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High school sports governing body to discuss moving power Gorman, other private schools to separate league

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Sam Morris

Bishop Gorman tackle Zach Singer stands over Reed High School running back Ty Shepard after stopping him for a loss during the 4A championship football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011 at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno. Gorman won their third consecutive title 72-28.

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 | 5:09 p.m.

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When the Del Sol High football team lost in the 2009 state championship football game to Bishop Gorman High, the administrators at the school still considered themselves champions.

Their argument was simple: Public school Del Sol didn’t have the resources to compete with private school powerhouse Gorman, saying their 62-21 defeat was nothing to feel ashamed about.

So, officials hung a banner near the entrance of the Del Sol campus the remainder of the school year proclaiming their football team as public school champions. The players often say their state title game was the week before when they defeated public Basic High in the state semifinals.

“We were the highest ranked public school team in the state, so I thought (the banner) would be appropriate,” said Besty Angelcore, Del Sol’s principal from 2008 to 2010. “We certainly didn’t win the state title, but we advanced further than any other public school.”

But Bishop Gorman High’s dominance against public schools might be coming to an end.

Officials from the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, the governing body of high school sports, announced Tuesday it will discuss potentially splitting the playoffs for private and public school teams. The item will be discussed March 6 during a NIAA Board of Control meeting at the Peppermill Hotel Casino in Reno.

While the proposal includes all private schools, it’s obviously an issue because of the success Bishop Gorman has enjoyed in recent years.

Gorman has won four of the last five large-school classification football championships, including scoring 72 points last fall in beating Reed High of Reno for their third straight crown. The Gorman football team has one loss to an in-state opponent in the last five years.

Bishop Gorman players gather around the 4A state championship trophy after defeating Northern Nevada's Hug High 96-51 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Bishop Gorman players gather around the 4A state championship trophy after defeating Northern Nevada's Hug High 96-51 at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

In basketball, Gorman has won three of the last four state titles, including last week beating Hug High of Reno 96-51 for the championship. The Gorman basketball team lost in the 2011 state semifinals, being upset by Bishop Manogue, a Reno private school. In baseball, Gorman has won six straight state titles.

The NIAA issued a statement Tuesday announcing the addition of the item to the meeting agenda but said officials won’t be commenting on the issue. The item will only be discussed at next month's meeting and must be put on a future agenda for a vote. There is no timetable for when a private school league, which is common in other cities, could be voted on.

Gorman officials weren’t surprised to learn of the proposal but found the timing a little odd.

A realignment plan, which is set to debut in the fall, was partially created to help create a competitive balance. Schools such as Gorman, Palo Verde and Centennial will stay in the more competitive top division, while struggling schools, such as Clark or Western, will play in a lower league in which they will be more competitive.

That will eliminate some of the lopsided scores by which Gorman has beaten opponents. Games against Pahrump Valley, for instance, weren’t fun for either side to be part of.

“We really feel like this is a bit premature,” said Grant Rice, Gorman’s assistant athletic director and basketball coach. “With the work the School District and state has put in with realignment the last year or so — and a lot of people worked hard on that — and with open enrollment in its second year, the state of Nevada needed to wait a few years to see if it worked.”

About 30 minutes after Hug beat Green Valley High last week in the basketball state semifinals, the Hug players emerged from the locker room at Lawlor Events Center in Reno to the song “We are the Champions” by Queen. The players immediately started jumping up and down in celebration like they were state champions.

Their logic was that beating Gorman was impossible, making the win against Green Valley — the tournament’s last remaining public school — the de facto state championship game.

Creating a private school league could force Gorman into playing an independent schedule — an idea school officials adamantly oppose, Rice said. There are roughly 12 private schools statewide with athletic programs, but most are lower-classification schools such as The Meadows, Agassi Prep and Lake Mead Christian Academy, and some don’t have football programs.

Faith Lutheran, which captured four straight 3A state basketball championships from 2005-08, is located about 10 minute drive from Bishop Gorman in Summerlin and would be the Gaels' only competition. But Faith Lutheran is far from a power, especially in football, where the Crusaders have struggled the last few years after being promoted to the large-school classification. Bret Walter, the Faith Lutheran athletic director and basketball coach, is also the small-school liaison to the board and said he could not comment.

In past seasons, several public school teams have refused to schedule nonleague games against Gorman, forcing the Gaels to play a national schedule in several sports. In the three major sports of football, basketball and baseball, they’ve thrived against the top-tier competition and have been ranked almost exclusively in the top-10 — which has brought much exposure to the area.

Still, talk with every coach and player at Gorman and they will tell you the same thing: the No. 1 goal is to win a state championship. And not a private-school league title against inferior competition.

“Every kid growing up in Nevada or any state, you want to win games and be part of a special team,” Rice said. “Kids want to win their league, and on the special years, they want a chance to compete against the best in state for a championship.”

Public schools coaches and administrators have long argued the unlimited boundaries from which Gorman can attract players gives it an advantage. It’s the same argument in other cities — several of which have leagues strictly for private schools.

Bishop Gorman kicks to Armwood to open the second half during their game Friday, August 26, 2011. Armwood won the game between the two nationally ranked teams 20-17

Bishop Gorman kicks to Armwood to open the second half during their game Friday, August 26, 2011. Armwood won the game between the two nationally ranked teams 20-17

And when most public schools are on a strict budget or limited in their fundraising, they argue Gorman is again at an advantage because of the resources of its alumni. Add in the school’s new multi-million-dollar campus, complete with state-of-the-art athletic facilities, and some public school coaches feel they can’t compete.

Liberty High’s football team lost to Gorman in last year’s state semifinals, but twice had leads and only trailed by one point late in the third quarter before losing by 20-plus points. It’s a good example that beating Gorman is possible.

“Our kids are working hard and believe we can play with them,” Liberty coach Rich Muraco said. “They won’t stay on top forever. That is what I preach to our kids.”

But Muraco, like most public school coaches, also sees the other side of the equation.

“Of course I see both sides to the argument,” he said. “I see the side where it is hard to compete with Gorman’s limitless funds and backing they have from alumni. A lot of public schools don’t have that. We have limited financial ability, and it does play a big part into your success on the field.

“If you have better facilities, more coaches involved, better workout equipment, then your product on the field will be better. So, I obviously, understand how people feel about Gorman.”

Gorman hasn’t always been a power, though.

Until Gorman won the 2007 title in football, it had gone nearly 25 years without a championship. In some years, it didn’t even make the playoffs. Gorman’s 2006 baseball title was the first in school history.

Gorman isn’t the only school attracting kids from all over the valley, either. The Rancho High baseball team won the Sunrise Regional title the past two years, taking athletes from all over Southern Nevada into its magnet program at the North Las Vegas school and forming a baseball power that was arguably a bounce or two away from winning state.

And through open enrollment, where students are allowed to change schools — and, more importantly, immediately be eligible to play sports — to populate schools with decreasing enrollment, several programs have tried to load up their football program.

At Durango, Arie McQuaig (Palo Verde), Gene Germaine (Sierra Vista) and Marcus Williams (Desert Oasis) joined forces last year on the open enrollment program, but Durango took fourth in the Southwest Division. Liberty is also taking advantage of the open enrollment program and will have key players in 2012 from schools such as Silverado and Spring Valley in its starting lineup.

“I’m sure there are instances of public schools recruiting,” Green Valley High Principal Jeff Horn said. “But at Gorman, there are no boundaries, their donor base is unlimited and the facilities itself attract certain athletes a public school can’t.”

While the talks are very premature and there is no timetable for action, don’t expect this issue to go away anytime soon. After all, it has been rumored — and wanted by several on the public school circuit — for years.

“Gorman has not always been a giant, and they might not always be a giant,” Angelcore said. “But the perception has always been that because they can invite students to join their campus, we don’t stand a chance at the public schools.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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