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Brain Games: Local student athletes balance testing, practice during Finals Week
by Dan Eckles
Dec 19, 2013 | 1466 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - High school gyms (including Spanish Springs', pictured) sat empty, or only held practices, throughout much of the week as the Washoe County School District observed Finals Week for its students.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - High school gyms (including Spanish Springs', pictured) sat empty, or only held practices, throughout much of the week as the Washoe County School District observed Finals Week for its students.
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When the Washoe County School District implemented its new calendar for the 2013-14 school year, high school sport coaches new it would be different. They knew it would bring changes and force them to adapt practice plans.

In the fall, it was odd for coaches when classes began before the official start of practice. It was also different to have a week off from classes during the new fall break. Now, winter sport coaches are dealing with the new calendar. The district's Finals Week had always come in late January, but with school starting earlier, Finals Week is hitting now. Prep basketball coaches in the area are working with a rare extended stretch of December practice time as district rules prohibit games from being played during finals testing.  

Finals testing wraps up today and there is a full slate of prep games in all classifications tonight. WCSD students are off Friday for the start of their three-week winter break, a week longer than in past years.

"Getting finals done before break is a good thing," Sparks boys basketball coach Dan Schreiber said. "It will allow the students to finish their classes while the information is still fresh in their minds. The way we did it before would be like, in sports, coming back from a two or three-week break having never practiced or played and then start right off with a league game at the end of break. Ending school while they are still deeply involved in the classes just makes sense."

Reed boys basketball coach Dustin Hall had similar sentiments.

"I like the earlier finals schedule. It gives the student athletes a chance to take their finals while everything is fresh in their minds," Hall said. "Now they can fully enjoy their winter break, and not have to worry about coming back to take finals. Also, it gives them a fresh start at the new year."

In the DI North ranks, the master schedule called for teams to play just two games before Finals Week. One of those, the Dec. 3 season opener, was postponed after the first major winter storm hit the area that day. Some schools have made up that game already, many others have not.

Depending on whether programs scheduled tournaments or non-league preseason games, there could be a big gap in how much game experience one program has compared to another. The Spanish Springs boys have played in two tournaments and have eight games under their belts. Conversely, the Reed girls have played just the one league affair that was not postponed, a 57-53 home loss to Douglas Dec. 10.

In past years, DI North teams have played as many as five league games before Christmas break, in addition to other preseason contacts.

"The kids are already having a long week of testing, so to now add two games at the end, it's an interesting week," said Reed girls hoops coach Sara Ramirez, whose team plays Reno Thursday and Hug Friday. "We'll see how they respond. We cut back practice during Finals Week to at most an hour and a half and I've wanted to go early so we get them home to study. I'll know more after Thursday and Friday to see how it's affected them."

The ninth-year Reed coach seems to make the best of whatever is thrown at her Raiders program.

"In the past, I liked playing more (early) games," Ramirez said. "But this year I've enjoyed having more time to get back to the basics and teach fundamentals before I have to get in all our plays and defenses. I've enjoyed it both ways. I will tell you I don't like having just the one game before we play (defending state champion) Reno High, but that's how this year has gone."

The Reed boys have played five games, all in a five-day stretch that spanned Dec. 10-14. Reed upset Douglas in a league affair Dec. 10 and then split four games in Sparks High's Rail City Classic. While Hall already admitted preferring the earlier Finals Week for his athletes, he also likes that his team has played just one league contest as opposed to four or five.

"That is absolutely a good thing," Hall said. "Nowhere else have I ever seen a league where your first basketball game of the season is a league game, and has playoff implications. Most teams are a mere shell of themselves in November and December compared to where they might be in January and February. The early league schedule punishes dual sport athletes and their teams."

Hall knows that first hand. Each year Reed's highly successful football team makes a deep playoff run and pushes back the start date for Raiders football players who also play basketball. This year, Reed football played in the state title game Dec. 7. NIAA rules say transitioning athletes must have at least five practices in before they can compete in their winter sport. That left last Saturday as the first day four RHS football players could suit up in a basketball game for the Raiders.

"I love the new school calendar," Hall said. "I just wish we could figure out a better league schedule that is more beneficial to the student-athletes and the coaches."

A handful of local coaches, including Schreiber and Sparks girls coach Frank Avilla said it's too early to tell how much the impact the new school calendar will have on student athletes.

"It is just too early to tell the pros and cons of this new schedule," Avilla said. "As for myself, I'm a traditionalist so I'll give this new schedule a shot before I comment one way or the other." 

Schreiber added that high school athletes are pretty good at taking things in stride. He didn't expect to see any adverse effects from the new school calendar on his Railroader players.

"It really isn't going to make a big difference," Schreiber said. "There are so many more variables to a schedule than playing more on the back side on paper ... Basketball really has many variables that can change in a moments notice."
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