 article that eighth graders, beginning next school year, will be allowed to compete in high school athletics, with certain provisions.

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