Virginia City’s Rollie Hess joins NIAA Hall of Fame

Former Virginia City basketball player and Incline High School coach Rollie Hess, center, was inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame on June 10. With him are Jerry Hughes, left, retired NIAA executive director, and Bart Thompson, right, current executive director.

Former Virginia City basketball player and Incline High School coach Rollie Hess, center, was inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame on June 10. With him are Jerry Hughes, left, retired NIAA executive director, and Bart Thompson, right, current executive director.
Photo by Thomas Ranson.

Rollie Hess is synonymous with Virginia City’s dominance of high school basketball in the 1960s.
As a player with the Muckers from 1963 to 1966, Hess, who has been generally regarded as one of the most prolific competitors on the court, played on a team that won 55 consecutive games from 1962 to 1964 and then 43 straight games from 1964 to 1966. Hess, though, played for the Muckers for only three years. In that time, he was a three-year starter.
The Muckers won seven state titles in the 1960s which included six consecutive crowns from 1962-1967.
After graduation, he played for the University of Nevada, Reno, and was a starter for his last three seasons.
Hess was inducted into the Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame on June 10 with 14 other athletes, coaches and contributors as members of the Class of 2020. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the induction had been postponed twice.
Inductees included Dan Anderson, Toni (Brown) Fairbanks, Art Collins, Pat Dolan, Rob Hastings, Martin “Skip” Houk, Jennifer Hucke, Michelle Palaroan, Richard Pitts, Ed Shepard, Paul Tremayne, Mike Whitemaine and Mitch Woods.
During a brief question-and-answer session with Chris Healy, the longtime moderator for the inductions, and interim NIAA Director Donnie Nelson, Hess said the greatest thing about sports is the friendships made with the other coaches, players and teachers.
“I would like to thank Hugh and Bob Gallagher,” Hess said of his playing days with them and their friendship. “Without these guys, I obviously wouldn’t be here.”
Hess said he also has many memories playing for the Muckers and legendary coach Lyle Damon, who also coached at Hug High School in Reno and at the college level at San Francisco State University.
Damon developed a reputation as a demanding coach.
“He was tough,” Hess recalled. “But he taught me how to shoot a basketball.”
During his playing days in the Comstock, Hess was named to all-region and all-State teams and earned all-American accolades as a senior.
Playing for the Muckers, though, became a bonus for Virginia City. At the time, Hess and his brother were attending Sparks High School, but he didn’t make the cut for the Railroaders. He and his brother, Greg, decided to return to Virginia City where one of their parents lived.
He also drew laughs with some of his thoughts about playing in Virginia City during the run of many consecutive wins and a rare loss.
“If you ever lost a game, it was like someone died,” Hess said.
On game day, Hess said the fans packed the gym to see their beloved Muckers vanquish another opponent. Hess said someone could rob the entire town during a game.
“The support was awesome,” Hess said, adding on away games, the families followed the team to every corner of the state.
After he graduated from UNR, he accepted a teaching position at Fernley and coached football with Jack Cook. Hess coached both junior varsity football and basketball, but he admitted he knew nothing about football. He stayed two years before moving to Incline to become the Highlanders boys’ basketball coach. He had a difficult task facing him.
Football coach Gene Scattini guided the Highlanders to a number of state championships. Scattini asked Hess about his prediction for the upcoming year.
“I told Gene I think we’ll win 15 games this year,” Hess replied.
Scattini said the team had won four games during the past four years. Hess quieted the doubters.
“We won 19 games in my first year, and we were runners-up at the state championship,” Hess pointed out.
Two years later, Hess’ life became more challenging as a coach. He said five girls approached him, wanting the former UNR great to coach them. They knocked on Hess’ door at his chalet and asked him to be their coach, or Incline wouldn’t be able to field a team.
He declined, but they approached Hess again asking him to be their coach, but this time he relented. He agreed but on one condition. If one of the five girls quit, then he would step down.
“I made practice hard,” Hess said, thinking the girls would quit.
But they were determined.
During the season, the team improved. One game, though, resonates with Hess.
“We came down to play Bill Penaluna’s team (Manogue),” Hess recounted.
Hess told his fellow coach that the Highlanders were bad, and he had a small team. Likewise, he said Penaluna also had a lean team. The Highlanders, though, surprised their opponents, winning the game by what Hess remembers was somewhere between 30 to 40 points.
Penaluna and Hess talked after the game.
“Bill said I thought you were bad,” Hess remembered. “But I said (to Penaluna) you’re bad too.”
Two years later in the same season, Hess guided both the Highlanders boys and girls teams to state titles, and in 1975, the boys team snared another title.
According to the NIAA, Hess may be the only Nevada high school basketball coach to win both a boys and girls state title in the same year. Hess compiled an overall head coaching record of 178-61.

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