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N.M. Chiefs Vote To Take Over Athletics Group

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The New Mexico Superintendents' Association has voted unanimously to take control of the organization that governs high school athletics and other activities for 70,000 students in the state.

The superintendents' group agreed late last month to seek to replace members of the New Mexico Activities Association's executive committee with district superintendents.

The current committee is made up of state and district education officials and athletic directors, as well as superintendents.

A superintendents' report on the activities association also recommended a review of its policies and criticized some recent decisions by the executive director, Dan Salzwedel, said Linda Coy, the president of the superintendents' group and the head of the Hatch Valley school district.

Mr. Salzwedel and Pal Austin, the president of the activities association, say the objections are unfounded and came about because Mr. Salzwedel made some tough, but necessary, decisions. They also contend that the dispute may have irreparably harmed the activities group's good name.

Updating Practices

Each state has its own association that controls interscholastic sports and, in some states, other cocurricular activities as well. New Mexico is one of several states in which educators or parents have recently questioned the authority of these bodies. ("Judge Strips Kan. Sports Group of Its Authority," Aug. 2, 1995.)

The New Mexico superintendents voted essentially to take over an organization they technically already control. A state statute invests the authority for the activities association in the school districts and gives superintendents the final say, Ms. Coy said. Member school districts will vote formally to restructure the activities board next month with the changes expected early next year.

Ms. Coy said the restructuring effort is not about assigning blame for the recent problems, but is an attempt to update the policies and procedures of the 75-year-old activities association.

"This is a shared responsibility," Ms. Coy said. "The whole organization requires a lot of restructuring and keeping more with current practices."

But Mr. Salzwedel said that much of the criticism stems from his refusal to make politically expedient decisions that would compromise the group's mission of providing values education through sports and other activities.

One of the decisions for which Mr. Salzwedel was taken to task cost the group about $109,000 in legal fees, officials of the superintendents' group said. Mr. Salzwedel, an association review panel, and the state schools superintendent had ruled that a high school football player who was a recovering alcoholic could play in his fourth year of eligibility while attending a recovery program. But they denied the student's request for an additional year.

The student, who had not wanted to compete while he was in the recovery program, sued, claiming that he was barred from playing because of his disability. A federal court issued an injunction allowing him to compete in his fifth season.

Mr. Salzwedel said the decision was based on association rules, which prohibit the use of illegal drugs or alcohol. Moreover, he said, the student's request prevented another student from earning a spot on the team.

Despite complaints of that nature, the superintendents' report put to rest questions about the association's fiscal affairs. An independent audit found its financial reporting to be in good shape, Mr. Salzwedel said. Nonetheless, he lamented that allegations to the contrary may have already damaged the group's image.

As for his own future with the organization he has led for 11 of his 16 years there, Mr. Salzwedel said: "I'm never going to stay in any position that suggests I've got to be popular."

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