Weight no longer: What to know about powerlifting's first state competition as a sanctioned high school sport

Apr. 11—The roster of high school sports that have a state championship event in New Mexico, when the last school year ended, was 13 deep.

This weekend brings the arrival of No. 14.

Powerlifting, which was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic four years ago, received a battlefield promotion last year and will stage its first state championship (as a sport) this weekend at the Rio Rancho Events Center.

The girls compete on Friday, the boys on Saturday.

There have been state competitions the last three years after being introduced for the 2020-21 school year, but it was recognized as an activity only. The New Mexico Activities Association then made it a fully sanctioned sport, starting with the 2023-24 calendar.

"This has really caught fire," said Lovington coach Anthony Gonzales, who also is the head coach of the school's Class 4A state championship football team. Lovington is also the defending 4A boys champion and the overall girls defending state champ in powerlifting. "It creates that same creative juice and energy like (you get) competing on a Friday night (in the fall)."

Powerlifting is the first new sport for the NMAA in 14 years, when state spirit was upgraded from activity status.

There are a hundred schools in the state with powerlifting teams, according to the NMAA. The NMAA said 77 have teams coming to Rio Rancho.

About 1,500 athletes have been competing this season; just over a third (approximately 550) have qualified for state.

There are three events — squat, bench press and deadlift. The state individual champions are determined based on how much combined weight they lift. Athletes have a maximum of three attempts in each event. Deadlift comes last (3:30 p.m. both days), with squat first (10 a.m.), then bench (1 p.m.).

Much like wrestling, there are a large number of individual weight classes — 12 for each gender, going from the girls 97-pound division to the super heavyweight division for the boys. A maximum of eight competitors are entered at each weight, having qualified based on their regular-season totals.

An individual state champion will be crowned at each class, and teams earn points based on top-five finishes of their athletes (7-5-3-2-1), close to the way track and field meets are scored.

"One word? It's uplifting," said Centennial coach Aaron Ocampo. He, like Gonzales, also coaches his school's varsity football team. "It's a breath of fresh air."

When powerlifting was first introduced, athletes were competing against other athletes and teams, but were doing so remotely in the early months of the pandemic since they couldn't travel.

It was a modest beginning, but it was clear the NMAA was on to something.

"It was so successful," said NMAA associate director Dusty Young, "and there was so much positive feedback, a lot more schools showed interest."

Many football coaches are doubling as powerlifting coaches, such as Highland's Phil Lovato.

"It's electric," Lovato said. "I don't know how (else) to put it. It's such a mind over matter thing, right? It's amazing to see what the human body does. The will. It's you versus that weight, you have to get it up."

Ocampo, Gonzales and Lovato all concur on this point: there is far more strategizing in powerlifting than people probably are aware of, particularly as it relates to the deadlift, the final event, and how teams go about trying to help their athletes either catch the person who is leading, or make sure you place top five which guarantees team points.

"Usually, when you get to the deadlift, everyone has an idea of the numbers they have to lift to win, or get their team in position (to score points)," Lovato said. "It's really interesting."

It is expected that the Rio Rancho Events Center will be a venue with high energy Friday and Saturday as state titles are handed out in 5A, 4A and 1A-3A.

Lifts are being closely monitored by judges.

"It's just been a lot of fun," Ocampo said. "It's a really, really cool sport. I wish we had been doing it for a lot longer than we have."