Athletes show how trivial pro-Nevada movement really is |

Athletes show how trivial pro-Nevada movement really is

Leave it to to the children to show the adults how well California and Nevada high school students can play together.

While the Nevada Coalition for Nevada Athletes has trumpeted for the eviction of California schools from Nevada prep leagues this winter, the athletes themselves haven’t lost focus of what high school athletics are all about.

During last week’s state basketball tournaments in Reno, perhaps it was fate, or maybe it was karma, that had Moapa Valley and Truckee squaring off in the 3A boys semifinals at Lawlor Events Center.

The Wolverines, one of five California schools competing in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, have been the focus of an intense eviction movement by Moapa Valley football coach Jeff Knutson. Knutson’s football team was throttled by Truckee 36-6 in the state semifinals last fall, and since then, he has campaigned throughout the state to eliminate California schools from competing in Nevada leagues.

So when Moapa and Truckee stared into each other’s eyes at center court in state basketball semifinals last Friday, they could have seen blood – that is, if they were meddling adults instead of teenagers. Somewhere along the line, the Nevada Coalition of Nevada Athletes has lost focus of the wholesome competition Californians and Nevadans have enjoyed over the past two decades.

“There was nothing between the players on the court. They were there to play basketball. And there was nothing between the coaches. Their coach is a good coach, and they have a very good basketball team,” said Truckee boys coach Dennis LeBlanc, who also serves as the school’s principal.

Of course, Moapa Valley’s 63-33 pummeling of Truckee probably helped cool the anti-California sentiment. After the Wolverines and North Tahoe combined to win six of the seven fall state titles, the pro-Nevada group couldn’t help but rub their bellies and feel awfully proud when Boulder City and Moapa claimed the boys and girls hoop titles, respectively.

“I’m sure they’re very happy their basketball team beat us, but they won’t be happy until their football team beats us,” said Truckee girls basketball coach Michael Merriman.

Knutson has warned the Californian schools that they could be exposed to verbal abuse and crowd-control problems if they overstay their welcome in Nevada. That didn’t happen in Reno. Both coaches were pleased that spectators declined to treat the Moapa Valley-Truckee semifinal as a dartboard for their feelings.

“I think people are starting to see it for what it is. We’re pretty well accepted,” said Merriman, whose squad avoided a state semifinal clash with Moapa Valley by being eliminated by Hawthorne in the quarterfinals. “As long as we keep working hard and competing fairly, I don’t think people in Nevada have a problem with it.”

Truckee administrators and teachers rarely talk about the issue anymore, according to LeBlanc. They’re prepared to accept whatever decision is rendered.

“We understand completely why they wonder why a California school is winning a Nevada championship,” LeBlanc said. “But, in reality, Truckee is closer to Reno than any (major) California community. Our people go to Reno to buy their cars and spend their money. We pretty much identify with Nevada.”

While the coalition’s lobbying has magnified the state dominance of North Tahoe and Truckee, the California schools’ superiority hasn’t always been there. California schools have won fewer than 60 championships – less than 10 percent – of all state titles during the past 18 years, according to LeBlanc.

“We have some very good coaches who get the kids motivated,” Merriman said. “The football guys are in the weight room all the time trying to get better … the soccer teams have great junior programs and they’re playing all the time.”

A Nevada 3A Division I vote last Wednesday revealed that Truckee and North Tahoe foes still welcome the California schools. The division’s 4-2 vote of retaining the California schools means Knutson’s determined coalition’s only has one alternative – bring the matter before the Nevada Legislature.

“When it’s politics, you always worry. You never quite know what will happen,” LeBlanc said. “But I would hope that they would have more important things to worry about in Nevada like Medicare, insurance and taking care of people.”

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