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Truckee’s toughest fight

JAMES BALL, Sierra Sun

Be afraid: be very, very afraid. There is a new group with the notion of booting Tahoe-Truckee and North Tahoe high schools out of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) and, this time, they are prepared to take it all the way to the Nevada State Legislature to get it done.

Just when Truckee fans thought they could rest easy in the Nevada-based NIAA, here comes the Nevada Coalition for Nevada High School Athletes.

The NCNHSA is headed up by Moapa Valley High School football coach Jeff Knutson, who is blunt about his feelings toward non-Nevada schools in the NIAA.

“If they’re not a Nevada school, they shouldn’t be able to call themselves the Nevada state champions,” Knutson said in a telephone interview Monday.

And beginning this week, Truckee should prepare itself for statewide and national scrutiny, as Sports illustrated runs a short feature on the whole NIAA affair, slated to be in today’s issue.

“We’re calling every state in the nation to see if any of them have something like this (interstate championship play) and we’ve verified 30 of them that don’t. We’re determined to make Nevada the 50th and final state not to do this,” said Knutson, a lifelong Nevada resident.

Knutson said he is aware Truckee and North Tahoe were initially invited in to the NIAA 18 years ago, but that it doesn’t matter.

“I feel that was a mistake from the start,” he said. “There are virtually no coaches or parents I’ve ever talked to who thought it was right. For every one who thinks it’s right, I can show you hundreds who think it’s wrong.”

For now, the NIAA prefers to take a diplomatic approach.

NIAA spokesman Donnie Nelson said, “This office considers Truckee to be a part of the NIAA family, but it also represents the wishes of member schools.”

In other words, the NIAA will go along with the consensus, whatever it may be.

But that may not matter, because Knutson’s group is ready, should a vote fail, to supercede the NIAA and go straight to the Nevada State Legislature in Carson City to have Truckee and all other non-Nevada schools legally removed from the league.

“We’ve already talked to our legislator,” Knutson said. “I feel we have support there, but we have to back up the things we’ve told him.”

Knutson’s group is in the process of collecting statewide petitions, which he hopes to present to member schools at the winter basketball meetings in Reno, just six weeks away.

“If we’re wrong, then we’ll back off, but I think there’s an overwhelming amount of people who are for this.”

Apparently, the first vote, orchestrated by Fernley High School, was an informal interest survey, rather than an official vote, and not all interested parties were surveyed.

Moapa Valley was not included in the first survey last November.

There is no precedent for this case, so there are varying opinions within the league on how to go about such an ousting.

While it seemed the last vote had put the issue to rest, Knutson said the exclusion of several key schools rendered it void.

He also said he thought the initial vote failed because most surveyed thought Fernley was crying sour grapes over having lost to Truckee one too many times.

Still, Moapa Valley was knocked out of contention in playoff rounds of both soccer and football by Truckee this fall.

“To say it wasn’t about that would be a lie, and it is a catalyst for action. (NIAA’s California-based) Coleville has been tolerated because they haven’t won,” Knutson said.

Another issue he said has driven the most recent move is the behavior of Truckee fans at home and away games.

“Sportsmanship is not a reason to kick someone out, but I feel their sportsmanship has caused some animosity toward them.”

Knutson admitted there was no taunting or late hitting in the most recent Truckee/Moapa Valley meeting.

Knutson countered Truckee’s argument that it is in the league for travel purposes.

“If Donner Summit and I-80 are so dangerous to travel, how can Tahoe casinos and ski resorts bring up so many people every weekend?” Knutson asked. “You don’t see people dying left and right up there.”

Despite everything, Knutson said he has respect for Truckee football coach Bob Shaffer and principal Dennis LeBlanc.

“Shaffer is a great coach and he’s proven that. It’s not a personal thing; they’ve kicked my butt many times, but the bottom line is, if you’re not Nevadans, you shouldn’t be the Nevada state champs.”

LeBlanc is taking the threat seriously.

“Sure, they have a chance,” he said.

But LeBlanc said he still doesn’t quite understand the rationale behind the move and questioned the timing.

“Bob Shaffer made a point yesterday, saying you don’t hear anything about South Tahoe in the 4A or Needles in the 2A or Coleville in the 1A. It’s only 3A football coaches complaining,” LeBlanc said. He also said the sportsmanship issue can be a problem on both sides of the field.

“We’ve chosen not to complain about sportsmanship on the other side of the field or court because that’s their school and they need to take care of it.”

LeBlanc said a concerted effort is being made to educate Truckee fans and athletes on good sportsmanship but, for now, Truckee’s future in the NIAA is a more immediate concern.

So will Truckee be in a California league this time next year?

“We’re not planning on it, but stranger things have happened.”

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