Veteran NBC and CBS TV correspondent Harry Smith was in Alamo last Friday to attend the Pahranagat Valley football game with Tonopah.
Why was Smith in Alamo? To do a story, he said, for the NBC Nightly News about the community, the townspeople, the school, and the longest active football-winning streak in the nation.
The Panthers did not disappoint, thumping Tonopah 56-13 in their opening league game, and extending the streak to 72 straight.
Smith, former host of the CBS This Morning program, as well as the A&E Network program Biography, said, sure, the winning streak was one of the reasons he wanted to come, but also he explained, “When I’m in my office (in New York) and I’m looking for stories, I read newspapers from all over the country. What you notice in the fall, especially in small cities and small town newspapers, is news about the high school football team. As I was looking at all these high school stories, I wondered who has the longest winning streak in the country? I found that this one (Pahranagat Valley) has the longest active streak. And at the same time, in my whole life, I’ve never done a story on 8-man football and I would love to do that. And I find with Pahranagat Valley, it was the best of both worlds. They have the longest winning streak, and it’s 8-man.”
The segment was aired on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams Sept. 22.
Asked afterwards what he thought of the excitement and atmosphere of the game, Smith said, “It’s a blast!”
As many others have asked, Smith did also, what is the secret of the success of the Pahranagat Valley football program over the years and other sports at the school as well?
The answer is not as complicated as it might seem, rather quite simple: there is no secret. It comes for the coaches, kids, community, and townspeople themselves.
Head football coach Dr. Ken Higbee, now in his 17th year, says the boys “are better men than they are players. They do what we ask them to do. And when you do the little things well, good things happen.”
Opposing coaches have also often commented that Alamo “may not have the best talent on the field, but they executive everything extremely well.”
In addition, being a small community as it is, most of the students are involved in sports or other school activities throughout the school year. As Higbee says, “They are so busy, they don’t have time to get in trouble. That’s what we preach. Stay active, get involved, and use that same attitude when you move on, too.”
The quality of coaching is certainly a major factor as well. All the coaches played ball at Pahranagat themselves in their own day and graduated from the school. That is, all except coach Ken. He grew up in Alamo, did play his freshman year here, but the family moved to Challis, Idaho for a while where he graduated. However, the family returned to Alamo in time for younger brother Brian to play on four state football championship teams, 1985-88.
Longevity of the PVHS coaching staff is another major factor. Several have been with the program for 10 years or more.
Higbee started a youth football program that begins with the second graders. The boys grow up knowing who the youth coaches are, even learning in elementary and middle school simplified versions of plays the varsity runs.
By the time they reach high school, each player knows what his role is, knows what the other man can do, and the coaches work on helping them refine that.
Varsity team co-captain Wade Leavitt explains, “We’re a very positive team, it’s all heart.” There’s a theme the team is given each year, he said. This year the theme is ‘Attitude of Gratitude.’
What about the factor of tradition? Yes, that probably plays a role, too. Coach Ken says the boys do go on the field with the expectation they can win the game, even if they might be trailing at halftime, which seldom happens. “One game at a time,” he emphasizes.
Plus, there is the on-going tradition of ringing the victory bell in front of the Middle School.
The football winning streak will end someday, everybody knows that. But until that day arrives, the players, students, parents, fans, and alumni are having a pleasant time. Then they will just start a new one.