Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer start 2014 off with a look around the valley's high school basketball scene. They discuss the loaded Northeast division, Centennial's hot start and Bishop Gorman's three-peat prospects.
It was a scene played out on baseball sandlots decades ago. Just not in high school baseball in 2014.
When one team was done playing in the field, it would leave catcher’s equipment and gloves for the other team to use during its turn on defense. And players on opposing teams used the same bat, operating under the mentality of going to any measure to get a game in.
That’s the philosophy first-year Sunrise Mountain High coach Nick Grove plans to use this spring. It’s not by choice.
His team has virtually no equipment because an on-campus storage unit holding its gear was broken into this summer. Burglars took everything of value, including bats, balls, gloves, helmets, equipment to maintain the field and bases in a score estimated at $10,000.
They even took the wheels off the protective screen used for batting practice, leaving just a few unusable items such as batting helmets with no padding. Coaches salvaged enough to nearly piece together one full set of catcher’s gear, using different-colored shin guards and a worn-out chest projector, but couldn’t find a face mask. They also have four quality helmets.
But, because the Clark County School District’s insurance company deemed the break-in was an inside job, the school’s claim was denied, officials said.
The lock securing the shed, which is directly behind home plate at the northeast Las Vegas school, wasn’t tampered with. Burglars likely had a key or picked the lock, officials said.
A similar shed about 100 yards away at the school’s softball field was untouched, further validating the claim it was an inside job. A similar break-in two summers ago cost the program mostly helmets and balls, which were replaced. In that break-in, the lock was cut.
“You have to play the hand you are dealt,” Grove said. “The main thing that we stress to the kids is we are going to fight through and find a way because that is what I expect them to do.”
Grove inherited the program this past summer, knowing it was going to be a project transforming a team of seasonal players into a competitive team. The Miners went 6-14 last season and have just one playoff appearance in the school’s five-year history.
He also knew the Miners’ field needed heavy work because its pitcher’s mound was too high and wild grass had begun to grow on dirt in the base paths and other spots in the infield. That was the least of his problems.
Having seen the poor shape of the facility, he was anxious to take inventory of the gear, fearing it would be equally as bad.
Turns out, he had little to inventory.
During one of their morning work sessions at the field, one of his assistants noticed the shed was unlocked and opened the metal unit to find virtually nothing inside. Fortunately, the team’s uniforms were stored inside the school, but the Miners are significantly behind other programs and in jeopardy of not being able to offer a satisfactory experience to the 30 to 40 players in the program’s two teams.
“I feel a little hurt. I do feel it was an inside job,” said Bryce Durham, a Sunrise Mountain senior outfielder. “Why would someone (close to the team) come out and do something to hurt our field? It makes me mad because we might not be able to get a good season in this year.”
Most schools across Southern Nevada are one month into daily involuntary practices for the season, which begins in early March. Sunrise Mountain isn’t as fortunate — the Miners were left with just one base after the break-in.
Grove donated two buckets of balls and a hitting tee, but it’s still not enough to conduct a complete practice. Durham has a few bats the entire team shares, which is problematic because he’s 6-foot-1 and a majority of the players on the team are smaller.
Burglars tried to take the netting off the batting cages near the field, but because the nets were secured with metal clamps, they couldn’t pull it down. Instead, they damaged the nets, making the cages useless until the tangled nets are reattached. It’s a project estimated around $1,000.
Grove knew it was time to limit workouts when one player arrived with a narrow, wooden, youth bat. They aren’t legal in high school, where everyone uses an aluminum bat.
A good bat runs $250 to 400; a ball used on game days costs $4.50. At the area’s upscale high schools such as Coronado or Centennial, most players have their own bat, if not multiple bats.
At Sunrise Mountain, which is north of Lake Mead Boulevard and east of Nellis Boulevard in one of Las Vegas’ poorest neighborhoods, players often don’t have the resources to purchase cleats. Rarely do any of the school’s athletic teams ask a player to come up with money, which is common at other schools. They can’t ask alumni for help because the school opened in 2009.
It’s not surprising that Sunrise Mountain struggles at most sports, meaning it often takes a different approach to fielding teams — cuts are made only in basketball.
“At Sunrise Mountain, we have to do a lot of teaching the sports instead of playing the sport,” said George Knatz, the Sunrise Mountain athletic director.
The baseball program, like all of the 30-plus public school baseball teams in Southern Nevada, receives $1,000 each season from the district. That money typically is for new hats, socks and practice shirts. But Grove held off using the funds until Wednesday, when the program was given $3,000 from the turnaround project it is part of.
Sunrise Mountain was one of the lowest-performing high schools in the district last school year based on test scores, meaning it was given "turnaround status." With federal money, the district is trying to improve facilities, test scores and student morale — a sort of ultimate school makeover. There’s a new principal and staff, and students say it’s a better place.
It’s just one of the many hurdles involved in fielding athletic teams. Others include a starter on the basketball team quitting because he found a job at a fast-food joint after becoming a father and administrators coordinating with the Regional Transportation Commission to secure bus passes for athletes so they can attend offseason practices when the school bus system is dormant.
That partially explains why Grove, who coached last season at Shadow Ridge, was so excited to come to Sunrise Mountain as part of the project. His father was a high school coach in Williamsport, Pa., and he learned at an early age about the life lessons taught through athletics. Losing the gear is another one of those teaching moments. He’s determined to give the players a worthwhile season, even if that includes playing with borrowed gear.
“I would hate to show up to a game with two bats that the players own and have four helmets, and have our (junior varsity) team borrow helmets from the other team,” Grove said. “We would find a way to plow through and play it. It’s no guarantee we would be successful, but my kids will compete, I’ll tell you that.
“You get to teach youngsters a life lesson about how important it is to value things you do have. Right now, it seems like sometimes when you are down you keep getting kicked. But you can also view in a positive way that it's a reason to pull together. That when you get on the field, you cherish the time and get better.”
Visit sunrisemountainhs.com to make a donation or contact Assistant Principal Mark Lowry at 799-7207, Ext 4207.