Talking high school sports
Sun News Service
Jerry Hughes, 57, has been an educator and coach in Northern Nevada since 1974. In 1989, he was appointed executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, and has capably held that job ever since. He sat down with reporter Darrell Moody of the Tahoe World News Service recently and talked about himself and the NIAA.
How did you end up in this job?
I kind of fell into it. I was working as director of activities for the Washoe School District when this job came open. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to apply. I had no expectation of getting this job. People said the person would come from Southern Nevada, and that there would never be another Northern Nevada guy that would get that job.
Any regrets in your 16 years?
Oh no. The greatest thing about this job are the people you meet. There are a lot of great people that I work with. I’ve met a lot of great people on the national level.
This has been an awesome job. The bad part is enforcing the rules like a cop. Overall, we’re trying to do positive things here, but some people don’t … recognize them.
What is the biggest problem you have now?
We had issues last year when we lost our title sponsor, U.S. Bank, and were fortunate enough to get the Las Vegas Review Journal. We really restructured a lot of things. The NIAA pass structure was changed. We now charge for those, and many people have bought them. I think we’ve done many positive things. We started a coach advisory committee, and we look at ways to make a sport better. We have an officials’ task force. We’re doing positive things with the income. We put the Hall of Fame game (back) in, which gives teams a chance to play an extra home game. We got our Hall of Fame back. Two years ago, we didn’t have it when the budget crunch hit we had to cut the Hall of Fame.
Right now things are going well. We haven’t raised dues once in 16 years, and I don’t want to do that. We are trying to keep things going with some corporate sponsorship. Right now, these are pretty good times for the NIAA.
The biggest problem we have is enforcing rules. Everybody wants to argue. People push things even if they are wrong, and that has become frustrating. You deal with people that want to complain and argue about everything I do.
How do schools feel about the new Final Four concept that was adopted last year where it’s top two in 4A when the tournament is in Northern Nevada and three from Vegas and one from Northern Nevada when the tournament is in Vegas?
Ironically, it depends on the sport. You ask basketball coaches and they don’t like it. To me it’s good because you have to win to go. In an eight-team tournament, you can still have two losses and go to state. This is a better concept. Las Vegas has grown, and you have to adjust to that. They have twice as many schools and were only getting the same representation. They (Vegas) agreed to some things like alternating state sites.
Would things ever go back to the old way for playoffs?
I don’t see that happening right now. This saves travel money and makes sense. People don’t like change. We should be sending our best teams; teams that are playing their best at the end of the year.
Do you think the Las Vegas schools will eventually go 5A?
Probably. They have enough schools to do it. Size means nothing once you get over 2,000 students. You look at past state championship teams. It’s not the team with the most kids that wins.
If it happens, Las Vegas would be 5A and Northern Nevada would be 4A. There wouldn’t be a 4A league where Vegas schools and Northern schools are in the same league. There would be too much travel. Football coaches have told me that they don’t want to lose the North-South state thing. In the old days, they used to tell me that if they didn’t play McQueen or Wooster they didn’t know if they had better programs.
Are you aware of problems that some schools in California, namely South Tahoe, that belong to the NIAA are having?
I’m aware of it. It’s something I can’t do anything about. They are doing a good job in terms of the pay to play sort of thing. Communities have problems and communties have to face the problems. They (South Tahoe) don’t complain. They know being in Nevada you have to travel. When South Tahoe first came in, there weren’t enough teams
In South Tahoe’s case, could club teams be allowed to compete if they were to raise money themselves for certain sports?
No. Everything has to be through the school. They would have to sponsor the sport. I know they had budget problems last year. My opinion is that you cut everything or cut nothing. I wouldn’t want to be the guy that makes the cuts.
This year in 3A soccer, you had two Northern Nevada schools playing each other for the title in Las Vegas. Can or could the NIAA make contingency plans for an alternate title-game sight when that happens?
You can’t look ahead like that. If you had just one game it could be done. If you don’t know who is going to be in the finals, you can’t just say let’s stop it and play it there (Northern Nevada). It’s unfortunate (when that happens). Another thing is the facility and set-up. Getting facilities is not that easy. To do that (have a contingency) you would have to expand the playoffs by a week
In terms of championships, why not have it half and half. Wouldn’t that help save money on travel?
If you look over the years, it’s half and half. There is usually one sport difference between Northern Nevada and Las Vegas. It’s balanced one year to the next.
The NIAA has a fairly extensive drug and alcohol policy. Do you see steroids as a threat in high school athletics in Nevada? Would drug testing be part of the plan?
Yes, I do see steroids as a threat. I’m not sure how we can monitor it. We could try to do it through education. I don’t know if drug testing is the answer. We are actively trying to put a summit on with 24-Hour Fitness. They (24-Hour Fitness) did one in California and said they would do one in Nevada.
If grants were out there to set up some sort of program, we’d be interested. It would have to be done as a district-to-district thing. We’d love the chance to get soemthing going like that statewide. Four districts are doing it now. People think it’s the greatest thing in the world. Some districts down’t want to be told what to do.
The NIAA is top-heavy with Division 1A, 2A and 4A schools, and very light in 3A schools. Do you see some shuffling within 2A and 3A?
It’s a battle. Some 2A schools will say some of the bigger schools are too big to be with them. You are not going to make everybody happy. Nobody wants to be in with the biggest schools. Everybody wants to be in the middle.