Nenzel named to NIAA Hall of Fame
Chris Nenzel couldn’t help but smile as he browsed through biographies of seven men who were inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) Hall of Fame Friday in Reno.
Nenzel, 61, of Gardnerville, was one of the seven men recognized for his contributions to high school athletics at the Hall of Fame Luncheon at Lawlor Events Center.
“This is like old-home week,” said Nenzel, who put in 33 years as an athlete, coach and administrator in Nevada. “I could tell you stories about all of them.
“Grant Crutchley and I went to school together in Elko. Joe de Arrieta went to school (at Humboldt County High School in Winnemucca) about the same time, although he’s a couple of years younger. And Roy Smith was my first principal in Wells.”
Mike Fesenmaier, Frank Guisti and Rick Traasdahl complete the list of inductees.
It’s a small world after all, especially in Nevada.
“Going to school in Elko in the mid-1950s was an ideal experience,” said Nenzel, a third-generation Nevadan. “My freshman year, Elko lost to Reno for the state championship; my sophomore year, we beat White Pine for the state championship; my junior year, we were co-champions with White Pine; and my senior year, we lost by one touchdown to Boulder City down in Las Vegas.”
Small-town athletics offers an atmosphere that is truly special, Nenzel believes.
“Towns that have one high school, that’s the heart of Nevada athletics,” Nenzel said. “The Austins, the Eurekas, the Wellses, the Elkos, those are all places where the community is really closely associated with the high school. There’s a certain continuity as far as everybody in town pulling together to support their high school, and I’ve seen towns where it seems like the community is never quite as cohesive once a second high school is built.”
The Wells Leopards have always been important in their small community, located near the Utah border.
“In Wells, if the basketball team made it to the state tournament, the businesses in town would all hang a sign in the window, ‘Closed until after the state tournament,’ and everyone would pack up and go watch the games. It’s still that way, too.”
Nenzel had another story that predates even his playing days in eastern Nevada.
“Way back when, the state tournament was always held in Reno and all the schools played in one division, so conceivably you could have Reno and Lund playing for the state championship,” Nenzel said. “Back then, everybody from the east traveled by train. It would start in Montello, pick up the team and fans from Montello High School, then pass through Wells, Carlin and Elko, and by the time the train got to Reno, it was filled with teams and fans, all traveling together.”
Nenzel was a more than fair athlete himself. A three-sport athlete (football, basketball, track and field) at Elko High School before graduating in 1956, he was twice honored as an all-state football player, plus he set school records in the pole vault and the shot put (his shot put record stood for 37 years). He accepted a football scholarship from the University of Utah but later transferred to Nevada, where he earned All-Far West Conference honors in 1959 and ’60. He graduated from Nevada in 1961 with a degree in education.
Nenzel began teaching in 1961, but had a difficult time finding a place where he could also pursue his love for coaching in the Reno/Sparks area.
“At that time, there were only three high schools – Reno, Sparks and Bishop Manogue – and there was a waiting list of five years just to be an assistant coach,” said Nenzel, who did coach one year at Traner Junior High School.
He discovered coaches were needed – and welcomed – in rural Nevada.
“Out in the small towns, there were plenty of opportunities for coaches,” Nenzel said. “Those were great places to coach. Take Grant Crutchley. You think, why would anybody want to stay in Eureka for 30 years, but Grant was a great teacher and great coach, and the people in the community were appreciative of that.”
Nenzel coached football at Fernley, where he compiled a 12-4 record over two seasons with a state title in 1964. That was followed by a stay in Wells, where his football teams went 60-20 between 1965 and ’74. The Leopards went 8-1 in 1968, losing only to Whittell 6-0 in what amounted to the Class A state championship game.
“Whittell went down and killed Moapa Valley to win the state championship that year, so our game basically involved the two best teams,” Nenzel said. “It was one of those deals where the two teams could have played 10 times and we would have won five times and they would have won five times. They were that good and so were we.”
Nenzel wrapped up his football coaching career in 1975 when he returned home to coach Elko to an 8-1 record and runner-up finish in the old 2A division.
Nenzel received his masters degree in school administration and came to Douglas County in 1976, where he spent 15 years as both principal and vice-principal at Douglas and Whittell high schools, Gardnerville Elementary and Jacks Valley Elementary.
Nenzel and his wife Virginia, who have been married for 38 years, spend their time these days operating the Nenzel Mansion bed and breakfast in Gardnerville, though he has returned to education as a substitute teacher.
The Nenzels have four children – Mike (deceased), Franz (now living and teaching at Galena High School in Reno), Joe and Valorie (who still reside in the Carson Valley), and two grandchildren.
Notes … De Arrieta went on to coach at Tahoe-Truckee High School – he was Pioneer League Coach of the Year during the 1970-71 boys basketball season after coaching the Wolverines to a 29-4 record. De Arrieta retired after serving as assistant superintendent for the Humboldt County School District from 1986-98. “Joe was a great athlete,” Nenzel said. “I saw him set a course record at Stead (Golf Course) one day. He shot 30 or 31 … I was somewhere in the 80s. Every hole he was putting for a birdie or eagle, and I was out in the sagebrush beating on rabbits.” … Fesenmaier began his coaching and teaching career at Smith Valley High School in 1963 and he coached until 1992, highlighted by 13 state track and field championships and five 8-man state football titles. Fesenmaier also served as a basketball official for 28 years … Giusti, who passed away in October, 1998, played on three state championship teams (two baseball and one basketball) for Churchill County High School (Fallon) and later coached the Greenwave to a state baseball title in 1967 … Smith spent 29 years with Elko County schools as teacher, coach, administrator, counselor, principal and superintendent. At Wells between 1953-64, there were years when he alone was the school’s entire athletic department staff …