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Tom Rysinski: This is absolutely not a goodbye column

Updated July 17, 2021 - 1:35 pm

Three years and five months is simply not enough time spent on a job to warrant a farewell column, so this isn’t one of those. But sneaking off quietly in the middle of the night like the Colts leaving Baltimore seems rude, and I don’t want to do that.

So what to do? Memories that will stay with me for a long time might seem trite to many of you, and some of them are too personal anyway. But you don’t leave a job that included so many personal connections without saying something, especially when your car has been in the shop for most of the past month and you can’t drive to say goodbye in person. So, for one last time, bear with me.

I was spoiled my first fall season here, especially during the fall. That was the year Pahrump Valley’s top-notch offensive line blocked for Nico Velazquez (1,417 yards rushing) and Casey Flennory (800 yards rushing) as the Trojans went 5-0 in the Sunset League and defeated Boulder City in their first home playoff game since the 1970s. And Beatty (6-2) with Jacob Henry and Max Taylor was without doubt the best Class 1A team not to make the playoffs.

That same season, Jose Chavez had just about the best season of any athlete I’ve covered since I’ve been here, perhaps second to Tonopah quarterback Dillan Otteson the year the Muckers went 11-0 before facing the Future Felons of America in the 1A state football final. Chavez, who had 9 goals and 5 assists as a junior, became the Sunset League’s dominant player, erupting for 33 goals and 13 assists as the Trojans reached the postseason for the first time in a decade.

And they clinched that berth in dramatic style, with the winner of the regular season finale against Del Sol going to the region playoffs and the loser going home. Before the most boisterous soccer crowd I’ve seen here, Chavez scored both goals — one on a penalty kick, one off an assist from Koby Lindberg — in a 2-1 win over the Dragons that set off the best celebration I’ve witnessed. (Only one that comes close is the PVHS softball team winning the Class 3A state title, and that might have been bigger if it was closer than Mesquite.)

The pure joy at Trojan Field that night was awesome. Everybody — including me — got hugs from Chavez, who literally bounced from person to person looking for more people to help celebrate the moment. The league MVP was a force in the midfield, a clutch goal-scorer and, as it turned out, one hell of a big brother. I’m glad we crossed paths.

Then there was Tonopah football, an offensive juggernaut putting up gaudy numbers week in and week out during an 11-game winning streak. It was a treat to watch Dillan Otteson run that offense, and I don’t care if it was eight-man football, that kid was the best high school football player I’ve seen while in this job. (The only other player in the conversation is a lineman, and we all know nobody notices them. I kid, I kid.)

Want proof? How many Nye County graduates not only signed to play college football but are still playing college football? Not many, and only one is seriously competing for a starting quarterback job. The kid can play.

He also could wrestle, which brings me to the single best moment I’ve witnessed, a split-second event chronicled by one observant reporter at the state championships that day in Mesquite. Others have won championships at state tournaments in wrestling or state meets in track and field, but two stick out. One was Jose Granados of Beatty outdueling Sierra Lutheran’s Jared Marchegger by less than a half-second to repeat as Class 1A 1,600-meter champion in 2019. (Granados also won the 800 while Marchegger won the 3,200 that season in what might have been the best state-level rivalry I’ve witnessed.)

But the other was more dramatic, simply because the clock in wrestling is a deadline rather than the scorekeeper. From that week’s Times-Bonanza:

Did he have control on that attempted takedown? Did he stay inbounds? And did it happen before the clock ran out?

Those questions might explain the somewhat muted reaction to the conclusion of the 170-pound final Saturday at the NIAA Class 2A/1A Wrestling Championships in Mesquite, but the answers were all yes, making Tonopah senior Dillan Otteson a state champion.

Otteson was locked in a close battle with Eureka senior Preston Hubbard. The two were scoreless after one period, and only an escape from Otteson after starting the second period down was on the scoreboard going into the third. Hubbard led 3-2 in the final half-minute, and as the clock wound down Otteson seemed to be close to a takedown.

And he said he was unaware of the clock.

“No, no idea,” he insisted afterward, making him the only one in the old gym at Virgin Valley High School who didn’t know, except, perhaps, for Hubbard.

When the takedown came, the normal cheers after a dramatic finish were fewer and more scattered than usual, because nobody seemed sure if it was actually a takedown (it was), if Otteson’s feet were inside the circle (they were) and if it happened before the clock ran out (it did).

Yeah, I kind of liked the way I wrote that one. Even better, Dillan always answers texts and messages through Twitter, so he would be among my favorites even if he wasn’t a state champion.

Tonopah wrestling also provided one of the scariest moments, when Kevin Pope landed out of bounds, off of the mats, squarely on his face during a state tournament bout in Winnemucca a year earlier. Pope is nothing if not tough — well, tall, actually, nothing if not tall, but plenty tough — and after some treatment he was back on the mat. Blood is not exactly unusual at a wrestling tournament, but falling face-first is, and it was pretty unsettling.

And you can’t mention Tonopah without mentioning the fan support. Sure, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Red Army descended on Beatty for the 1A football final against Spring Mountain that fall, but I was stunned by Mucker Nation the previous February.

It was region tournament time in basketball, and both Tonopah teams were competing at Basic Academy in Henderson. I was new on the job, and as I flashed my press pass to the women behind the ticket table, she said, “Tonopah? Half your town is already here,” one said. And they were, as dozens of spectators wearing red were ready for tipoff.

But most of the memories from time spent covering Nye County sports are about the coaches, players and administrators who help me do my job and help make it fun. Usually.

In northern Nye, the conversation starts with Duffy Otteson. The football coach is always high on the list of important people in a job like this, and Duffy is no exception. There is a laid-back intensity to him that combines a detached coolness with a fierce competitiveness, not unusual among coaches but he just does it better. He’s also the only coach I’ve ever met who is more chatty via text messages than he is in person.

Most coaches, like most normal humans, are either chatty or they’re not. Duffy’s not the type to talk your ear off, but send him a text and you’ll get a detailed and very real response. No mindless coach-speak with him, and as Tonopah is a long drive from my office in Pahrump and even longer from my apartment in Las Vegas, that has been very much appreciated.

Tonopah and Round Mountain are full of people who help make this job what it is. Basketball season might be the best with Adam Siri and Jill Katzenbach with the Muckers and Carrie Howell and (formerly) Jerry Storts with the Knights. But all year long, from volleyball to softball and baseball, I worked with some terrific people.

And you get humor. Tonopah baseball coach was filling out his lineup for the second game of a doubleheader, turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” I said the first thing that popped into my head: “Kick and take the wind.”

And you ever watch Ken Jose coach softball? I love dealing with Ken, but some of the best stuff is what you overhear. My favorite came this past year during a home game against Round Mountain. He was making a substitution, and he tells a player, “You’re going into right field.” There’s a short pause. “Do you know where right field is?”

You don’t get that from sideline reporters at major league games. Well, maybe at Diamondbacks games.

And you seldom get the kind of honesty I got from Round Mountain football players Colton Alstatt, James Utterback and Christian Remiglio after the school canceled football early in the 2019 season. It wasn’t the party line, it was kids affected by something telling you their take on the situation, warts and all. I gained a lot of respect for those young men that day, and I was rooting as hard as anyone up in Big Smoky Valley for the Knights to return to the football field.

That’s the nature of this job, and what I’ll miss the most about it. No matter what a kid might be like in “real” life — choir boy or meth head (or both?), dog lover or kitten kicker or just a self-centered egomaniac — they don’t show me that. I get the good kid, the kind that wants to make a good impression on the person who can write great things about athletic accomplishments or completely ignore them. And believe me, I’ve done that.

But there are others, such as Carl Paice and Jo Eason, who provided me with pictures over the years, and not just because their grandchildren or children were playing. Athletic directors Ryan Saladino at Round Mountain and Steve Stringer at Tonopah have better things to do than respond to my silly questions, but they do it and offer more help if needed. And former Round Mountain AD Jake Topholm still holds the record for average response time on emails.

But by far the most time I spent in any one place was spent at Pahrump Valley High School. It’s by far the largest of the four high schools which field teams, and the Times is a much bigger paper than the Times-Bonanza. So there is a good reason. And even though other schools its size boast more teams, the Trojans have far more than any of the 1A schools in the county.

So the connections there grew faster and became stronger than my connections anywhere else. As much as I look forward to working for a new company and living in a new place, I’m going to miss my frequent visits to PVHS. As just-graduated Ally Rily told me once, when she learned I live in Las Vegas, “But you’re here more than a lot of the parents.”

I know. Believe me, I know.

But I still wasn’t prepared for the kind words people gave me after learning I was leaving. “Once a Trojan, always a Trojan,” didn’t apply to me, I assumed, but apparently it does. Thank you, Jason.

A couple of people have told me how I went the extra mile a lot. I have very high standards for myself, and if doing this job means putting a football notebook or a wrestling notebook online in addition to the regular coverage, if it means driving to Eureka — including passing the “Pavement Ends” sign — to see a Tonopah team we all know is way too young and way too small to compete, if it means driving to Ely and Winnemucca and Reno because our teams are competing in the postseason, well, that’s what it means. And you know why? Because of the kids, and the effort the kids and the coaches put in deserves to be recognized.

I wish I had more time and space to write features on some of them, because there are great stories there. Take Dylan Grossell, who despite being all of 5-8, 165 was the football team’s leading tackler during its league championship season. Or Kate Daffer, whose smiling nature and aspirations of being a mom hide a person who plays with power, not finesse, whether it be volleyball or basketball, to say nothing of the thrower who won the region title in the discus by more than 13 feet. Or Garret Lucas, a high school version of Greg Maddux, who did just as well describing what he did as doing what he did.

How about Koby Lindberg, another favorite because he played a critical role on the boys soccer team while also playing tough basketball and quality golf while sporting a dad bod. How can you not love a kid like that? Clearly my kind of athlete. On the other end of the physical spectrum, how about Jose Granados of Beatty and Bryce Odegard, two of the state’s best distance runners and top competitors while also being among the easiest guys to root for ever. Both planned to compete in college but found other paths were right for them; Jose is in the Army (his discipline will serve him well) and Bryce is back in Pahrump and engaged.

I’m not a big soccer guy (do NOT say it, just don’t), and I’m not going to pretend to be one. But I really enjoyed watching the Trojans boys and girls teams these past few years. The girls reached the state tournament and won a region title in dramatic fashion since I’ve been here, and the boys have made dramatic improvement.

In the winter, PVHS only has three sports, which I admit mystifies me. Almost 1,300 students and one sport for girls in winter? Really? Delving into the reasons why the school has fewer athletic teams than its much smaller 3A rivals was a story I planned to tackle this year. There are reasons, some of them very good ones, why a far smaller percentage of students in Pahrump play a sport compared to a place such as Moapa Valley. And there could be other ones, and I’m not shy about poking the bear once in a while.

Or the dinosaur. The dinosaur influence still exists, and you don’t expect a school district — any school district — to embrace outside-the-box thinking unless a situation becomes dire. And if there’s one negative I can say about my experience here, it’s that regardless of what anyone says, there’s a certain complacency, that things are fine the way they are, no need to rock the boat, and if anything many wish they could turn back the clock.

Well, just like women aren’t going back into the home, barefoot and pregnant; black people are not returning to the back of the bus; gay people are not going back into the closet; Mexicans are not staying in the fields picking grapes; Muslims who are proud Americans will not stop being elected to political office; and so on, and so on; you can’t pretend times don’t change. It’s much better to adapt and learn how to live with that rather than scream ignorant crap from the sidelines like the proverbial old guy yelling at kids to get off of his lawn.

(As an aside: Who would be better at portraying that guy in a TV commercial? Leo Verzilli or Bob Hopkins? Tough call, right?)

Some of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Some of you know very well. But let’s say this: Sure, the image of Johnny being the star quarterback, dating the head cheerleader and meeting the gang at the drive-in after the game on Friday nights is nice, especially when Johnny is also the point guard during basketball season and a shortstop during baseball season.

And I bet Ike gets re-elected, too.

Sure, some of that still exists, especially at smaller schools, but people who do things differently, or who just want to provide kids with the opportunity to do things differently, are not the enemy. If Johnny would rather play soccer in the fall, wrestle in winter and then play club soccer in spring and summer, so what? He’s a kid. As I’ve written before, kids make very few decisions for themselves — which is good, as they don’t know squat (you know I love you guys, but we’re talking experience here, not brains) — and one of the few they should get to decide, within the limits of parents’ time and money, of course, is what sports to play.

Yes, I’m harping on it. Because it still annoys me that people don’t read the words I write, instead choosing to see those words through the prism of other conversations with other people at other times, deciding that I am advocating something rather than simply discussing a situation that already exists. For me, it’s all about the kids.

And that leads me to one last thought: If you say you’re all about the kids, but you’re really only all about them if they do exactly what you want them to do, then you’re really all about yourself. And even dinosaurs still have too much to offer to be that way.

Writing about Pahrump Valley High School soccer players who went to Hawaii after winning state championships with their Las Vegas club teams was fun — two of them played on those teams while simultaneously playing a different sport at the varsity level for PVHS, which is why I’ll always marvel at Sydney Dennis and Kathy Niles, both of whom went on to play college soccer — as was following Paris Coleman’s journey through U.S. Soccer. I enjoyed writing about the Yoffee sisters, who wrestle at the club level, and getting information on what gymnasts are up to. My job is sports in Nye County, and a lot of that happens away from schools.

Speaking of which, I liked keeping tabs on the horseshoes pitchers at Petrack Park, and I had a great time one night in the flagstand at Pahrump Valley Speedway. I watched as they put pickleball lines on a tennis court — are they still there? — and I visited Special Olympics practices. I went to Little League tournament games, some tedious marathons and others thrilling contests, and I was at youth soccer and football from time to time.

And before I run out of steam (OK, not likely), a few words about some of the adults. Everybody at Beatty has been great over the years. Verzilli, who has turned down pleas I passed along to go back south and bring the Pahrump Burger with him, is everything you would want in a small-town coach/athletic director. You hear kids talking about everything he does for them, but that doesn’t mean he’s a pushover.

Favorite line from Leo: After a misplayed ball by an infielder prompted a “Good try!” from a well-meaning spectator, Verzilli growled, “No it wasn’t” for any and all to hear. Of course, he’s right.

Another aside — the everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality has grown like a fungus and now has people congratulating failure. A kid hits a weak grounder to short and someone will shout, “Nice hit,” which it wasn’t even if it wasn’t turned into an easy out at first. Or worse, a shortstop fields a ball and someone shouts, “Nice play,” before the same kid heaves the ball well over the first baseman’s head. Any pitch struck by a bat will generate squeals from some dugouts.

Have we sunk this far? Has the need for validation broadened participation trophies into praise just for showing up?

Stop it. Right now. The only thing worse than hearing ignorant screams about officials’ calls from people who clearly don’t know the rules — no, pass interference is not a spot foul anywhere but the NFL, Sir, so please shut up — is hearing this barrage of congratulations for not accomplishing anything. It’s silly, and guess what? The kids know it. The time to encourage them is before the at-bat, at practice, when they return to the sidelines or dugout, when you can combine critique of what went wrong with tips on how to improve.

If every “good hit” was a good hit, a lot more runs would have been scored. We might still be out there at Mountain Ridge.

Of course, if my previous complaint holds true, people will probably say I advocate spanking. All I’m saying is, let a kid do something before congratulating him or her. Encourage, yes. Congratulate, no. Believe me, plenty of people who work hard and do the right thing don’t always get ahead — might as well learn that early, kids — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reward those who actually do.

And I was mediocre at best in sports. I think I’ve already shared that back in my hometown of North Brunswick, New Jersey, I played one year of Little League, not doing badly, and a quarter of a season of rec soccer, doing quite badly. Apparently spiking a soccer ball like a volleyball is discouraged, although it sure caught the other team off guard.

OK, back to the adults. It was always good to see Jason Odegard and/or John Toomer at the entrance to a Pahrump Valley game. There are almost as many Odegards around Pahrump as there are Ottesons in Tonopah, including cross county coach Erik, who I like enough to drive all the way to Overton for a not-really-a-region-championship region championship at some ungodly hour of the morning.

I never met an Odegard I didn’t like — Bryce was the first student-athlete I met in this job — but I have enormous respect for pretty much all of the coaches. Nye County is fortunate to have so many high-quality people as coaches.

I’m going to miss postgame talks with football coach Joe Clayton. We would sit in the wrestling room after home games and go over the stats (funny story there, but I’m way too nice to share it. Sometimes.) and just talk about the game and the kids. I mean the boys, with Clayton it was always “The boys” this and “The boys” that. I once knew a coach who always used “youngsters.” I felt stupid typing that, so I was fine with boys.

It would have been nice to see the young Trojans display a new offense this year, but that won’t be happening. Heck, a month ago I was thinking about a new angle for writing about the spaghetti dinner and dessert auction (“More money! Bigger cakes!” only goes so far) and it turns out I’ll be 1,815 miles away and two hours ahead of the PVHS cafeteria that night. Go figure. I sure didn’t.

And you can’t talk with Cassondra Lauver or Julie Carrington and not walk away happy. Softball and girls soccer are very successful programs at PVHS, but that’s not the reason it’s great to talk to them. Boys coach Chris Roberts doesn’t mind that I don’t know much about soccer, and he’s always willing to share what he planned to have happen on the field whether it did or not.

Wrestling coach Craig Rieger is just awesome. The first month I was on the job, I asked for a few minutes of his time to recap the wrestling season, of which I missed all of other than the state championships, the year Morgan White won a Class 3A title. We sat at the table in the wrestling room for almost an hour, as I got a lot of background information about him and the program that would have taken me months of conversations to assemble otherwise. His willingness to give that much time to someone he didn’t know was much appreciated, and we’ve had some interesting talks on and off the record ever since.

And you can’t mention Rieger without mentioning Fred Schmidt. The both assist Clayton during football season, then Schmidt assists Rieger with wrestling and Rieger assists Schmidt with track. I used to email Fred asking if there was anything I needed to know from a weekend track meet, and I would get paragraph after paragraph in return. Copy and paste, a bit of editing, and there was most of my story. How do you not love a guy like that?

I also thought a feature on the two of them together would have been a good story to tackle. From the outside, they work so well together. When I went to track practice the week before the states that first season after the 4×800 relay set a meet record at the region championships, I asked Fred about the accomplishment, and he glanced at Craig, who coaches distance runners, and said, “I’m sure it was nothing Rieger did.”

Yeah, I’m going to miss hanging around those guys. If it wasn’t for the fact there were always other games to cover, I would have been at a lot more practices. You hear great stuff then.

And basketball is such a study in contrasts, with the very successful but sometimes tough to watch girls and the perpetually struggling boys. But you can learn a lot about basketball sitting at the scorer’s table when Bob Hopkins is on the sideline, or at least about everything he wants his players to do. It’s crystal-clear, trust me. And talking to Dan Clift after a game is never as tough as the score would suggest, although I’m convinced the only way Pahrump Valley can compete in boys basketball is by starting now, training fourth-graders to shoot 3s and run the Princeton weave.

Realignment by sport will help, but it’s a tough path to wins for the Trojans on the hardwood.

Brian Hayes has left the baseball program as his own kids are getting to old for him to not be involved in their sporting lives, and longtime assistant Roy Uyeno will take over. Hayes’ assistants the past couple of years were kind of funny: One (Uyeno) looked as if he would be more at home sitting in a lounge chair on a beach selling shave ice, while the other, Drew Middleton, looked as if he would be more at home sitting on the floor, back against the couch, playing video games. But they’re both baseball guys through and through, and I wish Drew as much success in whatever path he chooses as I wish for Roy with the varsity team next year.

Drew has worked tirelessly with young baseball players during the summer, including coaching the Junior All-Stars to a very rare district title back in 2018, my first summer here. I’ve kind of made it a policy not to get too close with anyone I know because of my job — this is where I will apologize for ignoring all of your friend requests on Facebook, as I just like to keep things separate — but Drew came as close as anyone to altering that dynamic, even if my college diploma is older than he is.

Oh wait, there is one person for whom I made an exception, but who in Pahrump isn’t friends with Dominique Maloy? More than a decade after graduating, Dom still holds school records in track and field, and she played on a championship basketball team despite being vertically challenged. She’s a bundle of energy and always upbeat, two things I simply cannot relate to, and yet she’s right at the top of my list of favorite people.

Watch her work with young people in one of her hourlong training sessions, and whether she has one kid of eight she gives each plenty of attention. Her enthusiasm is infectious (well, I’m immune, but that’s more about me than her) and you can’t not love her. Let’s put it this way: If anyone else snuck up behind me in the bleachers at the PVHS gym to give me a hug, an elbow to the solar plexus would have been the result. But you just want to be around Dom. You just do. Keep doing what you do, Sister, because nobody does it the way you do.

So many people have been good to me. There’s Chad Broadhead at Pahrump Valley Speedway (and Karley, who gets me the results); Lathan Dilger, who has expanded the backyard activity of horseshoes into a multi-pronged sport with more sponsors, more prize money and, it seems, more fun than ever; Johnny O’Neal, who helped me navigate youth football back when he was running that (although he would never say he was “running” it); senior swimmer Cathy Behrens, who is a better athlete in her 70s than most people are in their 40s (and me in my teens); the incomparable Marvin Caperton, who will go out and win medals in senior track and then be incredibly entertaining when telling me about it; Charlotte Uyeno, Pahrump’s Mrs. Baseball long before husband Roy got the varsity coaching job, who was invaluable to me early on when I didn’t know anyone and a big help ever since; and, right at the top, the late Dusty Park, who despite writing two very long stories on the occasions of his death and his memorial service leaves me thinking I didn’t do him justice. But who could? As I wrote then, every town needs a Dusty Park, Pahrump was lucky enough to have the original. And I was lucky enough to know him.

My fingers are getting tired, and if you’re still reading this, your eyes are getting tired, so let’s move to wrap this up, with apologies to everybody I haven’t mentioned, because there are so many of you I’d like to say something about.

I have very good reasons for wanting a new job — thousands, in fact — but none involve not liking this one. Considering I had no idea where Round Mountain and Tonopah were — of course I knew Beatty; duh, the candy store — when I started, I was feeling pretty good about things going forward. I even covered Jim Butler Days this year and had a pretty good day. I enjoyed making the drive north and felt more at home every time. Well, as “at home” as anyone from the New Jersey suburbs could feel in an old mining town, anyway.

I have no idea who will do this job next. I can’t begin to guess if that person will be better, worse or about the same as I’ve been. I just hope whoever it is cares as much about it as I have. If so, you’ll be in good hands.

By Monday or Tuesday — it’s hard to tell with the many issues gumming up the works of this move — Christopher and I will be on our way to yet another “fresh start.” We’ve gone from Hillsborough, New Jersey to Augusta, Maine to Las Vegas over the past 18 years, and now Starkville, Mississippi. If you’re wondering, no, not married. They can make it legal, but they sure can’t make it a good idea.

Christopher calls this an “adventure.” I guess it is. But when I think of that word, I think Indiana Jones, not going to high school football games in Columbus, Mississippi. Then again, going to high school events in Pahrump, Beatty, Tonopah and Round Mountain, Nevada, was quite a ride, so who knows?

And if you’re ever in Mississippi, drop by. I actually will have an office, complete with a door I can slam in people’s faces and a window looking out on the newsroom that will allow me to, um, well, I’m not sure exactly. Moon the person doing obits? Nobody wants that, so I’ll have to think of something. In any event, I’ll have an office with a window. (No, that is not one of the reasons. I didn’t know the sports editor had an office until after I accepted the job.) In my spare time I plan on making pork roll and grits a thing. Don’t make that face; Guy Fieri will love it.

Turn out the lights. The party’s over. Thanks for the invite.

Damn, I miss you guys already.

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