Dr. Jerry Hughes provided steady leadership
December 27, 2006
Dr. Jerry Hughes has a demeanor that virtually any administrator has to have who has been in a position as long as he has. It’s a demeanor that has provided a perspective that has allowed him to successfully head the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association for almost 18 years.
After directing the body that governs Nevada’s high school athletics since 1989, Hughes announced his retirement this fall and is now finishing his tenure before he’s replaced by Eddie Bonine, who will take over as NIAA executive director. Hughes is retiring to accept a teaching position at UNLV where he’ll begin next month.
Hughes graduated from Adams State where he played football in 1970 and went on to earn his master’s at the University of Nevada and his doctorate at BYU. He served as an administrator with Washoe County Schools before taking over as the NIAA director. “At one point it seemed like I would never get out of this job,” Hughes said.
Now Hughes says he can’t believe his tenure has gone so fast. “It’s like anything,” said Hughes about what he remembers most.
“You remember the good things. Actually I’ve had some great experiences. There’s some great people in our state. I have some great memories. I have a lot of memories, ost of them find memories.”
Hughes ticked off the names of many people he’s enjoyed working with over the years including two of Northern Nevada’s most legendary coaches, Tom Andreasen and Joe Sellers.
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But Hughes also admitted at times his job has been difficult. “Any time you enforce rules it can be a difficult job,” he said.
While Hughes said he always tried to be as consistent as possible, he admitted “there’s always gray areas. There’s times when you spend sleepless nights.
“These are tough decisions. Athletics are emotional. These decisions can be difficult decisions. Over the years I’ve made a lot of them.”
During his tenure Hughes has made 14 decisions in which programs have had to forfeit a game or games. Included in those decision have been not allowing programs to advance to the playoffs and one year Hughes decided there would be no 4A state champion after Reno High and Durango was involved in a bench clearing brawl in the state baseball championship game. “These are big decisions when they happen,” Hughes said.
Whenever he had to make a disciplinary decision, Hughes said he always asked himself “How did I do things the last time this happened? You set a precedent.”
Hughes remembers one time when he made a program forfeit several games. He was told by the coach, “You know what if this ever happens again I’m going to see what you do. They expect you to be consistent. These decisions are always emotional and always difficult.”
Among the new programs established in his tenure that Hughes is most proud of is the NIAA Hall of Fame and the top 10 student-athlete program in which the top 10 student male and female athletes are honored anually in Northern and Southern Nevada.
He’s also proud that such events as the state basketball, track and volleyball events have been held where the championships for all classes are held at the same venue. “I would like to think those are positive events,” Hughes said.
There’s also the NIAA Award of Excellence Program in which the state’s top athletic programs are determined each year based on their performance in competition and in the classroom and their citizenship. “It’s pretty tough to win that award,” Hughes said.
“I’d like to think we contributed some positive things for student-athletes. I’d like to think we completed some positive programs for our state.”
While Hughes said the growth of the state will be a challenge, he said he believes it should be one of the biggest challenges.
“The growth is not the challenge in itself,” Hughes said. “I don’t see that as a major thing to deal with.”
But Hughes added the NIAA will have to continue to deal with “the tremendous growth of Southern Nevada.”
Hughes said the perceived north-south rivalry is not as great as it seems. “I’d like to think that has changed,” he said. “I really think those days are past. I see an effort to improve things statewide.”
He noted that if the South really wanted to it could form a block of five votes to receive whatever it wants. On the NIAA board, five of the nine members are from Southern Nevada.
“In my 18 yers we’ve never had a 5-4 vote,” Hughes said. “I’ve never see that happen.”
He said there are those in the state who “have a little bit more blinders on,” but for the most part those involved in high school athletics want what’s best for the state.
“You’re going to please 90 percent of the people,” Hughes said. “You’re never going to please everybody.”
Hughes said it took him “about a week” to realize he wasn’t going to please everybody. “I was kind of an idealist when I started,” he said. “I became more of a realist.”
Whenever introducing something new, Hughes said he also learned to introduce it as a pilot program. “You never do anything permanently,” he said.
When it comes to realignment, the toughest part, Hughes said, has been the fact there just aren’t enough mid-sized schools and that there are schools spread over a large area.
“It’s been difficult in Nevada,” Hughe said. “We don’t have enough 3A schools. It’s pretty tough to put a class together.”
But when commenting on this year’s realignment process that will go into affect in the fall of 2008, Hughes said, “this has probably been the easiest one.”
One issue that wasn’t easy to deal with, though, was the idea of allowing schools to play in different classes in different sports, allowing them to be more competitive. The idea was overwhelmingly shot down by the schools and Hughes noted it’s the schools that the NIAA represents.
“Our schools are interested in doing that,” Hughes said. “It was discussed pretty thoroughly as an option. We understand if you’re not as competitive it’s not as fun.
“It’s been an interesting process. We thought that might be a good option to do that. I guess we were tryuing to think outside the box a little bit and we came back into the box after we thought about it a little while.”
Hughes said his goal was to “always look to improve things.” He also said he hopes the philosophy of always looking to make improvements will continue in the state.
On his advise to Bonine and others who will be directing Nevada’s high school athletics, Hughes said, “You have to be patient with things. Take in as much information as you can. Do what’s best for the athletes and the schools.”