Garis does a balancing act for Southern Nevada

Bill Garis has one of the most unique balancing acts in southern Nevada.

As the student athletics and activities director for Clark County School District, Garis oversees the logistics for junior and senior high school athletic programs in the nation's fifth largest district.

The long time Clark County educator handles an athletic budget of $4.5 million for approximately 33 high schools (27 4A high schools) and 47 middle schools and ensures that sports schedules are met and teams are transported. The annual cost primarily includes security, transportation, officials and equipment.

After Garis became the athletics and activities director 18 months ago, he inherited a firestorm. Talks of southern Nevada seceding from the rest of the state had been commonplace for almost seven years.

Because of spiraling costs, some Clark County School District officials made noise about creating a Southern 5A in order to reduce costs and to keep the 4A teams in Clark County for state championship contests. Although the idea fizzled, Garis said the idea was to notify others around the state that a problem existed.

"In some respects it was a cry for help. Sometimes, the issue (increasing costs) falls on deaf ears to those who don't control the money. We needed to get people's attention."

Whatever came out of some of those preliminary discussions echoed around every corner of the state. As a result of Clark County School District's trying to hold down costs, the rest of the state including the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association's board of control began to listen.

To Garis, they became all ears. Talks of the 4A schools in Clark County bolting for a Southern 5A dissolved. Also, if Clark County wanted a statewide 5A conference because of enrollment figures, only Northern Nevada high schools Reed and Carson high school with enrollments of more than 2,300 would qualify. Garis said that's unrealistic.

"Most of our high schools range from 2,600 to 3,300 students," Garis pointed out.

The only exception is Bishop Gorman, a private Catholic high school with an enrollment of 1,000.

So the NIAA's board of control reached a compromise.

"The last realignment limiting participants in the state tournaments has helped us a lot," Garis, who attended this year's state wrestling tournament at Winnemucca.

With five different wrestling mats before him, Garis sat on a platform surveying the action involving three different leagues, all with competitors vying for a state championship.

Even though each region could send only the top three qualifiers from each weight class, Cimarron-Memorial's co-wrestling coach Mike Garcia didn't see the state 4A event watered down.

"It's important to keep it tough," he said of the current format.

Garcia, whose team won its third straight 4A championship, said any talk of splitting into a 5A conference has died down considerably from two years ago.

"Actually, I haven't heard any discussion," he said.

Garcia said keeping the current alignment of teams in the 4A is important, no matter which team or conference dominates.

"We're representing all of Nevada. That's what it is all about," he stressed.

Fallon's Mitch Overlie guided his team to a third place finish at the state wrestling tournament. He feels a separate 5A conference would be detrimental.

"Travel and other costs aside, the spirit of competition and our state credibility will take a hit with a 5A split," he said.

Roger Ewan, athletic director of Durango High School in Las Vegas, said coaches and athletic directors are split 50-50 about a 5A league.

"Some coaches would like to see us have 5A here and 4A in northern Nevada. Then, the two champions meet," he said.

Ewan, who has been his school's athletic director for seven years, favors the current 4A structure; nevertheless, he would like to see the number of teams qualifying for state tournaments increase.

"I would rather see more teams in the tournament...four down here and four up there. We would get more fans and more excitement," he said.

To Garis, he also loves seeing competition; unfortunately, the tightening financial picture is making it harder for more athletes to savor the thrill of statewide competition.

Part of the realignment in order to reduce costs was moving this year's state basketball tournament to Las Vegas. Since the 1989, the tournament had been held in Reno, thus forcing southern Nevada 4A teams to make the yearly trek to Reno.

"Basketball was held in Reno because of better attendance," said Donnie Nelson, public relations director for the NIAA. "The 1987 and 89 tournaments in Las Vegas did not draw well."

As a tradeoff for having the state basketball tournament in Reno, Nelson said the NIAA awarded the state football games to southern Nevada. That arrangement lasted for 11 years.

Other sports are now be played annually on a rotational basis between southern and northern Nevada sites. This way teams don't have the constant, yearly burden of traveling 400 miles from one end of the state to the other.

Garis said the idea of alternating between sites will particularly help his district sports such as track.

"Track is one of our most expensive events," explained Garis.

To send track qualifiers to a state meet in Reno, Garis said the expenditure easily runs between $40,000 to $50,000. Nelson said track definitely has the largest contingency of athletes competing. There are 32 events from both the boys and girls divisions with each event qualifying three athletes.

Every year when Reno hosted the state basketball tournaments, Garis said the expenditures for sending teams cost approximately $25,000. Now, with rotating sites, Clark County will be able to save much of that money this year since the state tournament is being held in Las Vegas for the first time in 16 years.

Nelson said in the past, Lawlor Events Center gave the NIAA a good rate and provided additional meeting rooms for the Hall of Fame banquet and league meetings.

"We now have an arena in Las Vegas that can do the same thing," Nelson said.

Garis said athletes still look forward to championship games that represent the entire state. He feels a regional championship set up like the larger populated states (i.e. California or Texas) would not be healthy.

One thing he would like to see is the number of teams slightly increased for the tournaments. Currently, because of the rotation set up by the NIAA only two basketball teams from the Northern 4A, one boys and one girls, will advance to the state championships. Garis would like to see the number evened among the three regions.

"Some sports are easier to do. We run into a consistency issue," Garis added.

What became too cost prohibitive was having four, sometimes five to six teams qualify for state tournaments.

"That also added to the costs," Nelson said.

As for the future of athletics in Nevada, Garis envisions a healthier climate despite how money drives the athletic budget. Because of the increasing number of high schools in Clark County, Garis said the Southern 4A could add another region in several years; however, nothing is imminent.

"We have a healthy group of schools with positive changes going on," he said.

Ewan agrees. With the economy getting stronger, he also sees a stronger athletic program for Clark County.

"It's just a matter of time," he said, "just a matter of time..."

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