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Gorman’s public-school victims have grudging respect for Gaels

When he was the dean of Las Vegas high school basketball coaches, Al La Rocque lost a lot of tough games to Bishop Gorman. His teams at Western and Durango also won some that were just as difficult.

The Gaels were the team La Rocque most liked to beat. They also were the opponent he most respected.

“We played Gorman in the last game at their old gym (on Maryland Parkway),” La Rocque recalled. He sent his assistant coaches to the locker room at halftime to make adjustments, but he remained on the court.

“I stayed out because all the Gorman (stars) over the years came back, and I wanted to see them again,” he said.

La Rocque won two state basketball titles at Durango, but the hurt from a triple-overtime loss to Gorman lingers still. “I could tell you every play,” he said.

With 27 years as a high school coach, Arbor View football coach Matt Gerber also has lost more than his share of games to Gorman. A few were in triple overtime. And maybe, just maybe, the gap between Gorman and everyone else in Nevada is closing.

“You see what Liberty has done,” Gerber said of the reigning Nevada state champs having halted the Gaels’ 115-game winning streak against in-state opponents in 2019. “You can definitely say it has gotten a little better than it was 10 years ago.

“But there’s still a big disparity between the advantages Gorman has as a private school compared to the public schools. There’s nothing that can really change that. They and the private schools get to play by a different set of rules.”

Not literally, of course, as Gorman and the public schools abide by the same Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association regulations.

But that hasn’t prevented those who have grown tired of Gorman’s dominance from complaining about it behind closed doors and occasionally in open forums.

Animus may have peaked in 2012 when the NIAA briefly considered not allowing Bishop Gorman to compete for state championships. But with critics having seemingly accepted that there simply aren’t enough large private schools in Nevada that could join Gorman in forming a league of its own, the furor seems to have subsided.

“As CCSD teams and coaches, we’ve been dealing with this a long time. There was a big push when their new school opened to take it to a national level, and they’ve done a fantastic job with it,” Gerber said, adding that Gorman also warrants credit for helping local standouts attain athletic scholarships by attracting college recruiters to Las Vegas.

Rich Muraco, the mastermind of Liberty’s overtime victory in the 2019 state semifinals, believes the recent formation of a 5A class that includes Gorman and about a dozen of the most successful previous Southern Nevada 4A programs, including Liberty, is a step toward a more level playing field.

“There are a lot of teams in town who look at the schedule and say we’re not going to beat Gorman, we’re not going to beat Liberty, so our season doesn’t really matter,” Muraco said. “(The separation) gives teams hope, and I think it’s going to help those programs grow.”

But regardless of how the schools are aligned, Bishop Gorman remains the program by which all others in Las Vegas will be measured.

“Everybody thinks I’m a Gorman basher because we battled (so fiercely),” La Rocque said. “What I don’t like is for them to think I don’t like them. For me, it was the thrill of the competition. If you’re going to be a high school coach, does it get any better than playing Gorman at Gorman?

“Win, lose or draw, it never did get any better than that.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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