Frank Fisk could hardly contain his enthusiasm when recalling being part of Western Nevada Community College’s first athletic team back in the early 1970s. Growing up in the small Northern Nevada rural community of Lovelock, it was a big moment in his young adult life to make the first basketball team at WNCC.
“It was a lot of fun. There was a local flavor of kids playing but not like now where they come out of state to play on a community college team like that,” Frank said.
In fact, Frank said that coach Joe Ayarbe exercised an unusual method of recruiting players that first season.
“Actually, the reason I came out for the team was when they were putting the team together the coach was going through the halls and asking if anybody wanted to play basketball,” Frank said. “I did have some (structured) basketball experience and most of the kids who played for the team weren’t so-called stars on their high school teams. But I never had aspirations of playing college ball; it was the right time and the right situation for me to play.”
When Frank visited WNC back in March, he didn’t recognize the campus because when he was a student and basketball player at WNCC in 1972-73, he took most of his college classes at Stead Air Force Base since WNCC wouldn’t have a campus for a couple more years.
“It was like going to high school. The classes were small and you knew almost everybody in them because you shared a lot of the same classes,” Frank said.
Frank was a reserve guard on that first Wildcat basketball team coached by Ayarbe, who also served as an administrator and counselor at WNCC. Ayarbe obtained funding to not only establish WNCC’s first athletic team, but it was the first intercollegiate community college team in Nevada.
That first team in 1972-73 included a roster of 14 players from Reno, Hug, Wooster, Pershing County, Gabbs, Bishop Manogue, Sparks and Saint Michael high schools. Frank’s teammates were Ron Johnson, Jim Gibson, Ray Rodrigues, Michael Bush, Ruben Martin, David Kress, Mark Donnelly, Ken Smith, Roger Debenham, Fred Anderson, John Rosa, Joe Murry and Robert Kinser. Ayarbe was assisted by Neil Fockler. Frank and his brother-in-law, Ray, were the elder statesmen on the team at 21 and 22 years old, respectively.
“We were known as the older boys,” Frank said.
Despite not having a “true” home court and having to practice and play home games at various high schools in Carson City and Reno, the experiences were very rewarding for Frank and his teammates.
Even though WNCC won the first game it ever played on Nov. 30, 1972, against the Lassen College Cougars at Carson High School, Frank said there was a more significant victory that first season: beating the University of Nevada, Reno JV team. This came at a time when the NCAA had just changed its eligibility rule, allowing freshmen on its varsity teams, but coaches could refrain from using their first-year players. The other highlight from its first season on the hardwood was a two-game series sweep of Northern Nevada Community College, which included a couple of former Pershing County High School classmates.
The Wildcats mainly played a schedule against Golden Valley Conference teams from Northern California. Ayarbe, who passed away in 2013, led the Wildcats to a 44-50 record in four years and later became the college’s athletic director and golf coach.
As a new team, Frank said that the Wildcats’ fan base was reminiscent of what he experienced in Lovelock.
“Support was like in high school,” he said. “Not having a home court, we played at Wooster High, Reno High, Hug High, and a few people showed up. We had a core of people there, but I think it was mostly parents and players’ friends.”
The Wildcats eventually became a very competitive team in the Golden Valley Conference, winning 12 of 26 games during the 1973-74 and 74-75 seasons before posting a 15-9 record in 1975-76.
Frank didn’t go out for the team in his second year at WNCC because of his commitments to family and work.
“I could have gone out and made the team, but I had to devote most of my time to home life and I wasn’t much of a star player, so to speak,” Frank said. “The reason why I went out and played was that I enjoyed playing and the physical activity. Out of all my teammates, I had the highest GPA (3.5), and that was what coach was happiest about.”
Besides his schooling, Frank fulfilled other obligations. He was married to Anita, now his wife of 52 years, and they had a young daughter. Frank also helped his dad and brothers with the family’s sand and gravel business in Wadsworth and served in the Army National Guard from 1971-77. Frank went on to a mining career, working at Battle Mountain Gold, Barrick and Coeur Rochester. Anita became Nevada State Teacher of the Year, served as principal of Pershing County High School and Pershing County Middle School, coached basketball and volleyball and became her high school’s first female athletic director.
“He never saw me because I was so darn busy,” Anita said.
As WNC celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, Frank can take pride in his place in the college’s history.