Tuesday, April 1, 2003 | 9:13 a.m.
Ron Kantowski is a Las Vegas Sun sports writer. Reach him at ron @ lasvegassun.com or(702) 259-4088.
I guess this Brooks and Dunn concert that is going to help the Orleans Arena officially open its doors May 25 is a big deal, although I didn't know that baseball Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and ex-Alabama basketball star T.R. Dunn could sing.
Like me, Marc Ratner, the head of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and local high school officials association, would have a country and western hootenanny far down on the list of 101 uses for the glittering multipurpose arena that has risen from the asphalt of the Orleans' parking lot.
With a modest 7,000 seats, it's not as if the Orleans is going to attract a Led Zeppelin reunion. But the arena may be baby bear's porridge when it comes to local sports that are too big for high school gymnasiums, but too small to fill the Thomas & Mack Center or MGM Grand Garden.
Such as the boys' and girls' state basketball tournaments.
"I am going to recommend to (Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association executive director) Dr. Jerry Hughes that this is where we should play the state basketball tournament," Ratner said at a sneak preview of the arena last week.
"This is what we've been waiting for. It's an absolutely neutral arena for high school, yet (by having it a state-of-the-art facility) it makes it special. It would be a big-time event again."
The state tournaments were last in Las Vegas in the late 1980s, at the Thomas & Mack. When the games failed to draw big crowds, the tournaments were moved to Reno, where small turnouts also have become an issue, at least in the years when Las Vegas teams dominate.
A condensed, cost-conscious tournament will return to Southern Nevada in 2005 when the event begins alternating between Las Vegas and Reno.
"The Mack is not the right place for it," Ratner said. "This is."
Orleans Arena director Steve Stallworth already has set aside dates in March 2005, if the NIAA wants them. And the NIAA definitely seems interested, as Hughes already has come down from Reno to check out the place.
"It certainly is a nice facility," Hughes said Monday. "As of right now, I don't know if we can afford it. But Steve Stallworth has been very helpful and he said they would pencil in the dates for us."
You can't help but be impressed by the arena, whose primary tenant will be the Las Vegas Wranglers of the expanded and soon-to-be-renamed East Coast Hockey League. With its luxury boxes, thick padded, theater-type seats and wrap-around message boards, it's the Gonzaga of mid-major arenas.
"I knew this was going on," Ratner said upon getting his first look at the arena. "But nobody told me how beautiful it was."
Gone is the boring, bandana-wearing bandit who could have been drawn by a kid in kindergarten. The team's new black, red and silver logo, which appears on the season ticket brochure, is more bold. It depicts a cowboy on a bull brandishing a hockey stick.
It's not Clint Malarchuk, although the former goalie is probably the only guy I know capable of riding a bull while brandishing a hockey stick.
The popular Malarchuk, who grew up in Alberta near the chutes of the Calgary Stampede, was known as "The Cowboy Goalie" during his days with the defunct Las Vegas Thunder.
"NASCAR was just happy to have a high school graduate go meet the media after winning a race," said Texas Motor Speedway general manager Eddie Gossage.
But if you don't think times have changed, Ryan Newman, who won Sunday's race in Texas, graduated from Purdue with a degree in engineering. In fact, six members of Newman's pit crew have engineering degrees.
None of them, as far as I know, is named "Chocolate" or "Fatback."
According to an Orlando Sentinel report, if all it took to get to the Final Four is money, Arizona ($7.8 million), Syracuse ($6.4 million), Michigan State ($5 million) and Duke ($4.8 million) would be collecting beads and sipping Hurricanes in New Orleans this week.
Among the Sweet 16, Butler ($793,722), to nobody's surprise, laced its shoestrings the tightest.
And finally, Las Vegas' Reflection Bay Golf Club has made the list of the nation's "best cheap-but-challenging" public golf courses, according to Business 2.0. Reflection Bay's typical greens fees are $150-$260. In a related note, the magazine also listed orchestra tickets to Mystere as Las Vegas' best cheap entertainment value and the Jaguar XKE as the cheapest form of dependable transportation.