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How has Gorman done it? Facilities, resources, vision

So how did it happen? How did Bishop Gorman go from being pretty good in sports to totally awesome, from state champs to mythical national champions in football and national contenders in basketball?

It’s a long story. It didn’t happen overnight.

After winning the 1983 Nevada big school state football title capping a run of four championships in five years, the Gaels didn’t win another until 2007 — a span of 23 seasons.

During the final 11 years of the dry spell, the Gaels only made it to the state’s final four one time.

But after hoisting the state championship banner in 2007 but not repeating in 2008, Gorman embarked on an unprecedented run of 10 consecutive state football titles before suffering a stunning loss to Liberty in the 2019 state semifinals.

The Gaels’ boys basketball team — which with 22 state championships to football’s 17 has been the more consistent winner among Gorman’s juggernaut programs — has won eight state titles in a row and 11 of the past 12.

The Gaels usually if not always have been pretty good.

“But not like they are right now,” said Al La Rocque, the former dean of Southern Nevada high school basketball coaches and a longtime observer of the local prep scene. “They kind of dominate all sports right now.”

The foundation

The turnaround began as the city of Las Vegas began to change.

“The city is much different now,” said Mike Adras, who played on two state basketball championship teams at Gorman and coached the Gaels to two more when there were only 10 big high schools in Las Vegas “that were fairly competitive with each other across the board.”

There were mostly only mini-dynasties when he played and coached, Adras said. Rodger Fairless at Valley and later Green Valley in baseball. Bill Bobier and Sherrill Stephens in basketball and Jimmy May in wrestling at Eldorado were the coaching icons who emerged when every high school in Las Vegas was basically the same size.

But when the city started to grow and spread during the late 1980s, the population base shifted to the outskirts of town where the new high schools and master-planned communities were being built. Enrollment at those schools swelled while those in the middle grew stagnate or shrank.

In a relatively short time, the competitive balance in sports also shifted to the bigger, newer schools. Then Bishop Gorman built a school of its own.

In 2007, the Gorman campus moved from cramped confines on Maryland Parkway in the gritty city center to a sprawling 36-acre campus in upscale Summerlin and a 187,000-square-foot school that cost $96 million to build.

Combined with its private school status, tuition revenues and tradition, the new school put Gorman in an ideal position to improve its profile at roughly the same time its football and basketball programs were returning to form.

“I see Gorman as being comparable to Gonzaga in basketball,” Adras said. “Once they started to win, they started to invest in themselves. That’s what Gorman does. Gorman invests in itself.

“There are a lot of people running casinos, running city offices, state offices that have a strong tie to Gorman High School. It builds over the years. That’s what Gonzaga did. It’s those people that dare to be bold” that achieve success.

So, Adras was asked, if there was one person who dared to be more bold than the ones writing the checks for the new school and state-of-the-art training center and the other tangibles that have led to Gorman achieving so much athletic success that it has evolved into a national powerhouse, who would that be?

“My guess would be Tony Sanchez,” he said.

Man with the plan

Gorman’s football renaissance actually began with a coach named Bob Altshuler. Altshuler guided the Gaels to a 38-17 state championship victory over McQueen shortly after the doors at the new school opened and a 26-2 record in his two seasons before he was surprisingly fired.

“It wasn’t a good fit,” said Dan Dolby, one of Altshuler’s assistants who was retained by Sanchez after Sanchez had turned around California High, a public school in the East Bay where he grew up.

“I really think that ’07 team was the catalyst. I think there was a good base built, but Tony took it to the next level. I give Tony a ton of credit for his vision and the things he was able to implement.”

At California High, Sanchez’s archnemesis was De La Salle, a private Catholic school near Oakland that won 151 consecutive games from 1992 to 2004.

“They beat us 37-0 in the section finals when they were ranked No. 1 or 2 in the country. But we were better than that, and that always got in my craw,” Sanchez said.

In the last game he coached before accepting the Gorman job, Cal High lost 21-14 to De La Salle.

“In one year we shrunk the gap incredibly,” he said. “I wanted to compete with those guys and play at the national level. I told myself if we’re going to be the best, we gotta go play the best. So we raised a bunch of money and flew out to Seattle and played Bellevue, the team that ended De La Salle’s streak.”

Cal High lost by a touchdown. So once he had access to private school resources at Gorman, Sanchez began scheduling similar national powerhouse teams that helped the Gaels become one themselves.

In six seasons under Sanchez, Gorman went 85-5 and won every state championship and the 2014 mythical national high school title, assuming its spot among the Mater Deis, De La Salles and other national high school powers.

“Our whole deal was we got great facilities, we got great athletes, we’re gonna work the same way we did at Cal High to change that program,” Sanchez said about his philosophy at Gorman. “People started paying attention. I’m so proud to be a part of that program, to have helped build it into what it is today.”

Price of success

When Sanchez took the UNLV job, his younger brother Kenny was elevated to Gorman head coach. The Gaels went 65-8 and won four more state titles and two more mythical titles under the younger Sanchez, who resigned in early 2020 amid domestic abuse allegations.

Bishop Gorman’s 115-game winning streak against in-state opponents had ended two months earlier with a 30-24 overtime loss to Liberty in the state semifinals.

Before resigning, Kenny Sanchez had been suspended and reinstated as Gorman’s coach. In March, former Gaels basketball star Zaon Collins was indicted on a reckless driving charge in connection with a crash that left another man dead.

But despite public perception that would suggest otherwise, those have been the only major controversies shrouding the athletic program since 2012 when several of Gorman’s public school rivals sought to have it banned from competing for state championships.

While rumors persist among its public school rivals that wealthy Gorman alumni pay the tuition for talented athletes to attend the private school, no such financial arrangments have been proved.

“I will tell you very simply that Bishop Gorman has been a member in good standing with the association basically since their inception,” Nevada Interscholastic Athletics Association assistant director Donnie Nelson said. “There’s nothing really more to say.”

Gorman and its rivals have been getting along better since many of the administrators who sought to have it banned from NIAA competition have moved on. Count Tony Sanchez among those who believe the dispute made Gorman even stronger.

“One thing that helped us so much was when all the administrators decided they weren’t going to play Gorman in preseason games and we’d bus our JV to play Mater Dei, Servite, you name it,” Sanchez said about lining up against superior competition during the unofficial boycott.

“There was a sudden elevation for our program which went to another level because you got kids who were battle-tested.”

There has been little drop-off from the heights Gorman has reached.

Despite the loss to Liberty in the 2019 state semifinals, the football team had won the 10 previous state championship games by an average score of 62-16. The boys basketball team has won the last nine state tournaments. The baseball team won eight state championships from 2006 to 2015, including seven in a row. The girls programs that have accounted for 40 of the school’s 107 Nevada titles remain strong, too.

Grant Rice, Gorman’s basketball coach for the past 20 years and its athletic director for the past five, said Tony Sanchez’s vision at a time when televised high school football games and social media were gaining in popularity went hand in hand with Gorman becoming a national phenomenon.

“But it wasn’t always charter buses and things like that,” he said, recalling a time when he and the other Gorman coaches were rolling over odometers on personal vehicles rather than racking up frequent flyer miles. “It was a lot of hard work for our coaches and all of our sports teams. It still is.”

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

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