Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Last year I wrote about the Western High baseball team’s improbable upset against local power Sierra Vista.
Western is located in one of Las Vegas’ worst neighborhoods. The school’s athletes don’t enjoy the financial backing of the teams they compete against, and most people in town are dismissive of the school and its students. But I couldn’t help silently cheering for this group of seasonal players.
Turns out that game was just one of the many good things happening each afternoon on the Western diamond. I wish everyone could have seen what happened at Western’s game Monday against Faith Lutheran.
It had little to do with the final score.
That’s because Tommy Krier, who was the only person willing to coach the team when he was hired four years ago, is one of the good guys in local high school sports. He gets it: Winning and losing defines success to some but isn’t the only standard by which his team is judged.
This will tell you a lot about Krier: Last year, he organized a ceremony to rededicate the field in honor of Greg Sylvester, a former player who was murdered before his senior season in 1981. When Krier got the job, he took to social media looking for a donation for a scoreboard in Greg Sylvester’s honor.
That’s when Jeff Sylvester, a local attorney and Greg’s brother, reached out and agreed to pay for the renovations. His brother was stabbed to death in the parking lot after a Western basketball game and the family was thrilled someone remembered. After all, through coaching changes, a decline in the program and school, and the field being constructed in a different direction over the years, Krier initially didn’t realize the field was named after someone.
Thanks to Krier, nobody will forget.
Now fast forward to Monday: Jeff Sylvester returned to Western to watch his son, Faith Lutheran sophomore catcher Greg Sylvester (named after Jeff’s brother), play against Western.
It happened to be the anniversary of his uncle’s death, and the first time Faith Lutheran and Western had played against each other.
When Jeff Sylvester arrived at the game with his mother, he couldn’t help noticing the T-shirts the Western players were wearing for warmups. On the back was Greg’s No. 2 and "Sylvester." The gesture overwhelmed Jeff and his mother with emotion.
In fact, Western didn’t have the shirts made only for the Faith Lutheran game. The team wears them at every game to honor the family.
People who follow high school sports in this town can try to dismiss Western, but this team epitomizes the kind of classiness that can define our community and makes me proud.
“The whole Sylvester family was there, and what a wonderful family they are,” Krier wrote in an email. “I am truly happy that the field means so much to them and gives them great joy. We wear the shirts as our warmup and undershirts during the game. Thought it was a cool way to remember Greg Sylvester.”
Faith Lutheran won the game 7-2 and Greg Sylvester had a hit and an RBI, but that was secondary for all. Following the game, the Western players took off their jerseys to reveal the Sylvester T-shirts and walked over to greet the family.
Both teams were winners on this night.
A fresh coat of paint and a fresh perspective are among the changes being made around Western High School.
Western is one of five turnaround schools that missed the marks set by No Child Left Behind and now faces the challenge of increasing student achievement.
The school is the third oldest in the district and its campus lies near Decatur Boulevard and Veterans Memorial Highway. The majority of students attending Western are minorities from disadvantaged homes. Western is known for having a rough past, but students are optimistic about the future of their school.
Change is apparent according to students interviewed in September.
“When I was in eighth grade, I was told I was going to get shot or stabbed when I came to Western,” said senior Kole Yanez, 17. “That might have been true 15 years ago, but now, you don’t see that here.”
Rules are tightly enforced on campus. The school keeps a strict dress code policy and cell phone use during class time is not permitted.
Halls are designated by grade level giving students a sense of ownership and community. Pride is clearly visible at pep rallies and sporting events. The newfound pride might just be he medicine needed to alleviate the 8 percent dropout rate, the highest in the district.
“It’s like building a house. You need a strong foundation,” said Neddy Alvarez, principal. “You need those strong relationships. When kids know we care about them, the learning will take place.”
- Year built:
- Principal (Year Hired):
- Neddy Alvarez (2008)
- Mission Statement:
- “The mission of Western High School is to promote scholarship, encourage good citizenship, and embrace our cultural diversity.”
- Approximately 2,400
- Notable alumni:
- Frank Hawkins, former NFL player
Capt. Nicole Malachowski, first female Thunderbird
Ronnie Vannucci, drummer of The Killers
Tom Collins, Clark County commissioner
- School Report Card:
Compiled by Gregan Wingert