Thursday, June 13, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Players on the Western High School football team had just finished a morning workout in the school’s weight room this week when coach Donnie Davis told them they had more weight to lift.
But this would be a lot more fun.
Minutes later, players were walking from the front office carrying large boxes with new helmets and stacking them next to other gear they have received during the offseason.
The delivery truck has made frequent stops to the school during the past few months, bringing the struggling program everything from new pads and cleats to more than $100,000 worth of workout equipment.
It’s like Christmas every week.
Western and Chaparral, another economically pinched school, received a donation valued at more than $500,000 from the same private donor. It’s the type of program-changing donation of which high school coaches across the country — men who are masters of stretching limited resources and reusing gear — can only dream.
“All of this brand-new stuff, I would be in the grave before I’d be able to save for this,” Davis said. “It was a godsend. I can’t tell you how thankful we are.”
New shoulder pads — the same quality used by top-ranked colleges — are stacked in the equipment room next to the ones that are worn thin and have ripped laces.
Each offseason, coaches dip into their budget of roughly $5,000 to have helmets or pads reconditioned, but that money isn't just for servicing gear — it's what they have to manage the entire program on before fundraising, Davis said. If they have a good year of fundraising, a dozen or so new helmets can be purchased.
Receiving more than 100 helmets and sets of shoulder pads is unheard of, even for the Las Vegas' upscale schools. The new helmets are Riddell, one of the top brands with a high rating for concussion safety, and valued at more than $200 each. It’s the same helmet worn by NFL players.
“This has made us look like a real team and feel like a real team,” said Mark Guerrero, a junior linebacker at Western. “We really didn’t have anything before, especially anything to be proud of.”
News of the unprecedented gifts came from a representative of Level 1 Athletics, which sells apparel to local high schools, who said someone was interested in helping out their program. Davis and Chaparral’s Bill Froman were each asked to submit a wish list.
They turned in a small list of basics — replacing outdated weight-room equipment or receiving new uniforms for the first time in years. The list was returned to them with instructions to dream big. They did.
“This is better stuff than what I had in college (at Eastern Illinois),” Davis said. “Even with this big wish list, asking for this and that, nothing got turned down.”
Both programs received Nike cleats in the team’s color, brand new Nike home and road uniforms, team Nike practice shorts and compression shirts, blocking sleds and other field gear used by major colleges.
With the exception of state power Bishop Gorman, which has a multimillion-dollar training facility and seemingly unlimited equipment, Chaparral and Western went from some of Southern Nevada’s worst-equipped teams to the best.
That Nike swoosh sure makes a difference.
“Nowadays, kids are motivated by how things look,” Chaparral quarterback Jerome Williamson said. “More stuff you get, the better things look, the more kids will want to come play for us. If you look good, you play good. I just thought it was a blessing. I didn’t know we got so much stuff. This is amazing, amazing.”
Chaparral’s uniforms will be the same ones worn by Oklahoma State — the schools, both Cowboys, share orange and black colors. And for the Cleat Game rivalry against Eldorado, they will wear special gray uniforms, including gray helmets. Yes, Chaparral will have two sets of game helmets.
They also got team socks and running shoes, footballs stitched with the Chaparral logo and sweatshirts. Additionally, they received new blocking sleds and dummies, the kind used by colleges. The blocking dummies are valued at $700 each and were ordered in yellow, the color worn by rival Eldorado.
When Froman took over the program two years ago, he had to scramble for enough money to recondition helmets to make them safe. The spirit pack of practice gear consisting of team shorts, shirts and socks, was the cheapest package available by Level 1, and most players still couldn’t afford “those junkie shorts,” Froman said.
Now, he has a special uniform and helmet for the most important game of the year.
“Everything we received, they are as good as anything you’ll find,” Froman said. “(The kids) know they have the best in town. There was no, ‘You can only spend $20,000 on shoulder pads.’ It was, ‘Spend whatever you need to spend.’ You would have to be a rare school in Texas or Florida to have that kind of deep pockets.”
While the upgrades will help make both programs more competitive on Friday nights — Western lost every game last year; Chaparral hasn’t been to the playoffs in eight years — the coaches say the donation is more important than results it could potentially yield on the field.
Froman reports the program’s 85 returning players combined to have their GPA increase from 2.2 to 3.3 from when the gear started arriving in the early winter to the end of the school year. School attendance among the players increased from 88 percent to 98 percent because if you don't go to class you are ineligible to practice later the same day.
Froman created a reward system where players received gear — a new Nike shirt or shorts, for instance — for accomplishments in the classroom and weight room. The players have taken pride in their new space, installing weight-training stations and helping paint the walls of the upgraded facility. Chaparral received more than $170,000 in weight-room equipment, including rubber flooring, 12 new squat racks ($5,000 each), Olympic style training bars (24 at $900 each) and rubber weights. The outdated weights were chipped and worn, and some bars didn't soundly fit into certain weights.
“We’re just not going to give (the new gear) to the kids. They know everything has to be earned,” Froman said.
At Western, which had just 30 players in the program last year and no lower-level teams, new gear has proved to be a valuable recruiting tool. Davis hopes he’ll have enough players to field a varsity, junior varsity and freshman team — a must in building a program because younger players were overwhelmed last year having to play varsity.
“It’s been a recruiting tool inside our hallways,” Davis said. “We roll in (to a classroom) with all of this Nike stuff and we are able to pull kids over. ... It’s good to look good, and we are going to look damn good. But it goes back to the basics of character, classroom and how you play. It will help us be a better program altogether.”
As for the weight room, Davis jokes the previous equipment may have been original equipment when the school opened in 1954.
There is no question the new gear has energized the players.
“We know kids from other schools always talk bad about us, but we want everyone to know we’ll be ready to fight this year,” said Rogelio Gonzalez, a junior lineman at Western. "(The donation) has given us confidence. We feel better about ourselves.”
Players at Chaparral witnessed that firsthand last month at a districtwide weight-lifting competition. They arrived wearing the new Nike gear, only to face taunts from players at more upscale programs. Chaparral went on to win the competition.
“They were saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what you wear, you are still sorry, old Chap,’” Froman said. “We preach to the kids all the time about how it would be embarrassing to get beat up wearing $1,000 worth of gear.”