He’s humble, yet talkative, down-to-earth, thoughtful and hard-working. He’s Bart Thompson, the new guy in charge of high school athletics in Nevada.
Thompson started as executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association in mid-June.
Since then, he’s been thoroughly reading and re-reading all the regulations that govern Nevada high school athletics. Although he worked for the Utah High School Athletic Association, and it was very similar to the NIAA, Thompson said he’s found a few differences.
Of learning the ropes as the NIAA executive director, Thompson said, “It’s a little bit like taking a drink from a fire-hose. There’s a whole lot to learn.”
Thompson replaced Eddie Bonine at the NIAA, who took the same job in Louisiana earlier this year.
Thompson served as assistant director of the Utah High School Activities Association for the past eight years, his responsibilities there included soccer, cross county, track, wrestling, and speech and debate. He also handled the association’s legislative issues and was the coordinator of sports medicine.
“It’s a lot of the same issues. Even though it’s coming fast and furious, it’s stuff that I’ve dealt with,” Thompson. “Getting a feel for how Nevada’s dealt with those issues, that’s the part that takes a little bit of effort.”
He said the differences are minor and all high school athletic associations around the country have the same goal, providing the best experience for the student-athletes.
The members of the NIAA Board of Control who hired him for the job in April are pleased with what they’ve seen so far.
Board president Jill Pendleton is looking forward to working with Thompson.
“He brings a great energy to the NIAA. He’s very confident and has strong leadership and has done a really good job of listening and observing and getting a feel for where we are as a state and taking that information to move the NIAA forward,” Pendleton said. “I appreciate the fact that he listens and takes in the information and is not quick to make a decision. He’s very thoughtful in what he is doing.”
Brian Rothe, the Washoe County director of student services, said Thompson’s experience in Utah gives him a unique perspective that can aid Nevada students.
“He’s very personable and easy going. The minute you meet this guy, you automatically like him,” Rothe said of Thompson. “He’s all about the kids.”
Thompson said the NIAAs’ budget is a top priority for him. The NIAA does not receive any state funding. Some money comes from dues member schools pay, and some from ticket sales at state championship events. Schools get their money from regular-season game ticket sales. Some NIAA funding is from corporate sponsorships.
“One of my goals is to establish a reserve. Kind of a rainy day fund,” Thompson said. “We need to start building that reserve. The Association is operating pretty bare-boned right now.”
He said budget cuts are easy to talk about, but difficult to implement. His goal is to add to the revenue coming in to the NIAA, mainly by adding corporate sponsors.
“Every dime that’s spent is on accomplishing our goal and mission, which is to help the students of the state of Nevada,” Thompson said. “That means any dime you cut, affects that somehow, you don’t want to do that.”
If he can establish a reserve, interest earned from that would provide another revenue source.
Thompson said his motto regarding finances and athletics is, “Excellence, without excess.”
Another of the big issues in front of Thompson is student transfers. The Nevada Legislature passed a law that allows public school students a $5,000 voucher to attend private schools. That throws the transfer rule into some confusion.
Students could leave a private school to attend a public one in order to qualify for the money. But transferring leaves them ineligible to play sports for 180 days. Then, if they transfer back to the private school after the 100 days, they would again be ineligible to play sports for another 180 days.
After figuring out that situation, one of his goals is to clean up and clarify the language in the regulations regarding transfers.
The Gorman Situation
And Bishop Gorman? As far as Thompson is concerned, the Gaels have as much right as any school to participate in Nevada high school athletics.
Many high school sports fans get upset about Bishop Gorman’s dominance recently. But Thompson said private schools have a higher standard for academics than public schools, and that has a large role in how well they do in athletics. That, and their facilities can be nicer than some college athletic facilities, which leads student-athletes to want to go attend school there.
“If I’m paying that much for my son or daughter to go to school there, I’m going to make sure they get their homework done, and I’m going to make sure they show up to practice,” Thompson said. “In a public school, you don’t necessarily have that kind of parental support.”
He said Gorman does not offer athletic scholarships, it provides income-based tuition assistance under certain circumstances. And that is done by an outside group, not the school.
He added that every public school student is on tuition assistance saying, “because their entire education is being paid for by the state of Nevada. That’s an argument the private schools make pretty regularly.”
He said the only time excellence should be punished is if it comes about nefariously and/or by cheating.
Another big issue, not just in Nevada but all over the sports map, is concussions and how to deal with them.
Football coaches in Nevada have already decided to limit contact in practice.
Thompson said the policy is to remove a player with signs of concussion from practice and games. The player cannot return until cleared by a medical professional.
When the player is symptom free, they can return to light exercise, and gradually return to full practice and participate in games.
Thompson said football coaches are aware that if they want a player available to play on a Friday night, they need to teach correct technique in order to avoid injuries.
Thompson said there are no plans to add any sports to the NIAA. In Southern Nevada, there is flag football for girls.
He said lacrosse will remain a club sport, for the near future, at least.
If it was to be sanctioned, there would be a huge financial obligation for the schools, as well as finding practice fields, which are already limited, for every team.
A shortage of officials would also be problematic.
Thompson did not have any ties to Nevada before moving here. Thompson, 55, lives in Reno now and immediately noticed how nice people are.
“I really like it. I haven’t met anybody who’s not just as friendly as they can be,” he said.
He is married and has three children, all men in their 20s.
Prior to joining the UHSAA staff in the summer of 2007, Thompson coached football, wrestling and track for 22 years at Viewmont High School in Bountiful, Utah, after beginning his career in education as a teacher and coach at Clearfield (Utah) High School.
Thompson previously served on the NFHS Wrestling Rules Committee, Sports Medicine advisory Committee and Speech Committee.