Friday Night Lights — Nevada style.
Not Bishop Gorman, or anything quite so grand, rather the little town of Alamo, about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas, on U.S. Highway 93.
While Gorman is hunting for a mythical national football championship, Pahranagat Valley High School is making national news of its own.
Pahranagat Valley has only about 90 students, but that hasn’t stopped the school’s athletic programs from thriving.
The Panthers won their 72nd consecutive football game Friday against Tonopah, the nation’s longest active winning streak. It’s also the Nevada state record. It doesn’t matter that it’s eight-man football, a record is a record.
The feat hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. Last weekend, veteran national news correspondent Harry Smith was in Alamo to do a story on the community and the success of the team. The piece was filmed as a segment for “NBC Nightly News” with Brian Williams.
“When I’m in my office and looking for stories, I read newspapers from all over the country,” Smith said. “What you notice in the fall, especially in small cities and small-town newspapers, is news about the high school football team. As I was looking at all these high school stories, I wondered who has the longest winning streak in the country? I found that this one (Pahranagat Valley) has the longest active streak. And at the same time, in my whole life, I’ve never done a story on eight-man football, and I would love to do that. And I find with Pahranagat Valley, it was the best of both worlds. They have the longest winning streak, and it’s eight-man.”
Smith and the crew spent time filming in the school, talking to coaches and players and some of the townspeople to get an understanding of what the town is like. They went to the Panthers’ volleyball and football games Friday and discovered firsthand about the strong support for the successful football program.
Indeed, Pahranagat Valley has done quite well athletically. In fact, almost 60 championship banners in various sports, dating to 1950, line the walls of the gymnasium.
Many have asked over the years, is there a secret to the continuing success of the school’s athletic teams, in particular the football team?
The coaches are quick to say that most of the success lies with the kids.
Football coach Ken Higbee, in his 17th year, says the boys “are better men than they are players. They do what we ask them to do. And when you do the little things well, good things happen.”
Because they come from a small community, most of the students are involved in sports or other activities throughout the school year.
“They are so busy, they don’t have time to get in trouble,” Higbee said. “That’s what we preach. Stay active, get involved and use that same attitude when you move on, too.”
Pahranagat Valley has seven football coaches (only two are paid). Most have been with the program for at least 10 years. Four are teachers in the district, and Ken and his brother Brian Higbee, the team’s offensive coordinator, are administrators in the school district.
Ken Higbee is the only coach who didn’t graduate from Pahranagat Valley. He grew up in Alamo and played his freshman year there, but his family moved to Challis, Idaho, where he graduated from high school.
The family eventually returned to Alamo, and Brian played on state football championship teams from 1985 to 1988.
Ken Higbee started a youth football program that begins with second-graders. The boys learn simplified versions of the plays the varsity team runs while in elementary and middle school.
By the time they reach high school, each player knows what his role is, knows what the other man can do, and the coaches work on helping them refine that.
A new football stadium was built three years ago with larger grandstands, and the field was expanded to a traditional 100 yards rather than the 80-yard ones that some eight-man teams use. New lights were donated by a city park in Las Vegas.
Ken Higbee says his grandfather taught him to “leave a place better than you find it.” He certainly has done his part to make that happen at Pahranagat Valley.