RENO — The item on the meeting agenda said Private School/Public School Championships.
But it quickly became apparent that the discussion would really be Bishop Gorman vs. the NIAA.
And in the end, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association’s board of control decided Tuesday to form a committee to discuss possible solutions for the competitive imbalance between Gorman and the rest of the NIAA.
“Bishop Gorman High School is the issue,” Palo Verde principal and board member Dan Phillips said. “It’s not the other private schools.”
Eddie Bonine, executive director of the NIAA, said the discussion was productive.
“I’m glad to get the anxiety out of the air about the entire private school/public school piece, and address what we needed to address, which you all know is Bishop Gorman High School,” Bonine said. “We’ve got everybody’s attention, and hopefully we’ll be able to sit down and iron this out.”
Phillips was one of the most emotional speakers during the meeting at the Peppermill Hotel & Casino as board members and the public made Bishop Gorman president John Kilduff aware of their concerns about the lack of competitive balance in the state. Since the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year, Gorman has won 29 state championships, including six in baseball, four in football, four in girls basketball and three in boys basketball. Many of the teams in those sports have earned national rankings.
“When you have the goal of national recognition, of competing for a national ranking, that’s where our goals start to differ,” Phillips said. “I’ve said this to Bishop Gorman before. If that’s your goal to be a national power, to be on ESPN, to do whatever you need to do on a national stage, I will root for you every time. However, we in the public schools are not going be your cannon fodder to prepare you for that level.
“We’re just done. We’re tired of being placed in a position where we’re going to be the tackling dummies of the week in their preparation.”
Kilduff said the national recognition isn’t the goal.
“Our students would much rather win a state title than have a national ranking,” Kilduff said. “Now, we wouldn’t turn down a national ranking, and one of the reasons why in some of the major sports we are playing outside of Las Vegas is no one else outside of league is willing to play us in Southern Nevada. So it forced us to go out and get these games. I think all of Nevada benefits from the recognition that Bishop Gorman has gotten.”
Ken Cass, coordinator of athletics for the Washoe County School district, said things came to a head in Northern Nevada after the Gaels beat Reed 72-28 in the Class 4A state title football game in December.
“They had beaten teams in Northern Nevada 639-156 and they were an exceptional team, and they didn’t have a chance,” Cass said of Reed. “It’s like going to a gun fight with a plastic spoon. It’s not even a knife.”
Cass said the perception that Gorman recruits its players is at the heart of the problem.
“The appearance, again, is there’s a lot of recruiting going on,” Cass said. “That’s all I hear all the time. And if there is a tuition assistance that might be 100 percent if you’re an exceptional athlete, I don’t know how any public school could ever compete with that.”
Kilduff responded by explaining Gorman’s procedure for giving financial aid. He said no student receives 100 percent and that Gorman gets a quantitative analysis from a national company before a committee at the school decides how much financial aid a student receives.
“As it relates to whether a student is an athlete or not an athlete, to that tuition assistance committee, it is blind,” Kilduff said. “We do not consider at all whether a student is a student-athlete or not.”
Kilduff later said that his athletic director, Sally Nieman, and assistant athletic director, Grant Rice, meet with coaches to make sure there are no recruiting violations.
“As it relates to the perception of recruiting, I can tell you that Mrs. Nieman and Mr. Rice in no uncertain terms have meetings many times a year with each one of our coaches, because we know the consequences of that,” Kilduff said. “And they explain to them what the rules are, what our requirements are and that there’s zero tolerance for any issue.”
Bonine sent Kilduff a letter Feb. 20, asking Gorman to accept associate status in the NIAA. That status, which doesn’t yet exist, would allow for competition against Nevada teams, but not for league, region or state titles.
Realignment is set to take effect in the fall, and will split the area’s current Class 4A teams into two divisions based on recent performances in all sports. Kilduff said he is hopeful that realignment and open enrollment in certain Clark County schools could level the playing field.
“Our desire would be to allow realignment, open enrollment (time) to see whether it works,” Kilduff said. “Open enrollment has only been a year and a half, and realignment won’t even be effective until next year. So no one knows what’s going to happen. So it may be premature.”
Ray Mathis, executive director of athletics for the Clark County School District, said the NIAA board must find a solution quickly. He said some principals have discussed forfeiting games against Gorman, or having the district seek associate status to avoid playing Gorman.
“They would rather not compete for a state championship than to play Bishop Gorman,” Mathis said. “They feel they don’t have a chance to win, so why bother competing. They would rather play for a Clark County championship than an NIAA state championship. That is scary. That means this board has to take a look at some options.”
Bonine said he and board president Bob Sullivan will form the committee, and that the committee would work quickly to have some kind of recommendations by the next board meeting in June.
“We can’t let this continue to fester,” Bonine said. “The iron’s hot and we want to get on it right now and get it started.”