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Increased participation numbers catch Nevada programs off guard

Arbor View coach Matt Gerber was blown away by the interest in his program, with a possible school-record 256 students registered to play varsity, junior varsity or freshman football.

There was one problem. A big problem.

Not expecting such a surge in interest, Arbor View didn’t have enough equipment to accommodate so many players. About 80 players were cut because of a lack of shoulder pads, helmets and other items, Gerber said.

“When you’re turning that many kids away, that’s no fun,” Gerber said. “That sucks. But at the same time, I was the head coach at Durango for five years, and I remember having 85 kids for the entire program and trying to field three teams. So it’s a much better situation than that.”

And it’s not just at Arbor View. Football participation is up statewide.

According to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, about 7,075 students are playing at 98 schools statewide. That number is fluid because some players qualify late, and it doesn’t reflect charter or private schools such as Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.

Nevertheless, that’s a significant increase from the 6,132 students who played at 96 schools last year and more in line with pre-pandemic numbers. It compares especially favorably with 2018 when 7,083 students played for 96 schools. The number dropped dramatically to 4,861 at 94 schools in 2019, but that’s because the NIAA switched to a new reporting system that didn’t accurately capture the number of participants.

Liberty coach Rich Muraco said his program also had record numbers, with nearly 220 students registering for one of the three teams. That includes about 75 coming out for the freshman team, a significant jump after last season ended with only 28.

Liberty, Arbor View and other Class 5A programs have the luxury of being able to field freshman teams. That’s not always the case at lower-level programs.

“I think it’s more geographical,” Muraco said. “I know that there are still areas in town where they are struggling to field all three teams. I think finances play a large role in playing sports, unfortunately. That could affect maybe some of the less affluent areas and maybe why their participant rates aren’t as high.”

Class 4A Desert Oasis doesn’t have a freshman team this season — not because of a lack of players, but because of not enough coaches. Coach Brant Smith said it’s hard to find coaches for the volunteer positions when they also have to pay out of pocket to go through the necessary administrative steps to even step on the field.

He said about 130 students tried out, roughly 30 higher than in 2018 when Brant was an assistant coach. He said he makes a concerted effort to get students to try football, especially in the spring while looking ahead to the following season.

“We do a good job of trying to make it a fun atmosphere and get kids to try to be part of the school and get some buy-in,” Smith said. “I walk these halls and are, ‘Why aren’t you playing football?’ and “Why aren’t you playing football?’”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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