Administrators take steps to cool WHS-Incline rivalry
This week’s clashes between Whittell and Incline high schools will be limited to the basketball court after officials barred students from attending the games.
The action followed deteriorating sportsmanship and increasing violence involving the Lake Tahoe rivals, capped by a Jan. 19 incident where a gun was brought to a game at Whittell.
Only faculty, media and parents whose names appear on a list prepared by each school will be allowed to enter the games Thursday and Friday at Incline — one of which has playoff implications.
“For activities after school we can do whatever we want,” said Richard Brandt, a vice principal and athletic director at Incline High. “If we feel it’s unsafe, we can shut it off.
“Personally, I don’t want to have a game where we have 25 policemen there. Some parents are a little upset that some siblings can’t come, but now they understand.”
Legally, the school has the right to limit access to a sporting event, according to Steve Mulvenon, director of communications for Washoe County School District.
“There is nothing in the statutes that I’m aware of that gives the public an unrestricted right to attend school events,” Mulvenon said.
“One needs to apply a rule of common sense,” he said. “If somebody wants to challenge us on this, shine your shoes and we’ll see you in court. We’re fully prepared to defend our actions.”
Mulvenon said this is the first time in his 15 years with the district that this kind of action had been taken.
“We talked about just canceling the game, but who does that penalize? That penalizes the student-athlete who didn’t have anything to do with this,” Mulvenon said.
After discussing the situation with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association and district superintendents, the schools decided to allow parents to attend rather than cancel the game or play the game without any spectators.
“We felt we shouldn’t punish the kids on the team for something other students did,” said Whittell Principal Mario Gatto. “It’s a mutual problem and it’s been allowed to go on for a couple years without any intervention.”
The schools also decided to start the games earlier to avoid incidents on campus afterward. The varsity teams compete at 3 and 4:30 p.m. Thursday with the junior varsity squads competing at the same times Friday.
In recent years tension between the schools has escalated beyond derogatory remarks.
Following a Jan. 19 basketball game between the schools, two separate altercations broke out in the Whittell High parking lot. In an unrelated incident, school administrators learned afterward that a student had a stolen gun in a car during the game.
In 2000, tension mounted between the football teams when then-WHS Athletic Director Larry Reilly caught an Incline coach filming a practice prior to their game that week. The teams nearly came to blows following Whittell’s 22-14 victory, and Reilly rushed his team into the locker room amid a bombardment of obscenities and threats.
With their team safely in the locker room, Reilly and assistant Mike Kiger sought out the Incline coaching staff to confront them about a threat that was made by a Highlander quarterback. Tempers again flared and campus security and police intervened to diffuse the confrontation.
Brandt has a unique position in the tense rivalry in that he has worked at each school. Prior to taking an administrator position at Incline in 1997, he spent 15 years teaching at Whittell. During that time he served as a coach for football, golf and wrestling. He’s also lived in Incline Village for the past 27 years.
“I’m the only one in Incline who truly knows how wonderful that school is,” Brandt said. “Maybe because they are so much alike, that is why the hatred is there.
“Let’s get beyond this and let’s get the communities back together and have safe athletics,” he said.
Thursday’s 3 p.m. boys game has a significant bearing on the configuration of Nevada 2A Northern Division’s postseason teams. The first-place Highlanders bring a half-game lead over Lovelock into the rivalry game. Meanwhile, the fourth-place Warriors are battling Tonopah for the division’s final playoff berth.
The teams could meet again during the Feb. 15-16 zone tournament in Incline Village. The division champion serves as a host for zone.
Incline varsity coaches Amanda Levin and Dan Schreiber agreed something needed to be done.
“I think it will be an advantage for us, because their crowd has been more effective at rattling us than ours has been for them,” Levin noted.
Schreiber feels his players will not feel the effect of a near-empty gym.
“We’ve played hundreds of summer league games with nobody in the stands,” Schreiber noted. “I think it’s good we are being more proactive and saying enough is enough rather than just reacting to things that happen because of the rivalry.
“The last thing we want to do is put the kids in harm’s way and if that means no fans — so be it. The bottom line is that the game is for the kids playing.”
Senior guard Kendra Clark thinks the sportsmanship message will be heard loud and clear by Incline parents, students and players, but is skeptical about the effect it will have on Whittell.
“From what I’ve experienced, many of the parents are as bad as the players and students,” Clark said.
— The North Lake Tahoe Bonanza contributed to this story.