Royce Writes: Wayne Pearson

June 4, 2012

This is the second in a special series of three stories looking back at some of the people who helped build UNLV Athletics. A member of the Nevada Press Association Hall of Fame and Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, the author retired in 2004 after 37 years as a Las Vegas sports writer. This story originally ran in The Ely Times and is posted here with permission.

By Royce Feour (Rfeour@aol.com)

Wayne Pearson has left a prominent mark in Nevada in the fields of gaming, politics, psychology and athletics.

Pearson, a native of McGill, was a 1948 graduate of White Pine High School. He was the Valedictorian of his high school class. Pearson was graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in general psychology in 1952. He received his Masters degree at Nevada in 1957 after serving two years in the Army.

He received a Doctorate in psychology with an emphasis in statistics from Cornell University in 1959.

Pearson joined the Nevada Gaming Control Board staff in 1959 in the audit division as a research analyst.

He was appointed by Gov. Paul Laxalt to the three-member Gaming Control Board in 1967. The Gaming Control Board is considered one of the most powerful positions in the state and is one of the most sought after.

Pearson served on the Gaming Control Board during a historic time with the licensing of Howard Hughes in 1967. The legendary Hughes went on to own six hotel/casinos in Nevada.

Pearson also played a key role when he was on the board in lobbying for the passage of the Public Corporate Gaming License Act, which allowed public companies to own casinos.

"I always had an interest in gaming," Pearson who is 80, said. "My grandmother taught me to play poker when I was 5. Card playing was a way of life in McGill. We had the "Pinochle Gang" with myself, John Carlson, George Morley and Bob Pratt. Everybody played cards. It was the same way in college."

He had a further place in gaming history as a member of the Dunes Hotel Board of Directors starting in 1978.

Pearson also served as the Executive Director of the Nevada Republican party in the early 1960s.

I have known Pearson for 46 years. He was heavily involved in the starting of football at UNLV as the No. 1 fund-raiser, something that was crucial to UNLV football since the Nevada Legislature appropriated only $15,000 to start the program.

He was officially appointed Director of Athletic Fund-Raising at UNLV in 1971. Since Chub Drakulich was the UNLV athletic director at the time and Bill Ireland was the first football coach (and all three were from McGill), McGill had more influence on UNLV football than any place in the state. That is awesome considering how small McGill was.

It was Pearson's idea - and it was a great one - to start the athletic scholarship program at UNLV. The word "scholarship" proved to be magical, motivating the public to donate to the UNLV athletic scholarship program and receive season football and basketball tickets.

Pearson was also the force behind the building of the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus, as well as the Lawlor Events Center on the Reno campus.

"That was my project," he said. "I was the coordinator of the whole effort - the legislative effort and the fund-raising."

Pearson was selected to the UNLV Athletic Hall of Fame. I well know that because as a member of the UNLV Athletic Hall of Fame Selection Committee, I nominated him.

Pearson was offered the position of athletic director at UNLV by the University Board of Regents in 1980, but he turned down the position.

He said he didn't want to have to give up his outside activities to take the AD job. Those included being on the Dunes Board of Directors, the Dunes audit committee and chairman of the Clark County effort for Laxalt's U.S. Senate reelection.

Pearson was an outstanding political adviser and pollster. He owned an operated a consulting company for businesses and politics, with a specialty in public opinion polls.

Laxalt, who was both governor of Nevada and its U.S. Senator, heaps high praise on Pearson.

"Through my many runs for political office, no advisor proved more valuable to me than Wayne Pearson," Laxalt said. "He was a source of sound political judgment, completely loyal and reliable, an excellent strategist and one of the best pollsters I've come across. Indeed, Wayne played an integral role in whatever political success I enjoyed."

"Wayne's polling methods were brilliant. Rather than using telephone surveys and so-called "tracking" polls, he set out to duplicate actual voting conditions," Laxalt said. "The rock-solid results provided us with a significant advantage in framing our and strategy. His exit polls on Election Day proved to be similarly accurate."

The most beautiful wedding I ever attended was when Wayne and his wife Jerrie were married on top of the scenic mountain at Camp Success outside Ely 20 years ago. Both Laxalt and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid were there.

Pearson was president of the Nevada Psychological Association and served four terms on the Nevada Board of Psychological Examiners.

Pearson and I have been to many sporting events together - high school, college and professional, including the 1989 Earthquake World Series in San Francisco and two World Series in Oakland.