A look at what makes Fernley sports possible

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A full house supported the Fernley High School girls basketball team in its game against Spring Creek last Friday night. (Robert Perea/The Fernley Reporter)

By Jim Vallet, for the Fernley Reporter

In the 2019-2020 school year, Fernley High School is offering 22 interscholastic sports. A list of these sports, and their head coaches, follows:

Baseball-Jerry Torres; Boys Basketball-Derek Miller; Boys Cross Country- Todd Wright; Boys Golf- Brian O’Neill; Boys Soccer- Jose Garcia; Boys Swimming and Diving- Matt Adamson; Boys Track and Field- Erin Geil; Fall Cheer- Erika Rasche; Fall Dance- Tayana Peterson; Football- Chris Ward; Girls Basketball- Tom Kingston; Girls Cross Country- Todd Wright; Girls Golf- Brian O’Neill; Girls Soccer- Tammi Valentine; Girls Swimming and Diving- Matt Adamson; Girls Track and Field- Todd Wright; Girls Volleyball- Diane Chapin; Softball-Diane Chapin; Winter Cheer- Erika Rasche; Winter Dance-Tayana Peterson, and Wrestling-Ernesto Garcia. 

In addition, every sport except golf has a Junior Varsity (JV) team and many boys and girls sports have Freshmen, JV, and Varsity teams. This means Fernley High School fields more than 40 interscholastic teams per year in fall, winter, and spring sports, and employs dozens of head coaches and assistants. Paul Sullivan, assistant principal and athletic director at Fernley, says 308 Fernley students have participated in varsity fall and winter sports this year, with spring sports yet to come. In a normal year, Sullivan estimates that around 30 percent of Fernley High School students participate in some sport every year.

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Why do the dozens of coaches spend so much time and effort?

“Because it’s worth it,” says Sullivan. “It is worth it because of what the kids get out of it.”

There is a great deal of empirical data supporting Sullivan’s assertion. Numerous studies claim students who participate in high school sports get better grades, are more likely to graduate, are more likely to go to college, feel better about themselves, are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs, have less discipline issues, have better relationships with peers and adults, volunteer more, and are closer with their families. Long term, former high school athletes have a greater sense of initiative, tend to earn more money than those who did not participate in high school sports, and, if they stay active, former high school athletes have better physical health than those who did not participate. These benefits apply both to boys and girls. 

There are some who have claimed that pressure from parents and coaches has a negative effect on participation in high school sports, and there are many anecdotal stories we all can tell that would back that up. But nationally, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, last year was the first year of less student participation in high school sports than the year before after 30 straight years of increasing athletic participation. And, the reason for the decrease was because of less student participation in high school football and basketball, while many other sports, especially wrestling and volleyball, saw dramatically increased participation. Even with the decrease in student participation last year, it still was the third highest year in terms of high school athletic participation. 

So, if you agree that sports benefit high school students, the goal of high school sports is that students participate.

“Yes, the goal is student participation,” says Sullivan.

According to the Lyon County School District Board of Trustees and Superintendent, Wayne Workman, “All extracurricular activities, including sporting events are an extension of the classroom and only exist to provide further educational activities and life lessons for our students.”

So, that’s it. The time, money, and effort is to get students to participate. If the students participate, there are many benefits. It seems appropriate to point out some things that are not goals of high school sports, and because some do not know what the goal is, cannot understand why coaches and schools make some decisions they do. The goal of high school sports is not for your son or daughter to get a college scholarship.

“Only two percent of high school athletes nationally are offered a college athletic scholarship,” Sullivan said.

The goal is not for parents to vicariously live out their athletic dreams through their kids. The goal is not for parents (or anyone else) to prove their love for their children by berating the officials. In fact, the main goal has nothing to do with anyone except the students themselves.

As Mr. Sullivan told me, “it’s for the kids.”

Even if you agree it’s worth it, the cost is expensive. Think of the cost of one athletic event, boys or girls, varsity, JV, or freshmen, any sport. Most of the cost is shouldered by the school and the District. First, the visiting team must be transported to the competition site. District busses, depending on the length of trip and distance, can cost in excess of $800. If the coaches are teachers and will miss school time, a substitute is $100 per coach for a full day. Officials must be paid, and again, this varies, but $50 per official per contest is a fair average. Sometimes officials receive travel pay. Someone (frequently the coach) must prepare the site, field, court, or course. A sport like baseball requires six new baseballs at about seven dollars each for each game. And, of course, utilities must be paid, too. Look at how many athletic events Fernley participates in the 22 sports and realize how much this all costs.

This is why you may have been approached to buy raffle tickets, play in a golf tournament, eat spaghetti, play bingo, participate in a run, or donate money in another way. The sports program, while important, is also expensive. Extras are up to each coach to procure. If a coach wants new uniforms, new helmets, team duffle bags, new bats, cool warmups, that coach has to find a way to pay for it. If a coach wants to improve the playing field, buy a Gator, go to an out of state tournament, or have an end of the year banquet, that coach has to pay for it. Although the District and school pay for a lot, each coach really is responsible for paying for most anything besides “game day”. 

What can most of us do to help? If your child is participating in athletics at Fernley, you have already paid an annual $25 activity fee.

“We have waived that fee for those in real need,” Sullivan said. 

While the school and the District appreciate financial donations, what the people running high school sports want from most parents and spectators is proper behavior at events, and modeling of respectful behavior. As a result of several recent incidents of the poor and even dangerous conduct by spectators and participants at high school sporting events, the Lyon County School District has created a list of behavior expectations for spectators, schools, and participants during extra-curricular District activities, including sporting events. The first of these expectations states that hosting schools will tolerate no behavior on anyone’s part that would not be tolerated in the classroom. Other expectations suggest the host school to make announcements positive to the visiting participants, announce the names and welcome the officials, and greet as well as welcome the participants. Visiting participants are expected to leave the bench, locker room and spectator area cleaner than they were on arrival. Lyon County School District deputy superintendent Tim Logan says that while he believes these expectations will be good for students, “We also need our parents and community members to help reinforce this expected behavior. Our students always rise to the level of expectations set.”

The Lyon County School District Board Policy says, “All participants, especially adult participants are expected to control behavior and emotions remembering that they are to set a positive example for children/students in attendance.”

Violators are to be warned, and then ordered to leave the premises if the behavior continues. 

Fernley High School supports the Lyon County School District’s actions, and takes parent behavior further. First of all, Sullivan urges parents and coaches to observe a 24-hour silence policy. In the 24-hour silence policy, coaches and parents are asked to wait 24 hours if they have anything negative to say. If it still seems important to say after 24 hours, Sullivan believes parents do have the right to speak to coaches, or to him. But Sullivan practices, and wants his coaches to also follow a “certain things I won’t talk about” policy. Under this, school officials will not talk about playing time, strategy, or other students with parents. With these ideas, Sullivan hopes unhappy parents will learn, and pass to their children, the concept of looking within to solve problems, instead of blaming someone else. 

There are also people not associated with the School District in the community who help, and it is hard to believe that the FHS athletic program could be as it is with community help.

Concessions at home football and basketball games, “are huge for us,” according to Sullivan. Linda Barba runs the concessions and she and her volunteers donate all profits to FHS. Pete Jackson not only announces home football games, he helps with concessions. Sullivan also singled out local businessman Kelly Brye as a key to getting local businesses to understand the importance of getting behind the Fernley sports program. One can see how effective that push is by the advertising banners that hang in the gyms, and on the football, baseball, and softball fields.

Banners of businesses supporting Fernley athletics hang on the wall of the Fernley High School gym. (Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter)

“We would not be able to do what we do without community businesses,” Sullivan states flatly. 

The contributions of the FHS Booster Club cannot be understated or ignored, and the club’s goal of supporting student programs and helping the programs where the Booster members see fit says what the club is all about.

“The new Booster Club has been great at working with community businesses,” Sullivan said.

Besides running the apparel booth at all home football games, the FHS Booster Club does two main fundraisers each year – an August annual membership BBQ which is in the parking lot of Kelly Brye’s Carpet King, and a Spring Crab Feed, which this year is March 7 at the Senior Center where a brand new side by side, donated by the local Polaris company, will be auctioned. From these fundraisers, the Booster Club in the last year has been able to:

  • Donate money to pour concrete at the baseball fields;
  • Set up the recovery table at the cross country Roadkill Race;
  • Helped purchase an HUDL program;
  • Donated to the drama team for costumes and accessories;
  • Purchased backpacks for the cheer team;
  • Purchased backpacks and travel suits for the female sports;
  • Ran the hospitality room at the FHS Wrestling Tournament;
  • Helped the basketball team with their bingo fundraiser;
  • Sponsored the baseball team’s spaghetti feed;
  • Last year gave $1,500 in scholarships to deserving seniors.

Boosters President Jackie Kingston says FHS Boosters give money and support to “pretty much all the sports, from helping them with tournament fees to providing them with a big breakfast before their state playoff games”, and that any coach can request funds for his or her sport by filling out a Boosters fund request. The FHS Booster Club is led by President Jackie Kingston, Vice President Farrah Alexander, Treasurer Chrissy Hass, and Secretary Rachel Stewart. There are currently 56 members, including businesses. People can join by contacting the Boosters at fhsvaquerosboosterclub@gmail.com and their meetings are open to the public on the second Monday of each month in the Career Center at FHS. 

FHS is fortunate in that most of the sporting venues are located on campus at Fernley High School. The exceptions to this is the cross country course, which is allowed to run on public streets for no fee, swimming, where there is a fee, and golf, where the school must pay to use the course, but the driving range is free. The school has a main and auxiliary gymnasium, baseball and softball fields, and a football field surrounded by a track. The football field and track are both made of synthetic materials. 

We love our children and want them to be happy. We see that they work hard at a sport, so we want them to have success in that sport. We attend those activities to support our children.

But sometimes, we blame our children’s lack of success in a particular sport on the wrong factors. The coaches, officials, administrators, and community members who are involved with high school sports do it so that your children can participate, because they believe that will help your children. There are villains in life, but they are not the people who are giving of their time and effort for no reward except to help your children. In fact, I believe these people to be heroes. Next time you disagree with a coach’s decision or think the referee was the reason we lost, remember that this is none of these people’s primary job, and they are going the extra mile because they believe it is important.

My goal in writing this is that people better understand how much work is done by so many people to make a good high school athletic program. As Paul Sullivan told me, “We can’t do it without the support of everyone.”

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