Anything you can do…
One look at the banners that grace the rafters in the Douglas High School gymnasium can give a pretty good picture of the quality of student athletics in Carson Valley over the last 100-plus years.
A closer look, however, tells a pretty interesting story.
The school has hung 27 banners given to programs that have won either a regional or state championship since joining the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association large-school classification in the early ’80s.
Of those, 21 belong to girls’ teams.
“You look at those banners, and you really have to take a second to think about how impressive it is,” Douglas girls’ basketball coach Werner Christen said. “We’ve just really been blessed with good girl athletes for a long, long time.”
Further, Douglas has claimed 41 titles in the school’s history. The boys have brought home 16 of those while the girls have accounted for 25.
The Douglas volleyball team claimed state titles in 1976, just four years on the heels of the Title IX education amendments that paved the way for equality between the sexes in education, and followed with another title the next season.
The girls’ basketball team claimed the state title in 1977, in just its second year of existence, and then volleyball again claimed the state title in 1978, giving the Lady Tigers four championships in the first six years of Title IX.
Softball followed with six titles in the next 25 years, and girls’ soccer, which has not missed the regional playoffs since the inception of the sport in the region, won two titles since 2000.
Considering that the major team sports for girls have only been around in Northern Nevada for a little more than 30 years, it would translate to a girls’ squad at Douglas winning a state or regional title once every 1.2 years.
In comparison, the boys have averaged a state or regional title about once every six years in the almost 100 years Douglas has fielded athletic teams in the county.
It’s no knock on the boys. They are widely considered to be one of the strongest athletic programs top to bottom in the region. It’s just that the girls around here have been very, very good.
So the question becomes, why? Why have the female athletes in Douglas County met with so much success?
Ask a wide range of people and expect a wide range of answers.
Exceptional feeder programs. Strong athletic tradition. Offseason specialization. Growing up around the teammates. Weaker competition. Less pressure. Theories that range from common sense to controversial, but it all leads back to the same conclusion: The ladies in orange and black have found an unspoken formula for success, and there’s no sign of it fizzling out any time soon.
Talk about women in sports for any length of time, and Title IX is bound to come up.
The national amendments in 1972 opened the door nationally for gender equality in the education system.
The crux of the movement was simply to open up the same number of opportunities to women that were already afforded to men.
Douglas, like every high school in the state, has a girls’ team for every sport the school participates in with the exception of football.
Through the winter sports season this year, there were 179 roster spots for girls at the school, compared to 266 for boys (keeping in mind that 50 percent of those came from football).
But it’s the equivalency in college sports opportunities that is more distinctive today.
There are 10,186 college athletic scholarships available nationally to men while there are 9,555 open to women.
That ends up being about 1.02 percent of high school senior boy student athletes that end up attending college on scholarship and 1.39 percent of high school senior girls.
Comparatively, there are 26 female athletes that graduated from Douglas participating in college sports this year, six at the Division I level.
There are 21 male athletes currently playing college sports with five at the Division I level.
Current Douglas girls’ soccer coach, Lorraine Fitzhugh, experienced the evolution of Title IX firsthand as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington in the early ’80s.
“Title IX was really the start for me,” Fitzhugh said. “I grew up playing club soccer, and we were able to get an intramural soccer club started up at Washington.”
Despite its intramural status, Washington went up against fledgling varsity programs from Washington State, Portland, Santa Clara, Cal-Berkeley and the like.
“We ended up winning all of our games, but because we were an intramural team, there was no postseason for us,” Fitzhugh said. “Our motto was ’18-0 and nowhere to go.'”
While Fitzhugh was at Washington, she helped found a group to establish the intramural club as a varsity sport.
“We tried to get funding independent of the football program, but the athletic director at the time didn’t go for it,” she said. “It finally ended up becoming a varsity sport under the next athletic director.”
After her experience in college, Fitzhugh made the U.S. Western Regional women’s team, where she played from 1985 to 1986 and made the national team in 1986 and ’87.
“For me, being able to play sports in college was crucial,” she said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was so instrumental to the development of my personality.
“Because I was able to play sports, I know that is the reason I finished my degree. Just the discipline and the perseverance that sports teach, those were so important to me.”
While Fitzhugh had to pound the pavement to find her college athletics experience, Christen said the opportunities are readily available today.
“The growing community college game is really opening things up to kids,” he said. “The Internet is opening up more opportunities, and the communication is just so much better.
“College coaches don’t have to span the globe to look for recruits anymore. The recruits literally get delivered to their desktop.”
“I’d absolutely agree with the idea that club sports are the road to the next level,” Fitzhugh said. “Especially in soccer. Some high school development squads can get you noticed by more college recruiters and it certainly prepares you for the next level of play.”
Offseason specialization is nothing new, but it certainly has become more prevalent around the Valley with summer AAU basketball programs, year-round traveling softball teams, spring soccer clubs and fall baseball teams.
The purpose is three-fold. Players gain valuable experience and extra practice time, they get to see higher levels of competition than they might on the Sierra League high school circuit and they get to play in front of plenty of recruiters.
That, coupled with private instructors and all-star camps and clinics, has boosted the quality of individual athletes coming through Douglas.
“When you start to travel, you see this other level,” Fitzhugh said. “I’ve found that after a while, kids are almost not used to winning. We actually have to push them to start thinking that they can win on the local level.”
While the argument can be made that this new wave of specialized athlete can close doors, its done nothing but benefit Christen’s basketball team.
“I’ve really had very few true basketball players,” he said. “All of my players always have something else going on. A lot of them never even touch a basketball between seasons.”
This year alone, nine of his 14 players played another sport in the fall and 11 total are involved in another sport during the course of the school year.
“We’re getting these pre-packaged athletes, and all we have to do is put a basketball in their hands,” he said. “All that off-the-floor stuff – the leadership, the intensity and the work ethic – is already there.”
Despite the low number of single-sport athletes, Christen’s squad has still made the playoffs five years running.
Must be something in the water …
Douglas has been strong across the board in both boys’ and girls’ programs for some time.
In the last three years alone, the school has produced 10 league champions, 11 regional semifinalists, seven regional runners-up, one regional champ and two state runners-up.
“You get these kids coming through here that have known each other since preschool, and they just know how to play together,” said Christen, who coached his team to a regional title and state runner-up finish in 2001. “One of the biggest parts of our success has been that we’ve had some teams with great chemistry. They just enjoyed each other on and off the floor.
“You get that in a lot of the sports here.”
“The first thing I always try to do as a coach is to establish that team unity,” she said. “It’s not as hard to do here. Around here, they get very familiar with each other growing up and playing on the same teams, so that helps.”
But certainly, it has to be more than just familiarity feeding the success.
“It’s a recreational area,” Fitzhugh said. “The programs here are very strong. Generally, you wouldn’t expect that from a more rural area, but there is so much to do here, kids just grow up more active.”
It can’t hurt that Carson Valley has an extensive network of feeder programs staffed with former professional athletes, college athletes, longtime coaches and, perhaps most importantly, former Douglas High graduates.
Fifteen Douglas graduates were on the Tigers’ various coaching staffs.
A shift in the tide?
For all the success the girls’ program has had in the last 30 years, it would seem that the gears are starting to shift slightly as more parity has developed across the region in women’s sports.
The increase in quality coaches in the area and the surplus of quality athletes living in the area have leveled out the playing field a bit.
This year, the Douglas volleyball team failed to win the Sierra League championship for the first time since the inception of the league, and the girls’ softball, basketball and soccer teams all had to wait until the final two or three games of the season before they made the playoffs.
The boys, on the other hand, claimed league titles in football and wrestling and had a regional runner-up finish in basketball.
Over the last three years, the girls still hold the edge in state competition and hold the school’s only regional title during that stretch.
The boys have produced five regional runners-up to the girls’ two, while each side has produced five league champions.
The girls’ still hold the edge in overall and league winning percentages with .667 and .748 marks respectively compared to the boys’ .644 and .710.
Each side has produced seven league players of the year and three coaches of the year. The boys have had 49 first team All-Sierra Leaguers, compared to 39 for the girls.
Regardless of the gender, however, it remains that Douglas is among the most successful athletic programs in the region. Judging by the school’s recent $2 million renovation to the athletic facilities and the widespread success in the youth sports programs, there’s plenty of reason to believe it will only get better.
(Through 2006-07 winter sports)
Sierra League champions
Sierra League runners-up
286-132-9 (.667) 248-129-8 (.644)
Sierra League record
155-46-6 (.748) 140-54-3 (.710)
Sierra League Players of the Year
Sierra League Coach of the Year
Sierra League 1st Teamers
Athletes playing college sports this year
Athletes playing Division I-A sports this year