Tuesday, June 26, 2012 | 12:52 p.m.
The Bishop Gorman High football team’s exclusion from this year’s Sollenberger Classic was because organizers wanted a match-up that would yield the most competitive game, said Chuck Schmidt, the associate executive director from the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
And, having three-time defending state champion and nationally respected Gorman involved would likely have resulted in an unbalanced affair. Gorman has a 43-3 record since Tony Sanchez became coach in 2009.
Schmidt spoke Tuesday morning at the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Board of Control meeting at the Orleans to explain the selection process for the annual mid-August game featuring Nevada and Arizona schools. In past seasons, the defending Nevada large-school champ — Gorman — represented the Silver State at the Arizona game. But, with no formal criteria, organizers decided to go a different direction when they announced the participants in April.
That direction — inviting Palo Verde High to face defending Arizona champ Desert Vista — caused an uproar in Las Vegas. Gorman supporters argued the snub was politically charged because of the school’s ongoing feud with the Nevada association in regards to its membership status.
Schmidt said the decision was the result of discussions with officials with the Arizona and Nevada associations, and made in the best interest of having an evenly matched game.
“The dialogue centered around what would be the best game,” he told the board. “We wanted to insure the Arizona team invited had the chance to compete on the field.”
Gorman had represented Nevada the past two seasons, losing two years ago 24-17 to Hamilton High and rallying last year from a seven-point halftime deficit for a 42-22 victory against Scottsdale’s Chaparral High.
Like Gorman, both Hamilton and Chaparral were preseason ranked teams. This year, Gorman is ranked No. 11 by Maxpreps.com while Desert Vista isn’t in the top 25. Still, Desert Vista’s coach went on record in April to the Arizona Republic saying how he would have preferred playing Gorman.
“Do you want to show up and play a game where there is really no chance of winning,” Schmidt said.
Organizers for the event, which also includes a small-school level game between Moapa Valley of Overton and Arizona’s Blue Ridge, have also discussed not inviting Nevada teams in future seasons, Schmidt said.
That’s mostly because the debate about whether or not Gorman should play isn’t in the spirit of game. Played at the Arizona Cardinals stadium, the game is designed to celebrate high school sports and Arizona athletes, not to bring controversy, Schmidt said. It’s named after Barry Sollenberger, a respected Arizona high school sports historian who died in 2005.
“Our focus has been to create a lasting memory for the students who participate, and more importantly, to honor one of our friends,” Schmidt said.
Palo Verde principal Dan Phillips, who is part of the NIAA’s Board, told Schmidt how being included in the game is giving his school’s players motivation to train in the offseason. For most, it will be the highlight of their athletic career. He also said some have never been outside Las Vegas and are looking forward to traveling — and, more important, representing Nevada. Palo Verde is a perennial local power with a 59-6 record since 2007, and was the state runner-up in 2008 when it was the last local team to beat Gorman.
“It is a shame a team that lost four games in the last three years is deemed not worthy by this community,” Phillips said of his team.
Schmidt said the event was willing to expand to three games this year to accommodate Gorman and extended a late invitation for the school to be included. He said Gorman passed on the option.
“It wasn’t about not having anyone,” Schmidt reiterated to media afterward. “It was about who to invite. It was about who would be a competitive opponent and provide a good game.”