Nevada may get rid of California teams
Some Nevadans are fed up with high school teams from California winning their state championship.
While there have been grumblings from the Silver State in the past, there now is an effort in the works to use the Nevada Legislature to prevent schools like South Tahoe, Truckee and North Tahoe from competing for a Nevada state title.
The Nevada Coalition for Nevada High School Athletes is headed by Moapa Valley High School football coach Jeff Knutson, who is blunt about his feelings toward non-Nevada schools in the NIAA.
“If they’re not a Nevada school, they shouldn’t be able to call themselves the Nevada state champions,” Knutson said in a telephone interview Monday.
South Tahoe High officials became aware of the movement last month and are distraught over the coalition’s intentions.
“It’s not about championships or state lines. It think high school sports are all about sportsmanship. Our kids get a lot out of playing against Nevada schools and I hope the Nevada schools feel the same way about playing us,” said STHS Athletic Director Frank Kovac.
“I think it’s sad because the kids are going to be the ones who will be the losers.”
The three schools should prepare for statewide and national scrutiny, as Sports Illustrated reportedly intends to run a short feature on the whole NIAA affair in an upcoming issue.
There are, in fact, five California schools that compete in Nevada. Coleville has played in Nevada since 1953 and Needles joined a few years ago. The primary source of frustration, however, appears to be the success of Class 3A schools North Tahoe, which this fall won the state title in girls soccer, and Truckee, the defending champions in football, boys basketball and soccer.
“Nobody seemed to get mad when they weren’t winning,” said Larry Reilly, the Whittell High athletic director.
Reilly attended a meeting last month where the 16 athletic directors from the 3A schools voted “informally” on whether to not allow California schools from competing for the Northern Nevada zone and state championships. He said a two-thirds vote would be required to move the issue on the the NIAA. Knutson and his supporters did not get enough votes, so they began seeing what they could do to change the law.
“We’ve already talked to our legislator,” Knutson said. “I feel we have support there, but we have to back up the things we’ve told him.”
Knutson’s group is in the process of collecting statewide petitions, which he hopes to present to member schools at the winter basketball meetings in Reno, just six weeks away.
“If we’re wrong, then we’ll back off, but I think there’s an overwhelming amount of people who are for this,” he said.
Nevada is the only state in the nation that has schools from another state that compete for its title, Reilly said.
When the California schools joined the Nevada leagues nearly two decades ago, “they were happy to have them,” Reilly said. “Geographically, it makes a lot of sense. … It also saved schools money.”
Knutson said he is aware Truckee, South Tahoe and North Tahoe were invited into the NIAA, but that it doesn’t matter.
“I feel that was a mistake from the start,” he said. “There are virtually no coaches or parents I’ve ever talked to who thought it was right. For every one who thinks it’s right, I can show you hundreds who think it’s wrong.”
Apparently, a first vote, orchestrated by Fernley High School, was an informal interest survey, rather than an official vote, and not all interested parties were surveyed. Moapa Valley was not included in the first survey last November.
There is no precedent for this case, so there are varying opinions within the league on how to go about such an ousting.
While it seemed the last vote had put the issue to rest, Knutson said the exclusion of several key schools rendered it void.
He also said he thought the initial vote failed because most surveyed thought Fernley was crying sour grapes over having lost to Truckee one too many times. Still, Moapa Valley was knocked out of contention in playoff rounds of both soccer and football by Truckee this fall.
“To say it wasn’t about that would be a lie, and it is a catalyst for action. (NIAA’s California-based) Coleville has been tolerated because they haven’t won,” Knutson said.
Knutson countered Truckee’s argument that it is in the league for travel purposes.
“If Donner Summit and I-80 are so dangerous to travel, how can Tahoe casinos and ski resorts bring up so many people every weekend?” Knutson asked. “You don’t see people dying left and right up there.”
Despite everything, Knutson said he has respect for Truckee football coach Bob Shaffer and principal Dennis LeBlanc.
“Shaffer is a great coach and he’s proven that. It’s not a personal thing; they’ve kicked my butt many times, but the bottom line is, if you’re not Nevadans, you shouldn’t be the Nevada state champs.”
LeBlanc is taking the threat seriously.
“Sure, they have a chance,” he said.
But LeBlanc said he still doesn’t quite understand the rationale behind the move and questioned the timing.
“Bob Shaffer made a point yesterday, saying you don’t hear anything about South Tahoe in the 4A or Needles in the 2A or Coleville in the 1A. It’s only 3A football coaches complaining,” LeBlanc said.
Meanwhile, Kovac says STHS is preparing for a worse-case scenario.
“We’re waiting but we’re also starting to think about what if this does happen. If this does happen, we’ll have to petition the (California Interscholastic Federation),” Kovac said.
STHS left the Sacramento-area Golden Empire League for the Northern Nevada League in the 1982-83 school year. Returning to a Sacramento league presents some serious problems, Kovac said.
“If we have to go to Sacramento to play in those leagues, it becomes a safety issue during the winter, traveling in adverse conditions. It doesn’t make good sense,” Kovac said.
– Tim Parsons and Steve Yingling contributed to this story.
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