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Declining player participation becomes a challenge for Sertoma Classic
by Dan Eckles
Jul 05, 2013 | 1360 views | 0 0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photos - Reed standouts Christian Thompson (2010 graduate above) and AJ Silva (2012 graduate below) have participated with great enthusiasm in the annual Sertoma Classic all-star football classic in recent years, but overall player participation has dipped.
Tribune file photos - Reed standouts Christian Thompson (2010 graduate above) and AJ Silva (2012 graduate below) have participated with great enthusiasm in the annual Sertoma Classic all-star football classic in recent years, but overall player participation has dipped.
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The Sertoma Classic all-star football game has been a staple in the Truckee Meadows since 1982. However, some fans of the annual early summer gridiron battle, that pits the top graduated high school football players from northern Nevada, fear its days may be numbered. More than one prep football coach has said he's heard rumors of the game's demise.

The game is hosted by the Sparks Sertoma Club. The all-star affair is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the local civic group. Doug Voelz has been a long-time Sertoma board member and just completed his term as the club's president. He fell far short of saying the club had decided to stop hosting the game, traditionally held in mid-June.

"We evaluate the game every year and we have not even started those discussions yet," Voelz said. "We'll probably start that in early fall and I'm assuming we'll move forward with the game again. We do look at it every year but it has gotten a little harder to pull off and feel like we've got a quality product for the community."

Voelz cited waning player commitment in recent years as the game's biggest challenge. He pointed out that every year each team selects 50 players to participate in the game. However, there is no alternate list. Thus when players choose not to participate, that translates into fewer gate receipts.

In the last five years, as much as 25 percent of potential athletes have chosen not to play.

"The reality is we make our money at the gate," Voelz said. "Through the years, we've seen almost a direct relationship, that there's roughly 10-to-12 people there to watch for each player. So if that many kids choose not to play, then maybe 300 fewer people are in the seats. That means $2,000-$3,000 less income than in past years."

The drop in income means a decrease in the funds the club can disperse to it's charities. Obviously, if the game cannot prove to be a viable enough fundraising entity, then the club could choose to look at other options.

"We'll ask ourselves, 'do we want to do it again?' If the answer is yes, then we've got to ask, 'what can we do for the kids and the community to make it a good fundraiser for us,'" Voelz said. "The literature we send to the high schools in December asks coaches to talk to their players and nominate players to see if they're interested and to make sure they're available if selected."

Most local high school coaches agree that a decline in players participating is frustrating. Spanish Springs High football coach Scott Hare said all of his players selected to participate in the 2012 game chose not to play.

"Last year, every Spanish Springs kid bailed," Hare said. "They all had legitimate reasons but the truth is other things in their lives take precedent. I don't begrudge the kids for their reasons, but 15 years ago, that didn't happen. Fifteen years ago, if you were asked to play, you put everything else on the back burner … It can put your program in a bad spot."

Sparks High coach Rob Kittrell echoed those sentiments.

"Last year we had two kids who were both excited about being in the game," Kittrell said. "Then the week of the game comes and they don't want to do it for whatever reason. That's frustrating as a coach."

In addition to finding athletes that want to play in the game, finding coaching staffs to coach the two teams ever year can be a tougher task than one would expect as well.

"It is tough to coach the game," said Hare, who coached the Silver team to a 14-3 win in 2011. "You're asking families to do double days in the middle of summer because you coach your own team's summer workout in the morning and then the Sertoma practice later in the day. That's tough on the family."

The timing of the game is one factor Voelz admits the club has considered. The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association governs prep sports in the Silver State. It has had a long-standing rule that all-star games could not be played during the school year, but it has been forced to abolish that rule due to a bill passed last spring by the Legislature.

"Is it the night and time of the year?" Voelz wondered. "Is it in competition with the rodeo? Is it in competition with kids going on senior trips? We've got to figure that out and make sure there's enough enthusiasm.

"Our club loves doing it and I suspect we'll keep doing it, but ultimately it is a fundraiser that our club needs to still do good things in the community … There's a number of things to talk about and we have these talks every year."
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