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Commentary: Where’s a young Johnny Depp when you need one?
by Commentary - Aaron Retherford
Mar 08, 2012 | 1218 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There’s been a whole lot of drama surrounding that favorite Las Vegas high school everyone loves to hate lately — Bishop Gorman.

I have a solution. The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association needs to go all 21 Jump Street on Bishop Gorman. Pay for a few young-looking undercover agents to roam the halls of BGHS and discover if there are athletes who needed the help of private boosters to attend the private Catholic school or if “friends of the family“ are providing athletes with any other benefits that would take away their amateur status.

If the athletes received monetary aid fairly through the independent FACTS Grant & Aid Assessment that Gorman utilizes to hand out financial aid, then so be it. But if they’re essentially getting paid to play by private boosters because they didn‘t receive financial aid or if they skipped that process completely, then Gorman should forfeit games in which those athletes participated. And if that’s not breaking any rules, the NIAA needs to make it a rule.

But in all seriousness, I’m glad the NIAA didn’t rush to judgment. I had a feeling it might, even though the issue at the NIAA Board of Control meeting this week was only meant for discussion and action could not be taken.

The NIAA will form a committee in order to brainstorm ways to create better competitive balance without giving Gorman the short end of the stick.

I know a lot of people want the Gaels gone. I’m sure Gorman brought a lot of it on itself. But the reason I was worried the NIAA would take a shotgun approach to a situation that could use a little more precision was because of the initial ideas put forth by the NIAA, which I don’t think were fair at all. Luckily, it seems those initial ideas were only used to put a scare into the Gorman higher-ups, forcing them to the negotiating table.

The NIAA asked Gorman to become an Associate member, which means the Gaels could continue playing other NIAA member schools but would have no hopes of participating in the postseason. No kid wants to play high school sports where the games are meaningless.

The NIAA then mentioned a Plan B, which would create separate private and public school state championships. Other states do it, but they have more than three large private schools. So the second NIAA option would give Gorman the opportunity to take on Faith Lutheran and Bishop Manogue for state championships. Sounds way exciting.

All this stems from Gorman’s recent success at state in four sports the NIAA singled out: football, boys and girls basketball and baseball. The sports combined for 17 state titles since 2006. Now, I don’t agree with the girls basketball issue, seeing as how the Gaels lost to Liberty in the state semis last winter and to Centennial by 17 points in their regional championship game this year. Their reign could be over for now. I’m actually surprised girls tennis wasn’t mentioned as the program has won six of the last seven state championships and 17 total. I’m guessing its because girls tennis fans have far less pull with the NIAA than football or basketball fans.

But why should Bishop Gorman be punished as a school for the domination of four, maybe five teams? Just because the football, girls tennis, basketball and baseball programs have been racking state championships left and right, doesn’t mean Gorman is a high school athletics juggernaut.

In the past year, Gorman has won six state championships. Along with the three sports the Gaels have been dominating on the boys side, which started this backlash, they were the top Silver State team in girls swimming, girls tennis and girls soccer. However, girls soccer only included Southern schools during the winter sports season. Gorman wasn‘t a shoe-in to reach the South’s girls soccer state championship either, needing a shootout victory in the regional semifinals to advance to the Sunset Region championship game, where the Gaels (No. 2 seed from the Southwest League) narrowly won the region crown with a 1-0 victory over fourth-seeded Centennial of the Northwest League.

Even the girls tennis team’s performance at state this fall wasn’t overly dominant, winning the championship match 10-8 over Palo Verde. This came a year after having its five-year run of state titles end in a lopsided 14-4 loss to eventual state champ, The Meadows, in the regional semis.

I don’t have a problem with the same school having a streak of state championships as long as there are other schools that still compete with the ability to hang regional and state championship banners, which is the problem in football and boys basketball (if you ignore Bishop Manogue’s 45-44 upset win over Gorman in the 2011 state semifinals and the fact the Gaels’ Naismith High School Basketball Player of the Year won’t be back next year).

So what about Gorman’s other 17 sports programs that compete in NIAA sanctioned sports and don’t invoke a crippling air of intimidation? If the NIAA could come up with a scenario involving only the three boys sports that have reached national prominence, I would find that an ideal solution. But to paint the entire athletic department with a broad stroke isn’t fair.

If 59 percent of Gorman students play sports (according to the school‘s Web site), that means there are approximately 675 student-athletes based on recent enrollment figures. Only about 16 percent of Gorman’s athletes play on the varsity football, boys basketball and baseball squads. Should the other 84 percent of Gorman’s athletes feel the brunt of any NIAA ruling?

If Gorman becomes an Associate member of the NIAA, are students who want to play sports really going to attend BGHS where the games don’t mean anything since they play independent schedules and have no postseason? Even if the NIAA separates the playoffs into private and public school championships, the private school state championship is virtually meaningless as the same three schools will be competing.

If the second scenario happens, you will see student-athletes leaving private schools in droves, not just Bishop Gorman but Faith Lutheran and Bishop Manogue as well. These schools will take a big hit financially, which means less money will be available for academics. Teachers will be laid off. Classes could grow in size. The nearly 500 Gorman students who participate in school activities outside of athletics might not have those activities anymore. It won’t be pretty.

Because as much as Gorman haters want to argue BGHS is a school for athletes, it’s much more than that if you believe the claims on the Bishop Gorman Web site. “As a college preparatory school, Bishop Gorman has a 100 percent graduation rate and a 96 percent college bound rate. The class of 2011 included one National Merit Scholar, five National Merit Scholarship Finalists and six National Merit Scholar Commended Students, as well as two Carroll Scholarship winners, five Armed Forces scholarships and 18 athletic scholarships.”

I honestly can’t wrap my head around a 100 percent graduation rate, but at least these athletes are getting high school diplomas, which they might not have in a different environment.

I’m just not sure if competitive balance in sports is worth possible repercussions in the classroom at any school. I’m not a proponent of private school education by any means. Students can get a great education anywhere there are passionate teachers willing to do what it takes to inspire kids who are open to being inspired. But I don’t like the idea of diminishing schools in sports or academics in order to avoid standing out from the crowd. I’d rather see the status quo raised due to schools trying to compete with the best.

Now, I understand Bishop Gorman has access to many resources that public schools in Nevada don’t, which allows Gorman to bring in some special athletes. If Gorman is willing to put money where its mouth is and build an immaculate campus to attract students, giving students what the administration believes is the best high school experience possible, it’s the school’s right.

It doesn’t mean public schools should start giving up every time they see the Blue and Orange.

Would the “Milan Miracle” (watch the movie Hoosiers) have happened if the 161-student school was afraid to take on an Indiana state power like Muncie Central — 10 times the size of Milan — in the state championship game? And before you say Milan didn’t face the talent that Gorman puts on the court, Milan beat Indianapolis Crispus Attucks and future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson in the state quarterfinals that year. I’m pretty sure Gorman stud Shabazz Muhammad will never be on the level of the “Big O.”

If there are schools who are afraid to play Gorman in football based on safety concerns for their student-athletes, by all means forfeit. Just know it will be pretty difficult for the Gaels to play a full football schedule without taking on Nevada schools since other nationally-ranked programs around the country who compete in leagues have their own schedules to follow.

But if there’s as much hatred toward Gorman as it seems, shouldn’t schools want to compete against their bitter rivals? Maybe things have changed since I was in high school, but I always wanted to upset the teams everyone put on a pedestal.

With the creation of a Division 1-A class that combines current 3A schools with historically poor-performing Southern 4A schools, there should be a few less slaughters at the hands of the Gorman powerhouses next year. Six of the 13 schools in the new Division 1-A class dropped down from the Sunset Region in which Gorman competes.

Other Las Vegas schools could refuse to play Gorman. If they expect to lose anyway, what’s the harm in forfeiting those games? The problem is you’re just teaching your student-athletes if someone gets too good, you can take your ball and go home rather than rising to the challenge.

To be the best, you have to beat the best. Right now, Gorman is the best at many things. I also know the majority of local athletes are competitors and I’d like to think they would at least want the opportunity to be the David to slay the Goliath.

Even if a 40-point loss is the outcome, there’s no shame in being the second best team in the state and competing against nationally-ranked foes. It might also be the only time these athletes will be on the same field or court as future professional or Olympic athletes. At least that’s something to tell the grandkids.

Aaron Retherford is a Sparks Tribune prep sports reporter. He can be reached via email at: aretherford@dailysparkstribune.com
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