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Cloudy with a Chance of Controversy: Battle brewing over Gorman’s NIAA membership
by Dan Eckles
Feb 28, 2012 | 4998 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo - Bishop Gorman football players walk away from a Reed ball carrier after gang tackling the Raiders' player. Gorman buried Reed in the state championship game last fall, 72-28.
Tribune file photo - Bishop Gorman football players walk away from a Reed ball carrier after gang tackling the Raiders' player. Gorman buried Reed in the state championship game last fall, 72-28.
Bishop Gorman High School has not made many friends in its recent romp through Nevada’s high school sports landscape. The Las Vegas Catholic high school has seen its athletic programs become more and more successful over the past decade and, in the process, has alienated more than a few foes.

High school athletic leaders from across the Silver State have been calling for change and asking the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s governing body for prep sports, to address a growing athletic imbalance between Gorman and the rest of the 4A or large-school ranks. It looks like that’s finally going to happen.

The agenda for next week’s NIAA Board of Control Meeting has an item listed as Private school/Public school championships. The Sparks Tribune has procured documents from the NIAA to BGHS asking the private school to consider becoming one of the organization’s new associate members, as well as Gorman’s response and its wishes to remain under its current membership status. NIAA associate members will not be allowed to compete in sanctioned playoff events or postseason tournaments.

NIAA Assistant Director Donnie Nelson said Tuesday that his office will have no comment on the issue until after the Board of Control meeting, which will be held at the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino on Monday and Tuesday. Nelson added that the agenda item will be discussed at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

NIAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine met with the Bishop Gorman administrative team Feb. 17 in Las Vegas to discuss the Gaels’ athletic programs joining the associate membership ranks. He then followed up with a letter outlining those discussions.

In his letter to Gorman, Bonine said, “The reason for this request is based on the continuing dissatisfaction and discontent over the past three to five years that exists within the 4A classification in football, boys and girls basketball and baseball. This unrest is now to the point that all 4A classification public schools throughout the State of Nevada believe they are playing for second and third place, regardless of the strength of their team, their accomplishments, or achievements during the season.”

The Bishop Gorman football team has won three straight state championships and four of the last five. The Gaels’ title last fall came thanks to a 72-28 demolition of Reed in the state final.

The Bishop Gorman boys basketball team has won a state record 14 titles and three of the last four. Last weekend, Gorman buried Hug in the state final, 96-51. The Bishop Gorman girls basketball team won four of five state titles from 2006-2010 and has been to the Sunset Region final every year over the past decade. Three times since 2006, Gorman has beaten Reed in the state tournament, twice in the title game (2006, 2010).

The Bishop Gorman baseball team is in the midst of a six-year reign as state champions.

Bonine’s letter goes on to say, “Given the documented record of domination by BGHS, our public school members of the NIAA have reached a point where they are seriously discussing simply scheduling BGHS, and then forfeiting those scheduled games, contests or meets in order to protest the inherent advantage BGHS has in their abilities to attract student athletes from throughout Southern Nevada and to attract private funding for coaching staffs, equipment and facilities — things which far exceed the reach of our public schools.”

Later in the letter Bonine says, “Your proven success in mainstream athletic activities has vaulted Bishop Gorman from a local and state power to its present national power. This unprecedented success has progressed to nationally recognized high school rankings, prime time ESPN telecasts and active solicitation of out-of-state contests with similarly situated private and large public schools. This success also provides the level of competition and recognition BGHS and its financial contributors obviously appreciate. Given your apparent available funding and willingness to seek recognition by virtue of scheduling out-of-state games, contests or meets, it truly makes Nevada’s regular season schedule and postseason events seem like a farce.”

• • •

Bonine is not alone in his belief that Gorman is not a good fit for the NIAA under its current membership status. After the Gaels’ dismantling of Reed in the state football final, Washoe County School District Coordinator of Athletics Ken Cass wrote a letter to Bonine on behalf of WCSD athletic administrators and athletic directors. The letter discussed the group’s frustrations with Gorman and the Gaels’ competitive advantages.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Cass referenced the recent lopsided championship losses by Reed, in football, and Hug, in basketball, to Gorman.

“It was like trying to go to a gunfight, not with a knife even, but with a plastic spoon,” Cass quipped. “I wrote in the letter that Gorman has become a super power for a number reasons, but especially because of its ability to recruit Las Vegas and beyond. Clearly, the talent pool is not equitable. Nobody is going to be able to compete with them as long as they recruit the entire Las Vegas valley. They’ve got good coaches and unbelievable facilities. You can’t compete with that, especially when they’re able to help with scholarships and stuff like that.”

In Clark County, Bishop Gorman is one of 34 4A schools. It is the only private school in its Southwest League and one of only two private schools in the southern Nevada large-school ranks. Faith Lutheran is the other.

Clark County Director of Student Athletics Pam Sloan has seen her districts public schools try and compete with Gorman and its private-school advantages for years.

“I think personally something has to change,” Sloan said. “In the major sports, it’s tough for our kids to compete against Gorman. It’s about time the conversation took place. I support Mr. Bonine 100 percent in the proposal he’s presented to Gorman. I think it’s fair for Gorman and one that would benefit all of us. This will be a huge discussion. I’m really curious to see how it turns out.”

On the Rail City’s Reed High campus, Raiders AD Ron Coombs has seen Gorman steal his schools hopes of a championship on more than a few occasions over the past six years.

“I honestly believe it would be a good move, not only for Gorman, but all of the other schools that have to compete with them,” Coombs said. “If you look at the score of state championship games, you go ‘Wow. How do we compete with the type of resources they bring to the table.”

• • •

While it seems abundantly clear the discord with Gorman is at an all-time high, that does not mean Gorman leaders think they have outgrown the NIAA.

In a memo to NIAA Board of Control voting members, Bonine admitted that he did not think his meeting two weeks ago with the Gaels’ athletic administration was much of a hit.

“I do not feel as though my informational presentation was well received,” the memo states.

That sentiment was confirmed Monday when Bishop Gorman President John Kilduff responded to his school meeting with Bonine and the NIAA chief’s letter, addressing associate membership status.

Kilduff’s letter closes by saying, “In our opinion, it is premature to discuss any change in Bishop Gorman’s membership status in the NIAA. Bishop Gorman intends to continue as a full member of the NIAA playing in all NIAA sanctioned sports and participating in postseason competitions. In the event any action is taken by the NIAA to change Bishop Gorman’s membership status or to create a public/private school distinction, Bishop Gorman will explore all appropriate action.”

Kilduff previously cited in his letter that he believes the NIAA should not create separate state championship events for public and private schools, saying “This proposal is not feasible. There are too few private schools located in the State of Nevada. The NIAA is charged with providing a competitive balance for its member schools of which Bishop Gorman has been a member since the school was established over 50 years ago. As a member school, we have observed all of the NIAA’s rules and regulations and supported the Association’s initiatives over the decades. The NIAA has a duty to represent all member schools, not only the public schools but the private schools as well.”

Kilduff did not return a phone call Tuesday but Gorman athletic director Sally Nieman made a brief statement

“It’s safe to say, we believe any change in our status is premature. We’re optimistic that realignment and open enrollment (in the Clark County School District) will achieve the competitive balance everyone is looking for,” Nieman said.

When the NIAA tackles the issue next week, it can only discuss options. It cannot act to change policy since the agenda item is only a discussion item. If the organization moves forward to force a Gorman membership change or create separate public/private championship events, more than just Gorman will be affected. There are currently a trio of 4A private schools in the state: Gorman, Faith Lutheran and Reno’s Bishop Manogue high school.

School leaders at Manogue don’t seem too excited to discuss the issue or how any “trickle down” effects to a policy change with Gorman could influence Manogue athletic programs.

“I think it is incredibly premature,” Bishop Manogue President Chris Witty said. “That (correspondence) was not intended for outside viewing. There’s a (NIAA) meeting March 5-6 and this is an agenda item up for discussion. Until it’s clear what, if any, action will be taken, it would be inappropriate for any of us to comment.”

• • •

In his letter to Gorman, Bonine asked school leaders to consider the membership status change effective for the 2012-13 school year. Considering Gorman’s lack of a desire to make the change on its own, many around the state wonder if the NIAA could implement plans for separate public/private state championships for the next school year, or if the NIAA has another course of action.

“I just don’t know if there’s enough time,” Cass said. “It’s a discussion item so that means nothing can be acted on. Gorman is going to fight it. It’s president said they will, said they will ‘lawyer up.’”

Bonine’s letter stressed toward its end that, “If BGHS is not willing to consider this membership proposal or does not have an acceptable alternative, it appears the separation of private and public schools in the postseason may become the only method to resolve these issues and/or concerns.”

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