Throughout the spring, the scores were just plain ugly. Pahrump Valley High School’s softball team went undefeated in the Class 3A Sunset League for the third year in a row, running the winning streak to 31 games, with all but the first of the 31 via the mercy rule.
There was 16-0, 28-5, 21-1, 12-1, 26-4, 23-2, 17-0, 18-0, 13-3 and 16-0. Baseball was a little more competitive, even losing one of 10 games in league play, but there still were scores of 20-0, 11-1, 20-2, 16-0, 18-0, 12-0, 13-1 and 13-2.
The same demographics and facility issues that make it tough for kids in urban schools to grow up playing baseball and softball make it easier to grow up playing basketball, especially for males. Thus, the opposite problem exists in boys basketball, in which Pahrump Valley’s team wound up on the wrong end of scores such as 71-48, 70-21, 57-25, 69-33, 97-44 and 79-46 during a 1-9 league season.
There are 23 schools in Class 3A in the state, including 13 in Class 3A South. (Five other schools are associate members.) Of those 13, only four are protected by their enrollment to be in 3A: Pahrump Valley, Boulder City, Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley. Those schools once had the region almost to themselves.
Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Assistant Director Donnie Nelson remembers those days well.
“At one point there were five teams in the 3A Southern League: Virgin Valley, Moapa Valley, Boulder City, Pahrump Valley and Faith Lutheran,” Nelson said. “Faith Lutheran, knowing their enrollment was going up and their competitiveness was increasing, wanted to move to 4A. Pahrump Valley was moved up for a while, and the 3A was left with three schools, and that’s not a viable league.”
That’s when the NIAA started using competitiveness as well as enrollment figures to place schools, sending 4A schools which were struggling to compete into 3A.
“We had to find a way to, number one, solve the dilemma of having only three schools in the 3A Southern League, and number two, how do we get these 4A Clark County schools to find a competitive balance, because they were not doing well across the board in anything,” Nelson said.
“There was a stigma that 3A is bad, and some schools were forced to move into 3A. All of a sudden a majority of schools loved the 3A, and they all wanted to be in there. We went from three teams to 12 teams to as many as 18 wanting to be in 3A South.”
All of which means a lot of schools that bear little resemblance to the region’s four core schools wind up in Class 3A South.
A modest proposal
At least one person wanted to bring the old gang back together. Former Pahrump Valley Athletic Director Larry Goins, when asked before his induction into the NIAA Hall of Fame if there was anything he had hoped to accomplish during his long career but did not, said he had floated the idea of reuniting the Trojans, Eagles, Pirates and Bulldogs.
“A year ago we tried to convince them to put Virgin Valley, Moapa Valley, Boulder City and us back in the same league together so that we still have those rivalries, and those schools offer all the sports at all levels,” Goins said. “That’s where our natural rivalries are.”
Some Pahrump Valley coaches are enthusiastic about the notion.
“I don’t know if I’m biased about this, but I love that idea,” Trojans softball coach Cassondra Lauver said. “When I was going to school here, those were the teams that we played. Virgin, Moapa, those were our rival schools. Good small-town rivalries. I think it would be great to have those teams in our league again.”
“If we went back to that division, and it was just us, I would be for it because I think it would be competitive baseball,” baseball coach Brian Hayes said.
“I think that having the old rivals together has a lot of appeal,” Pahrump Valley Athletic Administrator Jason Odegard agreed. “That is part of the reason that we try to schedule Moapa, Virgin, and Boulder in as many nonleague competitions as we can.”
Obviously, it is a much longer bus ride from Pahrump to Overton than it is to any school in Las Vegas or North Las Vegas, but Lauver insists that is not a major issue.
“Those bus trips were some of the best memories,” she said. “Yes, they’re long trips, and we didn’t have technology back then. We had to talk to each other, we had to play games, we had cards, we just did stuff. We bonded, and it was great for us.”
“I grew up with Tonopah in our league, and White Pine,” Trojans boys basketball coach Dan Clift said. “Traveling to Virgin Valley is like nothing.”
The flip side of the travel issue is that anybody else in 3A South would be in the Las Vegas Valley, and those schools would have much shorter bus rides traveling to play each other rather than traveling from Western High School to Pahrump or from Sunrise Mountain High School to Mesquite.
“I am not sure that other schools in the region would be opposed,” Odegard said. “Most of the schools in Las Vegas aren’t excited about traveling to the rural schools anyway.”
“I hear that a lot of team in Vegas act like, ‘We have to go allllllll the way out to Pahrump,’” Lauver said.
A new twist
Nelson said that under the current format, football is aligned separately from other sports. The success of that procedure has led some people to want to pursue aligning each sport separately, allowing a school’s competitiveness in one sport to be judged separately from the competitiveness in another sport for each school.
Hayes is all for that.
“I’ve heard they might be realigning by sport, and I would love to move up,” he said. “For our sake, I think it would be more competitive because you eliminate some of these other teams that are weak, but I personally would like to move up to a higher level.”
But Hayes is wary about biting off more than the Trojans can chew.
“I would like to be at that next level competing, but it’s nice to be at 3A because if I get to that higher level I have to be more committed and spend more time,” he said. “I have little kids, and I don’t know if I can run a year-round program. When I get to that point where I think I have to run a year-round program, I don’t think I can do that.”
Nelson said it’s too early to know in which direction the NIAA will go, but should the decision be to align each sport separately, Pahrump Valley’s boys and girls basketball teams could wind up in different leagues.
Girls basketball coach Bob Hopkins tends to brush aside the 4A-3A thing, and when his team loses to a 4A school his response tends to be, “That doesn’t make a difference.” But for boys who attend city schools, basketball is by far the biggest sport. They grow up playing it, they are very competitive, and it puts Pahrump Valley in a tough spot, even in 3A.
That makes aligning with similar schools such as Virgin Valley, Moapa Valley and Boulder City very appealing to Clift, whose connection to Goins goes way back.
“Larry was my football coach when I was in high school here, and having that tradition of playing those rural schools was so important for me,” said Clift, a 1988 Pahrump Valley graduate. “It’s what I remember doing as a high school student, and it’s that connection and similarity between us — country school, rural community.”
Clift says it’s about much more than winning basketball games.
“One collectively puts us together as being alike,” he said of the four rural schools. “You get that same atmosphere when you go (to) those places. You’re welcomed, there’s people in the stands, there’s good concession food, while in Vegas we don’t necessarily see the community come out and see that support network.”
To say nothing of parents from Pahrump or Overton driving to city schools to watch their kids play night games.
“I want us to be competitive, and I want us to have some success, but I also want to travel to a place where we enjoy being there,” Clift continued. “I think our kids feel safe, our parents will travel and we have a good experience being on the road at those (rural) schools. There’s so many positives when we go to Boulder or Moapa or Virgin Valley. Those are all great places to travel to.
“At the end of the day is it about winning and losing? Maybe. But it’s also about having a good experience and developing young men who get something they can use in life from athletics. We want to feel safe and feel respected and welcomed.”
A numbers game
Oddly, what happens with realignment in the South has everything to do with what will happen first in the North. Nelson said there are several issues to be dealt with before deciding if the Class 3A Northern Region will be all one league to separated into two leagues.
“If 3A North is one league and small, I would venture to guess the 3A South will be one league with fewer schools involved,” Nelson said. “If 3A North is two leagues, we likely will keep 3A South as two leagues.”
If that is the case, Nelson indicated it is extremely unlikely that the four rural schools would be in one league. A north-south split in the region instead of the current east-west split is possible, he said. That would place Pahrump Valley and Boulder City in the same league, with Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley in the other one.
Much like everything else, it is too early to tell how many schools will be in each region.
“The 3A North could be as few as seven schools, and it could be as many as 12 schools,” Nelson said. “There could be anywhere from six to 14 in the South, but that is the largest possible range. More likely it will be eight to 12.”
The smaller the number, the more likely the 3A South will be one league, and while Pahrump Valley, Boulder City, Virgin Valley and Moapa Valley would not be alone in a league, at least they would be together along with a few Las Vegas, North Las Vegas or Henderson schools.
“Once you get more than 10, you’re certainly looking at two leagues,” Nelson said. “Eight or fewer, no question it’s one league.”
As the issues in 3A North get worked out during meetings this summer, 3A South will come into clearer focus. With only four teams guaranteed by enrollment to be in 3A South, there is flexibility, but you can bet there will be objections from the city schools if 3A South is one league, regardless of how many schools are placed in the region.
“Teams that would potentially be placed in the same region as the four outlying schools might not be favorable to all of us being in one league.” Odegard said. That, of course, would be a lot of traveling both east and west of Las Vegas.
The problem of charter schools
Charter schools have stirred up controversy all over the nation, but they also create issues with athletics. If the charters scheduled to become full NIAA members join 3A South, and the alignment otherwise stays as it is, the schedule gets tricky.
“I think it’s kind of a difficult time right now because of all the charter schools, and a lot of those charter schools are not offering a complete range of sports or levels within a program,” Goins said. “The way things look, Pahrump Valley’s boys soccer team will have 16 league games with the new charter schools coming in, and that will leave just two games to schedule, and a lot of those charter schools will not have JVs. That’s not good for the Pahrump kids.”
Clift was direct: “You throw in all those charter schools, and that really screws up the mix.”
“Charter schools don’t offer the full complement of sports our traditional public schools do,” Nelson acknowledged.
Five charter schools would be in 3A South if they were full NIAA members. SLAM Academy and Doral are eligible to apply for full membership for the upcoming academic year. Equipo is completing its second season of associate membership but has not fielded a boys and girls team each season, as required for full membership. Coral Academy, Las Vegas, is in the same position and has not applied for full membership after more than two years, and Pinecrest is in its first season of associate membership.
If all of those schools became full members but without full sports programs, scheduling becomes challenging to the point at which alignment by sport could become a necessity.
What happens next?
”I’m not real sure what the solution is,” Goins acknowledged. “I think there are some difficult decisions that are going to have to be made, and I’m not always sure that Pahrump will get the good end of those decisions.”
“It is going to be interesting to see what the new realignment process brings in terms of who is in the region, even to the point of where PVHS will be in terms of enrollment and where we fit in this process,” Odegard added.
The two most likely scenarios are something similar to the current alignment or a one-league Class 3A South, in which the four traditional rivals and four to six other schools are lumped together for two years. It’s highly likely those four to six schools will create the same kind of mismatches that go Pahrump Valley’s way in baseball and softball and go the other way in boys basketball, but at least a one-league South will place the four old rivals together.
What’s unlikely is a league including Pahrump Valley, Virgin Valley, Moapa Valley and Boulder City without any other schools. Nelson came as close to saying that as he could without knowing for sure what was going to happen at those summer meetings.
That lineup created terrific rivalries and made for some great memories, but apparently, as in so much else, there’s no room for sentiment here.
Class 3A South enrollment
Nevada Department of Education enrollment figures for the schools currently placed in Class 3A South by the NIAA, as of Oct. 1, 2018:
2,828 — Western
2,782 — Valley
2,562 — Sunrise Mountain
2,446 — Mojave
2,384 — Chaparral
2,379 — Del Sol
1,250 — Democracy Prep*
1,225 — Pahrump Valley
753 — Virgin Valley
601 — Boulder City
528 — Moapa Valley
*-Enrollment figure according to school’s website