By W.G. Ramirez

Enough. ENOUGH!

I’ve seen and heard too much whining and crying during the Little League World Series.

Remember – there’s no crying in baseball.

Now if I could just get the Mountain Ridge Little League All-Star team to teach that philosophy to its supporters back here in Las Vegas.

You didn’t think I was talking about the kids, did you?

The kids who shied away from talking smack as they pulverized their opponents in the West Regional in San Bernadino, while remaining humble en route to Williamsport – one of just 16 teams in the world to do so?

The kids who continually talked about taking it one game at a time, and the team aspect, as they opened the Little League World Series with an impressive 3-0 start that saw them outscore their opponents 33-5?

The kids who whenever being interviewed, simply said they hoped they could play good enough to get to the next round?

All week, Las Vegas shined bright in the shadow of Chicago’s remarkable Jackie Robinson West Little League and Philadelphia’s Mo’ne Davis. Our boys representing the Silver State were ambassadors like we’ve never had before. I know Las Vegas Review Journal columnist Ed Graney wrote a story describing Mountain Ridge as Vegas’ second-most successful team behind the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the 1990s, and that may be true – based on success.

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Photo courtesy: Ed Graney

But it’s going to be hard to compare a better group of athletes to be labeled ambassadors for our city. For my city.

The Rebels were grown men. These are 12 and 13 year olds who showed the type of dignity and poise in front of a national audience I’m sure UNLV coach Dave Rice would hope his Rebels display. They displayed the type of personalities and grace most parents dream their kids have walking into McDonalds. Okay, at this age, maybe Starbucks.

But you get the point.

It was the type of sportsmanship you’d hope Johnny Manziel may have watched and learned from at some point the past week.

And along with their spirited play, jovial personalities, brilliant smiles and laughter came the overwhelming support from Southern Nevada. In droves. Politicians, business owners, professional athletes like Bryce Harper and Greg Maddux and what seemed like Clark County’s entire population embraced what was taking place in Little Town America, a place with an apt-named motto: “The Will Is In Us.”

Heck, for most of the week, Las Vegas embraced everyone in the most watched youth tournament annually. From Cumberland Little League manager David Belisle, to Mo’ne-mania and yes, even Jackie Robinson Little League West.

Then Mountain Ridge lost. And that’s when you got ugly Las Vegas.

Shame on you.

You took to social media and literally tattered the very fabric of youth athletics – sportsmanship.

In true Southern Nevada-fashion, a loss brought out your fair-weathered ways. Forget for a moment the joke of a TV rule that eliminates the double-elimination factor, that’s a side note to what I saw on the Internet. Comments about kids choking. Remarks about a VOUNTEER coach who sacrificed work hours as a firefighter. And simply a blatant disregard for all the positive things you praised these kids for the previous two weeks, since they were in San Bernadino.

Seriously. Shame on you.

As of 11 a.m. on Sunday, 208 comments on Ed Graney’s story about Mountain Ridge’s loss to Chicago. Now I didn’t go through all of them, but I’d say one of every seven or eight included “Great job Mountain Ridge,” while the rest littered my screen with something not worth the space on my Blog page. Talk about ugly.

People arguing with people about having an opinion, while others questioning the validity of Ed’s points in the aforementioned story about the team ranking No. 2 all time. Focus people. These are 12 and 13 year old kids.

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Photo courtesy: Ed Graney

Yes, ESPN and ABC does a good job to make you think you’re watching Mike Trout and Derek Jeter, and, this year, Jennie Finch. But they’re not. Sheesh, if you can predict five of these kids that played in Williamsport will go on to be professional baseball players, well more power to you. This was their time. This was their spotlight. This was their cup of coffee on their field of dreams.

In one fell swoop, you spilled their coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, there were so many of you who stayed positive throughout the week, and after both losses the past two days. You’re exceptional supporters of these young men, and I applaud you. But when it comes to social media, you just can’t hide ugly.

Now, let’s address the TV issue.

The rule sucks. Point blank. But get over it.

The rule has been in place, and the kids knew it. Coach Ashton Cave knew it. And when Chicago recorded that final double play, you saw tears of anguish, a hurt none of us will ever know because we’ve never been to Williamsport. They have. And they knew what came with participating in this event.

And as much as I agree with everyone’s disdain for the rule – it really doesn’t make sense to not have an ‘if’ game – I have to wonder what would have happened if the roles were reversed. If Las Vegas came through the losers’ bracket, and won the U.S. Championship, I am almost certain that not one person in Southern Nevada would have exclaimed: “This is an outrage! This is double elimination dammit. Chicago should get an ‘if’ game!” No, I believe you all would have said: “That’s the rules!”

It’s one thing to vent and say ‘hey, this rule isn’t fair,’ but Las Vegas, you know how to take ugly to a new level. Is that really the message you want to send to these kids, who epitomized the type of dignity and poise you’d hope they would have on social media? To come up with excuses for a loss? Blaming umpires and TV executives, when you knew going in you had one job to do. From the game I watched, those boys left it on the field. They did their best. And that’s what needs to be said.

One of the quotes in Ed Graney’s story from coach Cave talked of him losing his brother last year, that that is real loss. It put the game in perspective. For the record, a junior-to-be from Arbor View who knows many of the same kids and circles my son knew prior to graduating died over the weekend. Speculation across social media was suicide, but not confirmed. I feel for the pain she must have been going through, but also for her parents. That’s real loss. Last week I wrote about longtime coach Leon Doss and his battle with cancer. I was informed late Saturday night he was admitted to the hospital and his daughter, Hayley, is headed to Las Vegas to prepare for his departure. That’s real loss.

It puts the game in perspective – TV rules and all.

And if you can’t see that, well, shame on you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a team from Chicago to cheer for in the Little League World Series championship game.

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Leon Doss: “I don’t know how long I have to be here, but I have friends that have given me the will to keep fighting.”

By W.G. Ramirez

Considering how long I’ve been in Las Vegas, I thought I’d met everyone there was to meet from the local prep scene since the 1970s.

Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting yet another legend.

I only wish I had more time to get to know him.

Leon Doss has cancer.

And given how fast things have spread, and that it’s attacking his organs and legs like the Seattle Seahawks attacked the Denver Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, well, yeah…

Ken Henderson's Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village was the site for a fund-raiser for longtime coach and educator Leon Doss.

Ken Henderson’s Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village was the site for a fund-raiser for longtime coach and educator Leon Doss.

Yet while most everyone inside the Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village approached the fragile Clark County School District veteran with care during a five-hour fund-raiser that included a $50 ice-bucket challenge, their looks of concern and somberness quickly turned to smiles when Leon greeted them.

I know my tentativeness was eased when he looked at me, smiled and shook my hand and thanked me for being there.

His smile – though faded slightly in color, assumedly because of treatment for his cancer – was vibrant because of the width it stretched from ear to ear. Here is a man with one of the most feared infirmities known to man, and it was Leon who was making us feel secure in his presence. It was Leon asserting his jovial and loving personality that allowed us to be unbothered by his situation.

“I know it’s going to be a tough fight,” he said. “With all the love and support there’s nothing you can’t beat. I was talking to my wife, and I said ‘you know what, we’re going to fight this to the end.’

“God only has a plan for everybody, so he’s gonna lead me down the path he wants me to go, so I’m gonna fight physically and let nature take its course.”

That sounds like something he’d say; well, at least I think it does.

#DossStrong

Again, this was my first encounter with Leon, a man who reached great heights in his heyday at Western High School. Of course, while he was starring for the Warriors’ football, basketball and baseball programs, I was wreaking havoc at Robert E. Lake Elementary and Kit Carson Sixth Grade Center.

So how would I remember him snagging a state championship in football, being named both first-team all-Southern Conference and all-state for his exploits as a running back and outfielder during his junior and senior seasons, or that he was named to the Bob Lilly all-American team for football and baseball.

I wouldn’t. But several others remembered, and they all had their own stories to tell. Stories that, as they told them, lit up their faces and took them back to Western’s glory days.

#DossStrong t-shirts were sold during Sunday's fund-raiser.

Friends bought and donned #DossStrong t-shirts, sold during Sunday’s fund-raiser.

“When I think of Leon Doss, I think of somebody who was loved across the board by the masses,” said Mike Gomez, who played baseball with Leon at Western. “He was a friend to everybody. It didn’t matter what group, or what social group everybody was, everybody knew Leon. Everybody loved Leon.”

Gomez, who has been a teacher in the district for nearly 30 years, said he’s always been amazed by the lives Leon has influenced, just by his presence, and how he could change someone’s outlook with a word of encouragement.

“Even in his adult life, he’s touched so many people, whether it be coaching, whether it be playing sports, his martial arts instructing, he’s had so many avenues to touch people’s lives, and that he’s just a caring, giving person,” Gomez said.

Greg Wolfram, athletic administrator at Arbor View, remembered his time with Leon, who joined the staff as a teacher and coach when the school opened in 2005.

“Leon is just a personable guy,” Wolfram said. “He’s more than a coach; for people, he’s a friend, a mentor and he’s just there for people who have needed him. The one thing about Leon, he was very loyal to people.”

Ken Henderson, the owner of the Pizza Bar and also a former Western classmate, said there was never a second thought in his head about shutting down his restaurant for five hours so fellow Western-alum Gina Jackson and Dawn Hayden could organize the fund-raiser.

“He’s such a great energy, I was pretty surprised when I heard about it,” Henderson said. “I said whatever day works, let’s just do it. From my understanding, when Gina first did a cash drive, Leon was leveled. He couldn’t believe that people would just out of the blue, get a call, and write a check.”

#DossStrong

Jackson has remained close with the Doss’ since Leon was diagnosed last November. One of the first things she did was buy a book for his wife Faye, on how to handle her role for Leon, and for her ol’ buddy from Western, she gave him a journal. The first entry: a bucket list.

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Brothers Herman Newson and Leon Doss pose for a picture while enjoying Sunday’s fundraiser at the Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village.

“He wanted to have a get together with all the special people who had crossed paths with him before… you know…” she said, and struggled to finish.

Yeah, I know. I couldn’t say it either, as you could tell earlier in this blog.

“Rather than everyone getting together at his funeral, he wanted everyone to get together so he could be there, so he could see everyone and spend time with everyone,” Jackson said.

While we were chatting, one gentleman came up to thank her for everything she was doing for Leon and the Doss family. To which she replied: “We were all raised to treat other people the way we want to be treated.”

It made me smile. It’s very similar to my thought process toward this piece.

Again, I didn’t know Leon. And our paths probably would have never crossed if his daughter, Hayley, and my son would haven’t been a part of Arbor View’s Class of 2014. But there was something about wanting to do this, about spreading some awareness to anyone who may read this about a wonderful family who has endured so much, and still has a long road to travel.

Besides, whenever someone brought up Hayley, a member of Arbor View’s women’s soccer program, including the past two years the Aggies won the state title, you can’t help but think about her smile. It’s as radiating as her father’s, and can brighten a room as well as any 100-watt light bulb. Hayley is now in Washington, getting ready to start her first season for Highline Community College. In fact, the Thunderbirds open their campaign Monday with a scrimmage.

Leon won’t be there.

#DossStrong

Leon didn’t get to see Hayley step on the field for the last few minutes of the state championship game last season. Hayley overcame an injury and saw limited time during the season, but she got to play near the end of the title game, and looked as if she had never been injured. I remember tweeting about it, and even feeling a little melancholy – in a good way – that she could say she participated in her final game for Arbor View.

Sunday, as everyone was able to see Leon, talk to him and extend their well wishes, my heart tugged a bit, the same melancholy way it did back on Nov. 16 for Hayley, but this time not so much in a great way. Maybe that’s why I was tweeting play-by-play from the Pizza Bar, so she could feel as if she were alongside her father.

See, if it weren’t for Leon, his eldest daughter probably wouldn’t be the athlete she is today. It’s as close a bond as I’ve ever seen between parent and child, as the two rely upon one another. He’s her motivation; she’s his hero.

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Hayley Doss, now a freshman at Highline Community College, works in front of a defender during a club-soccer game last year.

“I was a hard worker, but she makes me look like I’m standing still,” Leon Doss said. “She loves to play the sport, she’s always had to fight for what she wanted. She was never the most talented, but she works hard enough to become one of the best.”

Perhaps that’s why when I interviewed Highline coach Thomas Moore he told me had no clue about Leon. Apparently, Hayley arrived on July 17 and has done exactly as she was instructed by the man who will always be her No. 1 coach and mentor. It’s been strictly business for the T-Birds, and not a peep about her ailing father.

“He made her promise that whatever happens, she continues playing strong and doing the best she can on the field and in school,” said her mother, Faye.

Prior to telling me she’s been nothing short of a blessing to the program, spreading positive vibes to everyone on the team, Moore shared with me a personal note as to why it took him an extra few minutes to return my call. My voice mail struck a personal chord with him, as he lost his mother to cancer about a year ago.

“One of the best things anyone ever said to me was ‘you’re not going to be able to predict what’s going to happen,'” Moore recollected, Saturday during a phone interview. “There is no guaranteed way to handle this. It’s going to be one day at a time. This probably is a benefit for (Hayley) because she’s doesn’t have a ton of down time and in my experience, having something to focus on, it allowed me to keep my mind off things.

“She’s performing at a very high level and we’re very demanding; she’s responded well. That’s why I’m very excited with some of the things she’ll be able to do this year. Not only is she a great player, she’s a great kid. I’ve really enjoyed having her up here so far.”

Of course, it wasn’t an easy move. Hayley admitted it was difficult to leave her father.

“It’s been pretty hard not seeing him every day,” she told me Saturday. “I can’t do anything for him, it’s just my mom and sister, and I can’t be there to support him. He’s taught me everything when it comes to sports, so it’s pretty hard on me. Now that season is here, it’s hard not seeing him here for my games. He was one of my first coaches for soccer, he’s been there from the beginning.

“He’s mostly the reason I’m pushing myself to be a good athlete.”

Leon Doss and Hayley Doss pose after her high-school graduation.

Leon Doss and Hayley Doss pose after her high-school graduation, from Arbor View HS, in June.

And that’s how Leon wanted it. He didn’t want his little star to stay home and worry about him. She earned her way to Des Moines, Washington, and he wants her there, doing what she loves.

Said Leon: “My whole goal was for her to fulfill her dream that she’s wanted for a long time. I told her whatever she does, whatever happens, you play or not, just go out there and give the best effort you can. She’s my oldest, but she’s setting the foundation for my youngest.”

#DossStrong

Both Leon and Hayley are to be commended, as they’re living up to the “hashtag” you’ve seen me use as dividers for each part to this touching story. I now know why the t-shirts they were selling said #DossStrong. After talking with Hayley on Saturday, and sitting with Leon and Faye for a bit you’d understand.

The Doss’ have been married for 20 years and have a younger daughter, Laycey, who is 13. And they’re stronger than ever. Their bond can’t be broken, and has been strengthened by an illness that is crippling, and generally weakens a soul.

But Leon was very candid about his remaining time – no matter how long it may be – now that he’s accepted the fact he’s in for the fight of his life. And he told me he refuses to accept anyone say that he is dying. On the contrary, he is living.

“This is something that you never expect in life,” Leon said. “When you have this many people care about you. This is just the greatest feeling ever. I don’t know how long I have to be here, but I have friends that have given me the will to keep fighting. And I’m going to stay strong.”

Yeah, #DossStrong.

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University of Michigan-bound Sydney Badger is a 10-time state champion and is one of the most decorated runners to ever graduate from Southern Nevada.

W.G. Ramirez

Whenever I do a big feature, I tend to look for a quote from my subject or something to cling to for the story. Something that epitomizes who I’m writing about.

After a near-two hour visit with Centennial High School-graduate Sydney Badger, an incoming freshman at the University of Michigan, it wasn’t hard to find my catchphrase.

The picturesque runner who dominated the Silver State her senior year – both during the cross country and track seasons – was talking about the climate change she is about to adapt to in the Midwest.

Now I’ve never been to The Wolverine State, but I have lived in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, so I do understand cold weather. And I find it pretty hard to run daily errands, let alone run on a treadmill or long distance like Badger does so well. So to say I know nothing about running in cold weather would be an understatement.

Neither here nor there, she says “running in that weather and going into (NCAA) races at other places – it’ll be a breath of fresh air.”

What does all that have to do with this quaint narration about one of the most decorated athletes I’ve ever come across? Well, nothing, quite frankly.

Except I found the 5-foot-6 spark plug who easily could be mistaken for a fashion or fitness model is, well, a breath of fresh air.


 

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Centennial-graduate Sydney Badger

Lenny and Susie Badger have raised three daughters; Sydney is the baby. All three did well post-high school, one attending Arizona State, another up north in Reno. Now, their star runner is headed to Ann Arbor, despite bearing a last name that matches the nickname of Big Ten-rival Wisconsin. How coincidental – and marketable – would she have been for the sports information department had she chosen to attend Wisconsin? That would have been too easy, though. And understand, this is not the ordinary tale of a lifelong runner.

Prior to Badger’s high school career, she participated in organized soccer from the time she was eight years old alongside Tiana Bonds, her best friend that is headed to the University of Arizona on a track scholarship. When she got to high school, her parents insisted their children participate in another activity beside their preferred sport. At the time, soccer was held during the winter, thus, Badger elected to run cross country as a freshman. She then played freshman soccer in the winter and followed that by running for Centennial’s track team in the spring.

Needless to say, her skills as a runner emerged.

I could go through her list of accomplishments, but then this story would extend longer than it already is, and I want to keep your interest on how remarkable an individual she really is, not on the fact she was a three-time regional cross country champ, that she finished unbeaten in every Nevada-entered cross country race she competed in as a senior, or that she lost just two races over her sophomore and junior seasons.

That’s just cross country. The rest of her résumé is just as impressive.


 

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In a familiar scene, Sydney Badger leads the pack during a cross country race.

I remember the very first time I heard the name Sydney Badger.

I was at Veterans’ Memorial Park in Boulder City for the Division I Sunset Region cross country meet. Not in a professional capacity, but on a personal note. I was there for moral support of a couple of runners who were friends of my son at Arbor View, one of them being a top challenger in the region, and to Badger. Well, so it would seem.

That day, I quickly learned about Sydney Badger.

And anyone who reads the local media, during the fall and spring seasons, knows who she is too.

Now I’ve covered some incredible athletes, on every level, from high school up to the professional level.

We’re talking about people like Kobe Bryant, Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield and Martina Navratilova back in the day (to give you a broad spectrum), to the U.S. Men’s National Basketball team just two weeks ago. Splattered throughout 27 years, I’ve seen some of the top high-school athletes do their thing in local gymnasiums and/or playing fields right here in Las Vegas.

Sydney Badger easily is one of the top 10 scholar-athletes I’ve ever witnessed in the Clark County School District.

Forget the fact she’s a 10-time state champion in cross country and track combined, I’m talking about her tenacity and attitude. I’m speaking about her gladiatorial approach toward competition. You have to see her face while she’s running. Heck, you need to see her approach the starting blocks on the track. It’s the same look Mike Tyson gave in the late 1980s, when he’d get in the ring with black boxing trunks and shoes with no socks. It was intimidating. Anyone running in the same race as Badger, she knew she’d be battling for second – point-blank.

Put it this way, if MMA were her sport, Ronda Rousey would have her hands full.

On Monday, amidst the sad news of comedian Robin Williams’ death, I was reminded about one of his quips: “I love running cross country. On a track, I feel like a hamster.”

Lucky for all of us, Badger was incredible in both.


 

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Centennial-graduate Sydney Badger is set to join the Michigan Wolverines.

Transformation Tuesday takes on a new meaning after Aug. 19, one day after Sydney departs, as the Badger family will shed its powder-blue Centennial gear to Michigan’s maize and blue outfits. With the football season fast approaching, I’m pretty sure the family will be shrieking the Wolverines’ battle cry “M Go Blue!” no matter which Michigan team is participating. Heck, proud papa Lenny showed up for our sit-down last weekend wearing a Michigan t-shirt.

“It’s everything we wanted,” he said. “From an intellectual standpoint she’s going to do well. She’s a driven person, both academically and athletically. I think it’s going to be great. Are we concerned? I think, yeah. Even we don’t know what kind of workload she’s gonna have. Obviously she’s gonna be training a lot. If she wants to go on to med school, she’s gonna have to get top grades.”

Oh, did I forget to mention that, as well? Centennial’s 2013 Homecoming Queen isn’t just a skilled runner, she’s got the brain to go with her athleticism and model-esque looks and is hoping to apply her smarts in the classroom as a pre-med major. She graduated from Centennial with a weighted grade point average of 4.75, while her un-weighted GPA was 3.98.

Badger spent some time doing community service as well. She’s volunteered for, and participated, in several charitable running events for organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Kassidy’s Army. In addition, she has also participated in community clean-up events and spent some time tutoring fellow students in subjects such as Calculus and Epidemiology.

“It’s amazing, it makes us really proud, it’s exciting,” Susie Badger said. “I don’t think anybody could have done anything different with her or for her. She made her own path really, she knew what she wanted.”

And while Sydney is adjusting to college life and running in a different climate, the biggest adjustment for the Badgers will be having to wait for their daughter to compete on the West coast, and hoping the Big Ten Network occasionally broadcasts events so they can see her compete.

All that’s left for them to do, prior to her departure next Monday, is adding to her winter wardrobe.

“I think I am pretty prepared (but) I have no winter gear,” Badger said laughingly. “That’ll be a fun transition; I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for that, but I think it’ll make me a stronger runner.”


 

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As Sydney Badger leaves Southern Nevada behind, and heads to Ann Arbor to run for the Michigan Wolverines, the memories she’s left for her fans are vivid of her on top, as No. 1.

It really comes as no surprise Badger is headed to Ann Arbor to run for the U of M.

What was a surprise is the reason she gave me for choosing the Wolverines over her secondary choices Georgetown and Oklahoma State, as well as Southern Cal, Cal Berkeley, Ohio State, San Diego State, UNR and UNLV.

“I didn’t want to go to a school coming in as their No. 1 girl,” said Badger, Nevada’s 2013 Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. “I wanted to be in a school where I was pushed really hard. Just going to big races (during high school), it was so easy to run fast times, so I can’t imagine how much better I’ll get training with girls who are pushing me all the time.”

Badger said while it hasn’t set in that she’s about to join one of the most prestigious athletic programs in America, and even be around that sort of environment, she is ready for the big time. She’s also ready to train alongside Division-I athletes on a daily basis.

“It’s pretty hard to just go into workouts by myself all the time and (need to) be pushed,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll do workouts with the guys, but it’s not the same. It’s better when you have a teammate or someone pushing you, right next to you. I’m relieved to finally not have to do that (alone) anymore.”

Badger says there’s a good chance she’ll redshirt her freshman cross country season, and doesn’t mind that either, as she’s on the lookout for long-term success, not short-term greatness. That is one thing she did admit she’ll have to adjust to, however, as it’s going to take time for her to find success at the next level.

“It’s easy for me to stay focused because I know that high school isn’t it for me, there’s a lot after it, a lot to look forward to,” Badger said. “I know it won’t be (easy), going up there and winning races right away. It’ll be a nice change actually, to get my butt kicked a few times and maybe teach me a few things.”

On Aug. 9, during the Super Moon’s arrival, Badger tweeted the following:

I don’t know why I found it to be typical, yet somewhat humbling, that someone who has been a bright spot for Southern Nevada’s high school athletic scene, took the time to appreciate something that shone down benevolently upon the universe while she was doing what she does best.

Then again, coming from a Super Athlete like Badger, it really wasn’t a surprise after spending some time with her. Come to think of it, getting to know Badger and her parents, and finding out a bit more about one of the most decorated and determined athletes we may see for a while, well…

It was a breath of fresh of air.

 

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Tallis Wallington runs through a football drill Tuesday at the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Football Clinic at UNLV.

W.G. Ramirez

“Football has become safer to play than it’s ever been – it’s the world’s greatest game.”

That was the message UNLV football coach Bobby Hauck continually embedded into the minds of nearly 600 exuberant youths who attended Tuesday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Youth Football Clinic at Rebel Park.

And while Hauck might have an easier time getting his Rebels back into the postseason than he did grabbing the attention of the rotating groups of roughly 100 whippersnappers ranging in age from six through 14, it was the ensuing message that left the parents in attendance eyes wide open.

“Last year there was one youth football player nationally who died; 600 kids died riding their bikes,” he told each audience.

Alarming? Sure. True? Possibly.

Based on the research I did by scouring the Internet, there is no doubt that hundreds of bicyclists died last year. Of course, many were hit by cars, but from what I can tell, the youths who died from head trauma were not wearing helmets.

Safety first.

Which brings us back to not only Hauck’s first comment, but the same message I’ve heard all summer in conducting several interviews for a handful of football projects.

Tuesday was no different, and it was refreshing to see so many kids enthusiastic about a sport that has been conked upside the noggin with a national concern toward head injuries.

“I think the game, to a degree, has been under attack a little bit,” Hauck said. “It’s good to see these parents and all these kids excited about football. Five and 600 kids out here on a Tuesday morning in early August to participate in a football camp is kind of exciting, just to see the interest level in Revel football, and also in the game itself.”

VIEW A PHOTO GALLERY OF THE CLINIC HERE

After a pre-clinic speech, the kids were broken up into colorized groups – purple, red, yellow, etc – and taken to different stations where the Rebels practice every day. Some moved through drills as if they felt they’d be the next Robert Griffin III, others were there with their youth-football league teammates – like the Las Vegas Aces – getting ready for the season, there boys and girls just having fun and like most athletic events like these, there was a random father or two that was more into the training than his son.

“My dad keeps yelling at me that I’m in the wrong line,” cried one little camper to UNLV defensive back Sidney Hodge, who promptly flipped the boy’s frown upside down with a vote of confidence, got him in line – which the boy was right about all along – and the young trooper dominated his next time through the drill.

“I have two kids of my own, so coming out here, being fired up trying to show a little enthusiasm for them, I know it goes a long way,” Hodge said. “I would strongly encourage a lot more kids to come out. I think it’s something good for them – as far as learning the game of football.”

And learning it the right way, at a young age.

“The key to the whole thing is teaching the kids the game the right way at the right age,” said John Saccenti, executive director of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. “We have professional coaches here with UNLV football coaches and football players who hopefully can teach these kids how to play the game the right way and how to stay safe and enjoy the game.”

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Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl executive director John Saccenti addresses a group of youths at Tuesday’s football clinic. Nearly 600 local youths attended the clinic at UNLV.

On a national level, there has been an increased effort toward educating parents, players and coaches about the sport, much deeper than before. Heads Up Football has been adopted by nearly 2,800 groups, and as the second season of the educational program begins, it has the biggest backer it could ask for – the National Football League. The NFL has granted USA Football – the national governing body for the sport – with a five-year, $45 million endowment. With nearly 11,000 football leagues across the United States, former Pittsburgh Steeler and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge believes Heads Up Football can eventually become a teaching tool nationally.

“It is the responsibility of parents, administrators, coaches – I don’t care the sport, even a teacher at during recess or lunch – they need to be educated on head trauma,” Hoge told me earlier this summer. “We have done a better job in football.”

Hoge said the biggest mistake parents can make is to take their kids out of extracurricular activity, and that by avoiding to take action to provide a safer environment for their children, it’ll be a bigger detriment in the long run.

“Part of that is about playing the game correctly, teaching the game correctly, so if and when there is head trauma, the proper protocol is followed,” Hoge said. “When you do that, the (athlete) is returned to play in a safe state. Doing the right thing, understanding the right symptoms – whatever environment we’re talking about – we’ve created a safer environment.

“We have parents who are not going to let their son play (football), but they’ll drive home and let them jump on a bike without a helmet. There is more upside to sports and being active, especially in a certified program that provides a safer environment, than sitting on a couch eating donuts and playing X-Box.”

Hoge said concussion awareness has become widespread nationwide, and an arduous effort in educating and informing people – from youth football, to high school, to college and to the NFL – is finally paying off. Hoge believes, as a whole, football is in a proactive state, rather than a reactive state, as there is enough information available to learn how to treat head injuries properly.

“Where we’re at now, compared to three years ago, is astronomical,” Hoge said.

Said Saccenti: “If we’re all getting together and we’re teaching kids how to play the right way, how to tackle the right way … and trying to keep the game safe, at this age, hopefully that carries with them at every level and makes them better football players and safer football players.”

Hauck agreed.

“I feel good about the game, I think it’s safer than it’s ever been,” Hauck said. “I still think it’s the world’s greatest game.”

2014 adidas Nations

Bishop Gorman’s Chase Jeter Chase Jeter poses for a photo during adidas Nations at Next Level Sports Complex. The 7-footer announced he will play at Duke in college.
Photo courtesy adidas.

W.G. Ramirez

Bishop Gorman’s senior-to-be Chase Jeter announced Monday night he’s headed across the country to play for one of UNLV’s most hated rivals.

After posting a double-double (14 points and 16 rebounds) and being named Most Valuable Player in the adidas Nations third place game on ESPNU, the 7-footer told a nationwide audience he was becoming a Duke Blue Devil.

The Runnin’ Rebels defeated Duke 103-73 to win the National Championship, and the Blue Devils returned the favor one year later in the Final Four, 79-77, derailing UNLV’s undefeated run and quest for back-to-back titles. Jeter’s father, Chris, played for the Rebels during the championship season.

“I took a lot of time to evaluate my decision and I took visits to all the schools on my list, and I felt I was really comfortable with my decision,” Jeter said during the televised announcement. “I just love the feel of the environment, Cameron Indoor is a great place, a great basketball environment and I just felt like it was a great place for me.”

Jeter visited Durham earlier this year, in March, during one of Duke’s annual ACC meetings with rival-North Carolina, which is reportedly listed high on Jeter’s high-school teammate Stephen Zimmerman’s list.

Jeter, an all-state selection last year, averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for the Gaels playing alongside Zimmerman, also considered one of the nation’s top recruits in next year’s class.

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Chase Jeter averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for Gorman last season. Photo: W.G. Ramirez

Jeter chose the Blue Devils over UNLV, UCLA and Arizona.

As one of the most sought after recruits in class of 2015, Jeter is ranked among the top 15 in different polls, including No. 8 by Rivals, No. 9 by Scout, No. 10 by 247Sports and No. 13 by ESPN.

Of Duke, Jeter told cbssports.com college basketball writer Jeff Borzello: “I have a great relationship with all the coaches. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski). Coach (Jeff) Capel. They have great guys, great history. Overall, just a great program.”

Krzyzewski was on hand last weekend to see Jeter compete in the adidas Super 64 event at Cashman Center, and attended the championship game, where Jeter’s Dream Vision lost to Indiana Elite.