South Tahoe is destined for Class 3A anyway
Since Nevadaprep.com first reported the story last week, theories have swirled throughout the region as to the reasoning behind the NIAA’s realignment proposal. Let me save you the drama.
It’s not about money. It’s not about punishing five existing 4A schools by dropping them to some deserted island known as the 3A. This proposal is about one thing: reality.
While its boys’ soccer team has won two of the past three 4A state titles and its girls’ cross country team is the two-time defending 4A state champion, South Tahoe is a 3A school. It just doesn’t know it yet.
With an enrollment of about 1,400 students, South Tahoe is one of the smaller schools in the 4A and currently sits outside the range of the 3A enrollment parameters (400 to 1,200). But even without the realignment proposal, STHS is probably five years away from becoming a 3A school.
Since 2000, Lake Tahoe Unified School District has lost more than 1,000 students and it hasn’t been able to replace them. A high cost of living and comparatively low wages aren’t attracting new families to the area.
Declining enrollment has mostly affected the elementary and middle schools, but eventually the shortage of students will impact the high school. The NIAA is simply expediting a process that was already going to happen.
South Tahoe’s peak enrollment was in the late 1970s (1,700). For the past decade, it has hovered between 1,400 to 1,500, meaning it’s lost students even without the recent mass exodus.
Like Hug and Wooster, South Tahoe’s peak enrollment figures are in the past. According to the Washoe County School District, Hug and Wooster have lost about 30 percent of its students since the opening of Damonte Ranch and North Valleys. Sparks, which has already dropped to the 3A, lost a similar percentage when Spanish Springs opened.
So what does this all mean for the school’s athletic programs? Without the horses, many races won’t be won.
Although the proposal allows for schools to petition to move up or down in a specific sports, athletic director Don Borges said he expects all STHS sports will compete in the 3A. This has upset many coaches, including varsity baseball skipper and STHS alumnus Matt Tillson.
“I would rather play top-level competition, and I think any coach would say that,” Tillson said. “Moving to the 3A would not hinder my decision to coach this team. I came here to coach South Tahoe baseball, but I will always want to gauge what level my kids are at.”
The reason why Tillson believes the 4A has the best teams is because that’s the classification with the largest schools. It’s a numbers game.
Just like there is a higher probability that Reed (2,500 students) has more blond-hair girls than Damonte Ranch (900), there also is a higher probability it has a better pool of athletes. Great coaches can elevate the level of certain players, but natural athletes are products of good genes, not great coaching.
With Jessica Woods and Kelly Karmann on his roster, Whittell volleyball coach Dan McLaughlin has won the past three 2A state titles. Before the Division I talents enrolled at Whittell, McLaughlin won one state title in his previous six seasons.
“Winning is absolutely talent dependent,” McLaughlin said. “Jess and Kelly are generational-type players. Right now, I have talented kids and can be competitive with anybody, but it’s not always going to be like that.”
What he’s trying to stay is the South Tahoe boys’ soccer team is good now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be good in 2020. Same goes for the STHS cross country teams.
Energetic coaches like Dominique Westlake and Dan Wilvers can do wonders in generating interest in their sports throughout the community, but they will never win races without good runners. With an enrollment gap that’s widening each year, the other 4A schools have more athletes to choose from and its athletic departments will enjoy more overall success because of it.
If STHS coaches – regardless of if their programs are successful at the moment – want to petition to stay in the 4A, that’s commendable. But don’t petition to drop to the 3A when the talent well dries up.
Jeremy Evans is a Tahoe Daily Tribune sportswriter. He can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or by E-mail at email@example.com.