Bishop Gorman athletics has become one of the more polarizing topics around of the state of Nevada. It’s even generated national conversation.
After the Gaels trounced Texas power Cedar Hill on national television earlier this season, Texas High School Coaches Association president David Wetzel made headlines when he felt the need to share a public statement.
“I firmly believe that most of us in the football-loving state of Texas want to maintain and support the sanctity of what the community high schools do here in our great state,” Wetzel wrote. “We live here. We work here. We pay our taxes here.”
Other digs at Bishop Gorman in his statement were less subtle.
“I like Kenny Sanchez (the Gaels’ head coach) and I think he and his staff do a great job. But coach Sanchez knows the deal, too. He knows that he has a totally different situation at Bishop Gorman. Several of the BG players moved to Las Vegas to play football at this prestigious school. Many of the players do not necessarily have ‘roots’ in the BG ‘community.’”
Ironically, it was a coach from Texas who went public with his thoughts on Gorman, while nearly all administrators and coaches who compete against the Gaels for state titles have remained mute.
This was in August. Since then, Bishop Gorman has completed its third straight 15-0 season, winning what will likely be its third straight national championship, and wrapped up an eighth straight state title on Saturday, clowning on Liberty, 84-8.
The 76-point rout of a Liberty team that was once ranked No. 23 in the nation sparked the flame of statewide frustration and anger directed toward the Gaels.
Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Director Bart Thompson shared his thoughts on the Las Vegas power, as well as the Association’s, in an exclusive phone interview with The Sparks Tribune on Wednesday.
You’ve been the Executive Director of the NIAA for two years. When you came on board, how aware were you of Bishop Gorman? Had people told you about the situation down in Las Vegas?
When you say “aware,” I was certainly aware they had dominated in football for the last several years and that there were some real concerns about the competitive level and how they matched with the public schools, and that type of thing.
Had you heard complaints, or people saying maybe it’s not fair? Do you hear much of that?
(I’ve) heard of lot of complaints, not a whole lot of ideas what to do about it.
What are some of the things you hear people say? Just that it’s not fair?
That it’s not fair. I think some of the complaints get exaggerated a little bit in terms of what they accuse them (Gorman) of in recruiting, where they don’t have specified geographic zone of attendance. Of course, they have to recruit to a certain extent to get kids to come to their school or they don’t stay in business. While it is a parochial school, they still need to attract students there to maintain the school. And so they do, do that.
One of my first meetings after being hired was with the Gorman administration, athletic and school administration, to go over the concerns that had been aired, to get a feel for them and what went on there, that type of thing.
Obviously, their campus is gorgeous, it’s a relatively new campus. It is extremely attractive to anybody that would tour that. It’s a huge asset in attracting good students to be there.
I’ve heard stories, the accusations, and all those types of things about money being paid under the table and giving jobs to people, and all those kinds of things. I talked to them about that pretty frankly, quite honestly. And on their end, they assured me that was not going on, that there may have been some of that years back but that had been addressed.
I talked with former directors of the Association here that had pursued investigations of those kinds of things and in fact one of the previous executive directors said they had done 17 separate investigations of Gorman specifically and had not been able to prove any of the allegations they had investigated.
They (Gorman) do have to recruit to a certain extent, as you mentioned. What are the restrictions they have as far as going out and getting kids?
They can’t recruit kids for athletic purposes. They can encourage people to come there based on the school, that type of thing. But they can’t do it for athletic purposes. Neither can public schools.
With now what happened on Saturday, again, people just want to say ‘get them out of there.’ But the NIAA, you specifically, your hands are relatively tied. You can’t just say ‘you’re out of here.’ So what would your options even be?
We can’t (just kick Bishop Gorman out of NIAA) for a couple reasons. One, they are members in good standing that haven’t had any violations tied to them, so to speak. And secondly, state statute says that the NIAA must admit private schools.
That’s not just part of our regulations, that’s state statute. That’s the law. Our hands are tied to a certain extent, yeah.
I’m sure you were made aware of it, or saw it up in Washington this year with Archbishop Murphy and the power house they were. Schools were just saying ‘we’re not going to play you, we’re going to forfeit.’ What are your thoughts on that? … What would your response be, your reaction to that be, if Nevada schools maybe chose to go that route?
I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not going to comment on that right now, because we have that case pending. Our board is going to deal with that at a different classification. I don’t want to mess that up or sway that one way or another.
I don’t want to prejudice anybody in that case based on what I would say in this one. We have a very similar case pending where a school has forfeited some games to another school they felt they couldn’t matchup with and so I’m not going to comment on that.
(At 1A level, Indian Springs forfeited to Pahranagat Valley this year)
You said at one point, a previous regime (conducted) 17 separate investigations. You met with Gorman when you took over two years ago, have you had any conversations with Gorman since about them maybe pursuing leaving the NIAA on their own and going after national titles? Is that a conversation you guys have had at all?
Several times. Each time, their primary goal, they say to us, is to win the Nevada state championship. They want to be members of the Association and they value that very highly. That’s their goal at the beginning of the season. That’s been the response from those that I’ve talked to at Gorman.
Was there a recent conversation?
I haven’t talked to them about that specifically in the last eight months or more.
You just don’t see them changing their stance on that?
I couldn’t comment on that. That’s something you’d have to ask them.
We’re at eight (consecutive state titles) with football. Boys basketball is going to be six, assuming, this winter. Is there a certain point, a breaking point, where something maybe has to happen? Because it kind of feels like frustration is just building within the state. Do you see that threshold getting reached?
That’s difficult to say. Certainly, there’s some frustration out there because there’s a perception that it’s just not fair, that they’re in a different league … We had a similar situation where we had a dynasty so to speak in 1A football, eight-man football, with Pahranagat Valley. They had won I think eight (state titles) in a row, hadn’t lost a game since 2007. That’s even more dominant than the Gorman dynasty is, so far. They hold the national record for undefeated seasons. And that came to an end this year.
Those things ultimately happen sooner or later. It’s frustrating in the meantime, I understand that. There have been, as I’ve got into the history of this, several of times when schools that have competed against (powers) have voiced their frustrations and done those types of things. Simply voicing frustration, I understand that, I get it, I spent a lot of time talking with the Liberty administration on the sidelines Saturday, hearing their frustration and allowing them to vent at that.
I hear a lot of frustration. I’m not hearing a lot of ideas of what ought to be done or how it could be fixed or anything else. It’s a difficult situation. You do not want to punish excellence.
The issue then is, ‘is that excellence honestly achieved?’ We don’t have anything to show that it hasn’t been in this case. I know everybody has their suspicions. Everybody says, ‘well, you know that.’ Well, do we know that? We don’t have evidence of it.
If you know it, provide something that shows me that it’s concrete or there. In the meantime, they are members of good standing in the NIAA.
I know that didn’t answer your question directly, but it’s kind of where we’re at. From an administration standpoint, it’s a little frustrating as well because we have to admit them. They haven’t violated regulations that we can demonstrate. So, what are our options?
As you hear, and I hear it too, accusations here, accusations there, do you have any interest in potentially looking back into what they’re doing? Is there anything like that going on at your office?
We investigate complaints from our members. At this time, I don’t have any. That’s not to say there won’t be any. Quite honestly, there have been more complaints about public schools than there have been against the private ones, in my tenure here.
In some of those, we’ve had hard evidence and taken action. I haven’t had an official complaint against Gorman for violating the rules since I’ve been the executive director.
I mean, there were some concerns about transfers and things like that. We looked into it, done investigations, and either ruled in favor of them, against them, or what have you. But in terms of impropriety by Gorman, haven’t had one.
Do resources ever come into play (in determining) how deep you can look into something? Or how often you can look into a certain school?
Certainly. That’s going to be the case with any investigative entity. You’re limited by your budget, there’s no question about that.
And you need to understand, there are four of us in this office: myself, an administrative assistant then two assistants.
Alright Bart, I’ll get you out of here on this. I’m curious, I’m sure there are a lot of people who are curious, you’ve kind of hinted at it a couple times … what are your general thoughts on Bishop Gorman?
They, by their nature of what they do there, who they are, attract the better athletes within the Las Vegas valley and even from across the country. The national exposure that they’ve had playing the national schedule in the preseason has probably enhanced that for football.
Their basketball team, yes, they’re doing extremely well, both their boys and their girls. But they’re not quite the same level with football. Their basketball coach may get after me for saying that, but their football program is kind of an entity in of itself. It has had national exposure … that has encouraged people to come there.
One of the things Gorman does, is they do not allow a student to enroll that does not live in the Las Vegas valley. And so if they’re coming from around the country, they’re having to move into Las Vegas to be able to do that.
It’s an excellent football team. They bring some notoriety to the state we wouldn’t otherwise have. And yet, it’s extremely frustrating for those who are trying to compete against them because they’ve gotten so good.
I certainly hope they’ve achieved that honestly. I don’t have any reason to believe they haven’t. I really don’t want to punish excellence, and yet there are always suspicions. Anytime anyone does well in anything, or creates that type of dynasty, it raises eyebrows. People are thinking, ‘well, what are they doing that we’re not doing? It must be nefarious simply because they’re having success.’
Well, if it is, I need evidence. Otherwise, we’re going to congratulate them.
I lied, one more question. As of now, Bishop Gorman is an NIAA member until something drastically changes?
We would have to have just cause for withdrawing their membership and those are outlined in our regulations exactly what they would be.
Bishop Gorman is a member in good standing at this point.