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Head shot may alter high school sports rules in New Mexico

Mayfield's Dominic Carrasco (83 in white) pushed against the helmet of Cleveland's Sterling Napier during their state semifinal game last month in Rio Rancho. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Mayfield’s Dominic Carrasco (83 in white) pushed against the helmet of Cleveland’s Sterling Napier during their state semifinal game last month in Rio Rancho. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

It was a head shot that rocked New Mexico’s high school sports world.

In its wake, the governing body for prep sports in New Mexico has said it is powerless to take action against a player based on postgame review of a video, no matter how clear and compelling the evidence.

But video of the blow delivered to the head of a Cleveland Storm football player by a Las Cruces Mayfield defender – which an independent evaluator concluded should have been flagged and the Mayfield player ejected – could now lead to changes.

Las Cruces school officials say they don’t think the video shows anything inappropriate.

The New Mexico Activities Association plans to look into how electronic devices – anything that can capture video – may or may not be used to help administer punishments in the future.

“Are we going to do anything about it?” asked NMAA executive director Sally Marquez. “Because the NCAA can look at film after the fact.”

Cleveland senior tight end Sterling Napier, a Division I recruit who is scheduled to begin his college career at UTEP next month, suffered a concussion Nov. 30 in the Class 5A state semifinal game against Mayfield, his father, Mike, said.

His father said the injury was the result of being punched in the jaw by Mayfield defensive end Dominic Carrasco, who was not penalized or ejected on the play.

Video of the incident shows Carrasco hitting Napier midway through the first half of the game at Cleveland. Dazed, Napier crumpled to the ground a few seconds later and left the game. He did not return to the contest, which Cleveland lost 34-33.

Mayfield advanced to the championship against crosstown rival Las Cruces, and Carrasco played in the game. He would have been ineligible to play in the final game had he been ejected in the Cleveland game.

Efforts to reach Carrasco were unsuccessful.

But the NMAA – even with video evidence – said it was powerless to suspend Carrasco for the Trojans’ state championship game against Las Cruces the following week.

“Suspensions come from ejections,” NMAA associate director Dusty Young said in explanation.

And, “there is nothing in national federation rules that deal with ejections after a game is over,” Marquez said.

Moreover, she added, the national high school federation specifically forbids the use of electronic devices to dispute an official’s call, or non-call.

The Carrasco hit on Napier received myriad views on local TV stations, and, according to Las Cruces Public Schools, a tweet from a Mayfield student that said Napier isn’t tough enough to play Division I football. That tweet caught fire in prep football circles.

LCPS director of communications Jo Galvan said the tweet originated from someone who knows Carrasco and not from an assistant coach.

Marquez said she has instructed Young to gather input on the video-for-punishment topic from other state associations, as well as the national federation, during a meeting next month in Indianapolis.

“This is something we need to address and need to be able to handle it a little differently,” agreed Lawrence Johnson, the athletic director at Alamogordo High School and a member of the NMAA’s board of directors.

“Should you be able to suspend the kid (after the fact)? You know, I guess on the outside looking in, I’d say, yeah, you’d like to be able to do that.”

Even if the NMAA decides it wants to pursue a bylaw that addresses punishment from an infraction caught on video, it would still need a confirmation vote from the board of directors, followed by approval of the schools through a referendum.

“If our membership wants us to look at certain issues, like this particular incident, we’ll of course talk amongst our staff about it,” Young said.

Eldorado football coach Charlie Dotson said he would oppose the NMAA having such a bylaw. “You don’t know what happened five plays ago when it didn’t get on film. To isolate one thing, I don’t think it’s fair.”

Atrisco Heritage coach Patrick Johnson said he watched the Carrasco/Napier film.

“It looked like a head slap to me,” he said. “But everyone is saying it was a really bad punch. What’s the interpretation? I don’t know.”

He, like Dotson, didn’t want the NMAA to be able to punish a kid, particularly when establishing intent is near impossible on video.

“Unless it’s something totally blatant, then, no,” Patrick Johnson said.

Marquez said the NMAA has never examined game film – which in this case was submitted by a Cleveland parent, Marquez said – to dole out punishment except in the case of “a fight or brawl,” she said.

Last month, the principals at Rio Grande, Yvonne Garcia, and Albuquerque, Tim McCorkle, used game video to penalize its own athletes after a brawl broke out in the second quarter of a district game at Milne Stadium.

Napier missed most of Cleveland’s loss to Mayfield. Storm coach Heath Ridenour declined to comment for this story. Mike Napier said he would not make his son available for comment, but alleged that Carrasco tried punching his son earlier in the game, before the play in question.

“They’ve got to be careful in what they do,” board member Johnson said of the NMAA. “We probably need to review it and make sure we have something that … defends the kid.”

Carrasco played in Mayfield’s 27-26 to rival Las Cruces in the 5A final.

Young said when game film is submitted to the NMAA that calls into question the performance of an officiating crew, it is turned over to an independent evaluator, a former official and a volunteer who is not on NMAA staff. An independent evaluator concluded that Carrasco should have been tossed, according to the report submitted to the NMAA and to Cleveland.

“What they said was … (it was) an obvious strike above the shoulders that should have been flagged, and the player disqualified,” said Rio Rancho district athletic Bruce Carver, reading from the report.

Las Cruces Public Schools officials also watched a video.

“It wasn’t definitive that the student (Carrasco) did anything definitive to hurt another student,” Galvan said. “The video we’ve seen? It’s not clear that there was something inappropriate.”

Galvan said the video was observed by district athletic director Ernie Viramontes, plus Mayfield principal Jo Beth Hawk and Mayfield’s on-site athletic coordinator, Fred Montalvo.

Montalvo, when reached, declined comment, referring all inquiries to Galvan.

There was no way to immediately confirm whether the video Las Cruces officials watched is the same one the Journal possesses, in which it is fairly clear that Carrasco belted Napier in the head.

Galvan said she wasn’t sure where the video they had seen originated.

“We feel bad that another child may have been hurt, of course, but there was no reason for us to take this matter any further,” Galvan said.

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