The year 2020 was one that will be written in history books. It was the year that millions lost their lives as COVID-19 ravaged the globe. Social distancing, “Your mic is muted,” games without fans and online learning became the norm.
Gyms and stadiums were nearly empty. New Mexico high school basketball championships were played without fans in the University of New Mexico Pit. Many other sports seasons were cancelled or shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NBA played its season in a “bubble” at Disney World. The NFL is playing without fans.
For New Mexico it was the year without live sports. Professional, college, high school and youth athletes craved the thrill of being on the court or on the field. Fans waited to see if their teams would play. New Mexico Lobos, United soccer, the Cowboys of Highlands University, the Aggies and hundreds of New Mexican athletes all experienced changes to their sports season. United hit the road for its season, as did the UNM football and basketball teams.
For the Duke City Gladiators, they were waiting for their game in Frisco, Texas, in March for what would have been its first Indoor Football League matchup. But that game was halted just hours before kick-off.
“We had worked so hard to get ready to compete in the IFL, but sadly our players and coaches just got back on the bus and headed back to Albuquerque.” said Gladiators’ owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas.
Soon the staff, players and coaches would find out that the 2020 IFL season would be cancelled due to the pandemic. What would have been the Gladiators’ inaugural IFL season was put on hold. But many of the players were ready to give back to the community, as they chose to stay in New Mexico due to the uncertainties in other states.
The players and staff volunteered hundreds of hours during this pandemic, all while preparing for the upcoming season. During the unexpected off-season, the Gladiators named Martin Theus as their new head coach. The Gladiators also partnered with local businesses for tickets and merchandise for the 2021 season. The IFL has also announced the league’s tentative schedule, with the Gladiators slated to take the field in early April.
“While there is uncertainty in what will happen in terms of sports the next few months, we are still planning to hit the field,” Prieskorn-Thomas said. “We will be meeting with other team owners and IFL staff within the next few weeks to try to determine what the 2021 season will look like. We are also meeting with New Mexico government officials to see what we can do. We will continue to follow all guidelines to keep players, fans and staff safe and healthy.”
The Gladiators’ delayed inaugural season in the Indoor Football League will feature 16 matchups. The Gladiators will open this year’s season, tentatively scheduled at home at Bay Equity Field at Tingley Coliseum, against the Arizona Rattlers. The upcoming season will be the Gladiators sixth year playing in New Mexico.
The Gladiators’ commitment to the community continues as it has partnered with locally owned and operated HoldMyTicket for ticket sales.
To prepare for the upcoming season, the DCG have released new Gladiators fan apparel from, once-again, another Albuquerque business. Gear is available online at DukeCityGladiators.com.
“During this pandemic, we knew that we needed to support our local businesses. We need to continue to do so,” Prieskorn-Thomas said. “While we don’t know if we will be able to play or have fans, we want to make sure that our fans can still show their support to the Gladiators. If we are able to play, our games will be broadcast live on YouTube. This will give the Gladiators much more publicity and will allow our fans to watch us from the comfort and safety of their own homes.”
The Gladiators have also partnered with local news station KRQE-DT2 for a weekly sports segment, “In the Endzone with the Duke City Gladiators.” The show airs at 5:30pm Sundays on FOX New Mexico. Some of the guests on the show include KRQE’s Van Tate, Mayor Tim Keller, Jeff Siembieda from the New Mexico Bowl, Sebastian Noel of Proview Networks and New Mexico State Representative Mo Maestas.
“We are always working to better our organization and our community,” Prieskorn-Thomas said. “The show allows us to spotlight our players and our coaches. The show is a breath of fresh air in a pandemic-filled world. I am proud of our team and its commitment to Albuquerque and New Mexico. Whether we are on the field or off, we will continue to remain positive and we will rise together.”