Larry Horning carried humble expectations for the Sertoma Classic 32 years ago when he, Phil Morton and Larry Digesti founded Northern Nevada’s annual all-star high school football game.
“We didn’t think it would last maybe more than a year,” Horning said.
It obviously did — through the hard work of the members of the charitable Sparks Sertoma Club.
But the work is getting harder and the members fewer.
Even with its annual June date, the Classic was a staple in the region’s high school football community for more than three decades. But through financial constraints, a decrease in community interest and even player apathy, the aura surrounding the Classic is faded.
Maybe, after tonight’s game at Damonte Ranch, the Classic should be retired. Thirty-two years was a heck of a run. But all good runs must come to an end sometime.
“It has lost some of its luster, for whatever reason,” said Truckee coach Bob Shaffer, coaching his seventh Classic game this year.
The event doesn’t mean what it used to five years ago, and definitely not what it meant 10 and 20 years ago — despite the Sertoma Club’s best efforts.
“I think it will go on indefinitely,” Horning said. “But you need the interest. We need that. I hope it will continue for 50 years. But we’ll see.”
That sounds like a long shot, with escalating insurance and uniform costs — both among Sertoma expenses — and stagnant attendance the past five years that is actually down more than 700 from a decade ago. Factor in that the club must put on the game with 50 less members and 100 fewer advertisers than in the inaugural year of 1982.
The 2008 game was called with 1 minute, 58 seconds left as on-field officials tried to keep a fight from breaking out following back-to-back personal foul penalties. Officials weren’t as lucky two years ago, when a sideline-clearing mêlée began as the game’s final seconds ticked away.
This isn’t a case of the few ruining it for everybody — though they certainly did those two years — but rather examples of the event’s diminished meaning to those it should mean the most.
Then take this year. Five players from one school who committed to playing months ago simply didn’t show up to practice this week, leaving the Silver Team shorthanded at multiple key positions.
“If you asked those 30 guys out there, they’d say it’s their dream come true and are totally committed,” Shaffer said. “Unfortunately, there are others who this event doesn’t mean as much to. So, here we are, 60 percent showing and 40 percent not showing.”
Shaffer is coaching for the third straight year, in part, because no other coaches could be found. Some coaches, in the past, said they will never be a part of the Classic.
“My three sons played in it and three of my coaches played in and they all talk about what memories they still have from Sertoma week,” Shaffer said. “But for whatever reason, it seems there is less meaning to it than there used to be.”
The Classic’s demise would be tough to bear. It serves as the Sertoma Club’s biggest fundraiser. Roughly $10,000 to $12,000 is raised each year, and the club uses the funds to help students with speech and hearing disabilities, as well as for other local charitable programs and scholarships throughout the region. But the work the Sertoma members put into the Classic year-round could be used in other efforts and perhaps bring in more fundraising.
“I don’t know if we can pull off another year,” Horning hears following each Classic game. He’ll no doubt hear it again tonight, and here is nominating he not try.