Less than two weeks before official football practice is supposed to start, nobody knows if there will be a football season. But there they were, a group of Beatty High School football players, out on the field going through drills.
“We’re getting eight, 10 kids out,” coach and athletic director Leo Verzilli said. “We are hurting in the young kid department. The young kids haven’t been around it enough to know. They don’t understand it; the older kids do.”
Senior Ethan Mendoza certainly understands it.
“I’ve talked to a few of the younger kids trying to convince them to come out and play because we’re so short, and a lot of them gave me the answer of there’s not going to be any games, why come? I’ll always have next year,” Mendoza said. “In all reality, they’re just hurting themselves. Conditioning is a big part of it, and if you want to be contenders in Beatty, young kids need to be out here, and they need to be learning all of the things Mr. Verzilli is teaching us.”
“It’s been a lot harder to get people to come out,” senior Brayden Lynn agreed. I think they realize if they’re not playing any games, then what’s the point? The younger kids don’t realize their first couple of years are the most important to develop.
Verzilli is trying to lure some of those young kids.
“I said everybody that’s here doing basketball right now, everybody in this gym, should all go out and play football because you’re not going to play basketball,” he said. But the basketball team was in the gym once a week anyway.
“We play a bit, we shoot,” senior Noel Gutierrez said. “It’s fun having a sport back, but not being able to play games changes your mood.”
But still, they head to the gym.
“Coach Miguel (Mendoza, Ethan’s uncle) said something to all of us that first day that really stuck with me,” Ethan Mendoza said. “’We might not have a season boys, but instead of this being basketball practice just think of this as playing basketball with your friends in the park. If we have a season, we’ll keep playing basketball.’
“To me, that made me want to keep going and playing these sports even if there is no chance of having any games. It’s my last year, COVID took a lot from me, but I ain’t going to sit around and cry. If I have the opportunity to play, I’m going to come play.”
That attitude is pervasive in schools in every state that has lost seasons or parts of season to the pandemic, but perhaps it is strongest in the smallest schools, where a high percentage of students have to play sports simply to have teams.
“It’s my last year,” Lynn said. “I haven’t been able to make the most out of it, unfortunately, but just coming out and practicing with the guys makes me feel a little better.”
And don’t forget the role the coaches can play in this situation, as Mendoza made clear.
“All of the coaches have really good ways, and they’ve all grown on me,” he said. “To me, it’s a big family. I’m in close contact with coach Leo and coach Miguel. They’re great guys, and so is Mr. (Rusty) Anderson. I’ve known him forever, too. The system out here is great.
“That’s one of the main reasons I want to come play is for those guys. They’ve given me their all when we were doing terrible. If we don’t have anything, I just want to give them my all and show them I actually care and I want to play.”
Mendoza insists that the fact that one of those great guys is his uncle has nothing to do with his opinion.
“Of course I’m going to say good things about him,” Ethan Mendoza said. “He believed in kids that didn’t even believe in themselves. I feel like him being out here is going to help the system. He’s a very optimistic person.
“I was like those kids. I didn’t know if I wanted to play football. I didn’t want to get hit. I came out, and I’ve known Leo forever. He told this kid to hit me really hard, and after I got hit really hard I got up and I was like, ‘I like football, coach.’”
It should be noted that Mendoza is all of 140 pounds, and that is after what he called a growth spurt before his junior year.
Most of the Hornets play sports all year, but Mendoza takes it a step further during the spring. He ran track as a freshman, played baseball as a sophomore and was back on the track last spring when the season was cut short when it had just begun. Verzilli coaches baseball, while Anderson coaches track and field.
“Right now, I’m on the fence as to whether I’m going to do track or baseball,” he said, just before tipping his hand.
His senior teammates have no such questions. Lynn is the second baseman for the Hornets’ baseball team, while Gutierrez is the defending Class 1A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles.
“I’m trying to have the same feeling for both sports, but the way coach Verzilli is talking, baseball is a sure thing and football, they’re pretty doubtful on it,” Lynn said.
“Saying we’re going to have sports, then toward the end they said no sports, so it just kills us,” Gutierrez said. “What do we do? We want to play, we want to compete. We’re looking at the NFL, basketball, some colleges, everyone playing and us not being able to …”
Of course, the pros and colleges can afford to administer COVID-19 tests every day, the results of which can be seen in the number of games that were postponed or canceled during every season over the past year. But nobody is offering to pay for testing every high school athlete, leaving them at the mercy of decision makers who have considerations other than high school sports.
On the plus side for the Hornets, there are few Class 1A schools in Clark County, which, standing firm by its decision to not play sports until there is some form of in-person teaching in the district, already canceled the fall sports season, something that doesn’t make sense to Verzilli.
“If you’re home-schooled you can still play sports, so if you’re home doing computer work for school, you should be able to play,” he said. “The whole thing is bizarre.”
In any event, even the shortened six-week NIAA fall season will not be filled with games for Beatty.
“Right now, we have three games on the schedule,” Verzilli said, ticking off Class 1A Central League foes Mineral County, Pahranagat Valley and Tonopah, with Round Mountain a possibility, if, of course, football is allowed to be played at all.
“I don’t care what kind of season we have,” Lynn said. “We can play anybody. I just want to play.”