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COMMENTARY: Eureka! Small schools shine on basketball’s big stage

One of the endearing traits of the Nevada state high school basketball championships is that unlike in other states, the big schools cut down the nets — in a manner of speaking — first, on Friday night.

Then they step aside to consider their scholarship offers and shoe contracts while the little schools play title games on Saturday.

I always enjoy watching the “Hoosiers” teams from the ranching and farming communities run their patterns and get back on defense.

(A player named Chitwood nearly made it to Orleans Arena this year. Mandy Chitwood — no relation to Jimmy, star of the Hickory Huskers in the movies — was a starting guard for the Canyon Springs girls, who lost to Bishop Gorman in a play-in game.)

It wasn’t all Hoosiers teams Saturday as this new realignment produced a Division I-A final of Desert Pines vs. Clark in a showdown of Las Vegas inner-city schools. Not too many of those kids get up when roosters crow to do chores and ride tractors.

Still, Saturday mostly belonged to the rural kids and to the county schools where the nearest town usually has one or fewer traffic lights. Where the coaches are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles; the players daughters and sons, nieces and nephews. And cousins. Lots of cousins.

These schools might or might not be named for an expletive that suggests personal windfall or discovery. Such as Jackpot! Or Eureka!

The Eureka girls beat Pahranagat Valley in the girls Division IV title game. The Jackpot boys lost to Pahranagat Valley in the semifinals and thus were denied a berth in the championship game opposite Virginia City, which more or less is where the Cartwright boys grew up in “Bonanza.”

Virginia City is known as the Muckers. With a name like Muckers, they have to be good.

The first two finals Saturday matched Pershing County against Lincoln County for the Division III championship plaque/trophy thing. Lovelock, the town from which Pershing County hails, has one traffic light; Panaca, home of Lincoln County, has none.

In addition to the Pershing County Mustangs, Lovelock is home to O.J. Simpson, who spent Championship Saturday playing poker for Camels at Lovelock Correctional Center, a slammer of medium-security proportion where “The Juice” is serving nine to 33 years for robbery in Las Vegas.

This I found fascinating, along with the fact four songs have been written about Lovelock: “Lovelock to Winnemucca,” two called “Lovelock” and “Limbo in Lovelock” by the Hot Buttered Rum String Band.
And then there’s this ritual called “fly stomping.”

Russell Fecht, the 35-year-old Pershing County principal, athletic director and baseball coach — “No, I don’t also drive the bus,” he says — said he never heard of fly stomping. That I should talk to Hugh Montrose, a former mayor of Lovelock and an alfalfa farmer. He would know, Fecht said.

The former mayor, whose granddaughter Abby Bake and Sarita Jo Condie combined for 33 points in Pershing County’s 59-34 victory over Lincoln County — Condie, a 4.0 student who will play for Navy, scored 29; the mayor’s granddaughter scored four — said yes, Virginia City, they do stomp flies in Lovelock. Or did. These insufferable pests called bomber flies. But that they haven’t done it in organized fashion since the 1980s.

This is pretty much how Mayor Montrose explained it: These bees, called alkali bees, are needed to pollinate alfalfa. They lay eggs in little burrows. The bomber flies drop their eggs into the little burrows, too. The fly larva devours the bee larva. This might have inspired Jeff Goldblum and that crew to remake a classic science fiction movie, but it is bad for the alfalfa-growing business.

So the seed companies would make this giant grid in the desert out of stakes and string. They’d send schoolkids out there with fly swatters. When a bomber fly would emerge from the burrow, BAM! And Eureka! One less larva-devouring bomber fly to worry about. It was like playing Whac-A-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese’s, except it was free.

“I’m afraid we didn’t do much good,” said the former mayor, 73, whose daughter, Shauna, coached the Pershing County girls to their first state volleyball title in 13 years last fall. “Mother Nature pretty much had her way.”

I never have been to Lovelock, which lies in the verdant Humboldt River Valley about 90 miles northeast of Reno on Interstate 80. Nor have I been to Panaca, situated 166 miles northeast of Las Vegas in the middle of somewhere they shoot guns. Panaca is the only “dry” town in Nevada, the only one besides Boulder City that does not offer gambling. This might explain why I haven’t been there.

Lincoln County beat Pershing County 67-42 in the boys Division III final.

Lori Cheeney, who coaches the Lincoln County girls, and coaches volleyball, and teaches government and history and social studies, and takes photos of her son, Neil, a reserve on the boys team, and — unlike Russell Fecht up in Pershing County — drives the bus, too, said her principal, Marty Soderborg, was treating the Lynx boys and girls to dinner at the French Market Buffet at The Orleans.

This seemed like a big deal to her, and also to the kids from the dots on the map called Panaca and Pioche and Caliente.

She said the other parents were invited, too, though they would have to pay for their own buffet.

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