I'm not sure who is putting that idea out to people, but it is out there nevertheless. I've heard it from multiple high school coaches in the area. I've heard it from other local media types. So when I heard it again last week, I thought I'd go straight to the source and ask about the validity of the rumor.
Doug Voelz is a long-time Sertoma Club board member and at the end of June he wrapped up his term as the club's president. I asked him straight out if the club was planning to end its sponsorship of the game. He told me in no uncertain terms that was not the case. In fact, he said the club won't even start its review and evaluation of the past game until the fall.
He further added that it was just his personal opinion but that he did expect the club to host a 2014 game next summer as usual.
With all that being said, here's what I know to be true. Sparks Sertoma, like many service clubs around the country, has an aging membership. It would like to see its membership increase and get younger. Thus, it's got to be harder each year on a small club to put the event together. I'm sure more and more of its members are being asked to do more for the game's preparation each year and that's probably more taxing than ever.
Secondly, and perhaps the bigger issue, is the game is seeing a growing number of invited athletes choose not to play. Voelz said in recent years as much as 20-to-25 percent of the invited players have skipped out. He added that the club counts on 10-to-12 paying fans per participating player. So when players bail out on competing in the contest, the club loses money.
For a club that relies on the event as its biggest fundraiser annually, that's a big issue.
Another growing problem has been finding coaching staffs willing to volunteer a week of their time to work the event. All three coaches from Sparks-area teams have certainly done their part. Sparks coach Rob Kittrell coached a team in 1999 and 2007. Reed coach Ernie Howren coached in 2005 and 2012. Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare coached in 2011.
"The time commitment is not easy," Howren said. "It is rewarding. I've been happy
every time our Raiders staff has done it. We did it a couple years ago and I'd like to see more coaching staffs take on that responsibility before we do it again."
Hare pointed out the biggest challenge to coaching the event is that staffs pull double days because they host a daily summer workout for their own programs and then a daily Sertoma team practice during the week of the game. That time and energy adds up.
The issue of dwindling player participation is two-fold. The first is overall importance of the game. Hare said he's spoken with coaching colleagues in the Bay Area and northern California and they too are seeing waning interest from all-star caliber players.
"This is not a Reno-area issue," Hare said. "I've talked to coaching friends around Sacramento and Monterey. The all-star games in general don't have the same priority with kids. Fifteen years ago, if you were asked to play, you put everything else on the back burner. That game was prestigious to them."
Howren too admitted that's part of the problem, but he also said local coaching staffs must make Sertoma participation a priority if they expect kids to do so.
"Like anything else, it has to start with each individual school," the Reed gridiron guru said. "Each school should be pushing kids to make sure they commit to it. We work hard with our kids on it. We make sure they're on track to graduate, make sure they're not going on a senior trip. We tell them each school has a maximum amount of players that can participate, so if you commit and choose not to play, that takes a spot away from one of your teammates. We're lucky. We've had some very good players and everyone is participating."
Many people think changing the date of the event will help player participation. I don't agree. Anywhere you move the game brings up different issues, whether it be conflicts with academics and testing or other sports. The time in mid June is as good as any other time.
I do however think there are ways to spruce up interest in the all-star game. The games features the top graduated seniors from Div I, Div. I-A and Div. III programs. I'd host a game pitting only D-I North players. I'd host a second all-star game, possibly in Winnemucca, pitting the top small school players from across the North. This is the way I've seen it done in other states in the region.
I realize Sparks Sertoma can't realistically hot two games, but it could host one here with the big schools and my guess is another group might look to host a small school all-star game, somewhere in central Nevada makes the most sense.
A large school game that pits High Desert League all-stars against Sierra League all-stars would draw more player interest. Pride would be on the on the line and you can bet local coaches would promote that kind of game with more veracity.
An all-star game with top 40 or so players from D-I North schools against a southern Nevada all-star team would be interesting. There would be logistics and finances to work out, but a game like that would definitely draw player interest and fan support. I'm guessing you could sell out a venue like Damonte Ranch High School and be left with standing room only seats.
The Sertoma game could probably stand to be tweaked a bit to draw more interest, but it has a place. At the very least, it's a fun event hosted by a great group of people who do great things with the money raised. An event like that always has a place.
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune's Managing/Sports Editor. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org