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Valley wins appeal to move to Class 3A

In January, more than a dozen Southern Nevada principals flew to Reno to present a realignment proposal for high school athletics. The 31 principals who met agreed unanimously on it.

But not all Southern Nevada principals were represented, and one who didn’t make the trip wasn’t happy with the result.

Valley principal Ramona Esparza appealed to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association’s Board of Control at its meeting Monday at Palace Station to have his Vikings play as a Class 3A team, instead of 4A, where they had been placed.

Valley won its appeal.

“We’re just trying to make our kids competitive and keep them safe,” Esparza said. “It’s not about winning championships; it’s not even about winning games. It’s about having our kids have a level playing field.”

Esparza said she was in favor of the Class 5A alignment suggested by the realignment committee last December, which was voted down in favor of the principals’ proposal. She expected the board to approve a 5A alignment in January and was surprised to learn her school still competed in what she called a “David vs. Goliath” situation.

Valley athletic director Thomas Smith presented data showing the decline in athletic participation as a result of the schoolwide struggle in sports. The Vikings had 717 athletes in 2015-16 and just 501 this season, with 10 program cancellations in that time.

“The numbers that keep me up at night are the number of kids we’ve lost,” Smith said. “I feel like we’ve been doing things the right way, but we continue to lose kids.”

Valley also brought administrators, coaches and students to plead its case to the board. Oscar Burns, a senior basketball player, said Valley could be like schools such as Clark and Desert Pines, which built a strong reputation in lower leagues before moving up to 4A.

“We get to rebuild our culture,” Burns said. “We need a new change for a different energy.”

Burns is set to graduate and won’t see the benefits of Valley’s move. Bryce Jones will.

Jones, a junior, plays basketball and football. Leaving the meeting Monday, he said he’s excited to recruit classmates to join the football team, knowing powerhouse Liberty won’t be on the league schedule and eight-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman won’t be a potential postseason opponent.

“Going down gives me more hope in what we can do this season as a unit,” Jones said. “We do all this work to get to the playoffs; then we have to play somebody like Green Valley or Bishop Gorman just to send us home.”

Not everyone was happy that Valley’s appeal succeeded. Moapa Valley, a charter member of Class 3A along with Virgin Valley and Boulder City, had representatives speak about the dangers of playing larger, in-city schools.

Moapa Valley assistant principal Anthony Polzien said he was happy with 10 teams in 3A and was frustrated because he thought the decision for Valley to play at 4A had been made. He also said he worries about playing larger schools because of the risk of injury to his students. Moapa Valley has an enrollment of about 500, while Valley’s is nearly 3,000.

“It’s funny because when 3A started, nobody wanted to be part of 3A; now everybody wants to be 3A,” Polzien said. “It’s like, ‘Let’s go pick on the rural schools.’ So we feel like we’ve beared the brunt of that.”

Contact Justin Emerson at jemerson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2944. Follow @J15Emerson on Twitter.

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