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Does high school football require too much commitment?

Darin Olde, Tribune staff writer
Jim GrantA weightliftng class gives STHS football players two or three workouts per week during the school year
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An ethical quandary that threatens the future of South Tahoe High School football raises questions as to the level of commitment required in Northern Nevada 4A football.

Eric Beavers, who is returning for his second year as the Vikings’ head coach after a disappointing 0-9 season in 2001, told his players they had to step up their commitment to the team and fulfill an off-season program if they expected to play varsity Viking football in 2002.

More than 60 players agreed to the terms of the commitment last January.



As the Aug. 15 start approaches, Beavers has concluded that most of the varsity team failed to maintain their end of the deal. Only three seniors, eight juniors and 20 sophomores fulfilled the conditioning requirements they agreed to in January.

That’s led the former star quarterback with the Wolf Pack at the University of Nevada to question how he should proceed: Will he coach the junior varsity team, where more of his players completed the conditioning and fulfilled their off-season commitment, or will he remain as the varsity coach and allow players who didn’t fulfill their end of the agreement to escape the consequences?



Beavers has said he doesn’t want to show his players that it’s OK to go back on your word, or — as Joe Sellers, head football coach at Bishop Manogue High put it — “pick up your paycheck without ever going to work.”

Nor will he allow the the players who didn’t complete their commitment to take the place of the players who lived up to their end of the agreement.

Conversely, the question of whether the current team at South Tahoe High is ready for the commitment that coach Beavers requires also is at hand.

Regardless, football coaches agree that with any 4A sport in Northern Nevada, gone are the days where team commitment is a one-season wonder.

Gone are the good ol’ days

Coaches from Bob Milligan in Elko to Ken Dalton at McQueen to Joe Sellers at Bishop Manogue all say that competitive athletes have to train year-round, whether it’s in the weight room or with other competitive sports.

“I don’t think you can compete if you do not have that commitment to improve. The days are over where you can just show up on the first day of the regular season and compete on a high level, no matter what sport it is,” said Dalton, who is now in his 21st year as head varsity football coach at McQueen High School in Reno.

McQueen, which has four state championships since 1990 and eight zone or regional titles, is considered by many to be the best football team in Northern Nevada, and Dalton’s coaching philosophy the gospel.

Dalton said his players have a year-round commitment to football and to improving.

That commitment extends from an eight-week lifting and conditioning program in the summer to participating in other sports during the off-season. Despite their other commitments, the team still lifts weights throughout the year.

“I have great respect for Eric Beavers. He’s really on the right track,” Dalton added. “At McQueen the most important single ingredient is commitment, not ability.”

That maxim is one that can be heard echoing through the weight rooms and halls wherever competitive football resides.

“A kid has to be committed no matter what sport he’s in,” said Bishop Manogue’s Joe Sellers. “And you got a lot of kids playing two or three sports, and they should be in pretty good shape.”

But if the rest of the team isn’t putting much into the conditioning and training, then they’re not going to get much out of it.

“It’s easy to quit if you don’t put much into it. If you put $2 on a game, you don’t care if you lose. If you put $2,000 in, you do,” Sellers said.

That level of commitment requires support, and that’s where a longstanding program with ties to the community and the administration have the advantage.

At Washoe County schools, coaches get paid to hold summer conditioning and weight training programs. At other schools, they volunteer. McQueen parents even take vacations around their child’s commitment to an athletics program, Dalton said.

In those situations, players don’t have to sign a piece of paper that describes team dedication. They know from the beginning what joining the program requires.

“When you look at improvements in our football program, they are a direct reflection of our administration and principal,” said 11-year varsity football coach Bob Milligan at Elko High School.

Like many schools, including South Tahoe, the administration allows classes to be arranged so the football team can have its own weight training class.

“The deal is (the players) have to get up at 6:30 a.m. to be here and they have to do it. And it’s not easy. Being good requires a great amount of effort, and Eric knows that,” Milligan said.

“The difficulty is getting 15-16-year-olds to believe that, because they think they know everything,” he added.

Milligan says the kids are like the fans in that they believe that if you win, you are the greatest coach on earth. If you don’t, it’s the coach’s fault.

“It’s hard to get them to believe that what they’re doing is worth it,” he said. “It’s the long-term goal that matters. It’s not about quick fixes.”

Higher standards, not smaller numbers

In his first year of coaching, Mulligan faced a similar quandary when only 10 players showed up for weight training and conditioning.

“You can’t make it important for them. You do things that help raise their level of interest and make it fun,” he said.

And that’s not always about winning or losing, although it certainly helps to have more of one than the other.

Milligan tells his seniors that’s it’s their last year to play football.

“I’m going to be here next year,” he said. “You won’t.”

Milligan makes them sign a contract that says what their level of commitment will be, and gives them “the talk.”

“If you’re not willing to make that commitment, here’s what is going to happen,” he said. “You’re going to lose.”

Milligan tells the younger players about growth, and what they have to do to be successful.

To be better than the other teams you have to be able to do more and work harder than the average team.

“That’s life,” Milligan said. “It’s no secret.”

And with football the standards aren’t necessarily higher than any other sport.

Some even feel the standards are lower.

“If you look at the time basketball players put in, it’s more than football,” said Jerry A. Hughes, executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.

If you look at soccer, baseball or softball programs, many of these sports are year-round programs with club teams that travel, conduct fund-raisers and schedule training camps and tournaments.

“That’s just the reality …” Hughes said. “I don’t think football requires any more than any of these other programs.”

The difficulty is that these programs require widespread participation for kids to be competitive. The higher the turnout, the greater the range of performance. The younger players can see the development in the older players and strive for a higher standard.

Depth also provides coaches with options if their top players don’t perform.

Coaches with smaller programs don’t have that luxury, and that’s the crux at South Tahoe High School.

“Having leadership within the programs helps,” Sellers said. “But if the leaders go south on you, it’s going to be a long year. Sometimes you have to go with your younger kids.”

Uncertain terms

A larger problem is that enrollment figures lakewide are decreasing, which makes it difficult for schools to maintain the same standards, even the same number of programs.

“Small schools that try to offer every program have trouble trying to fill their rosters,” Hughes said.

Some say football is fading around the lake, that the support isn’t there anymore.

Regardless, the situation at South Tahoe is attracting attention, if not support and sympathy from other coaches.

“I understand what it feels like to lose, and guys don’t care,” Milligan said.

When he played in high school, some of his team’s seniors missed the bus to a game because they were partying the night before.

“That’s why we were 3-16 in high school,” he said.

“Sometimes things happen and you don’t have any control over it … If I was going to give (Beavers) any advice, it would be to keep your chin up because there are going to be better days.”


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