The last four months featured so many standout performances, broken records and individual achievements it was difficult to come up with the finalists for my annual Sports Awards column, but these are my final picks for the spring 2012 season.

I’ll start with my Team of the Year pick, which goes to the Mingus Union High School girls track and field team.

Just a few weeks ago, the Marauders claimed the Division III state championship, their first in school history.

Led by seniors Torey Braly, Emma Schraner, Makenzie Mabery, Stephanie Gilboy, junior Skyler Storie and sophomore Heather Calandra, the Marauders put it all together in the end to absolutely destroy the competition, winning the state trophy by nearly 40 points.

It’s just silly to have a point margin that great in a high school state championship track and field event.

My runner-up Team of the Year award goes to the boys track and field team at Sedona Red Rock High School.

The boys finished second overall with 67 points at the Division III State Championships in Mesa back in May, only seven points shy of Higley High School which claimed the title.

For a school the size of Sedona, which is near the bottom of Division III in terms of enrollment, to stand out and finish nearly at the top of the team standings is truly remarkable.

My honorable mention Team of the Year award goes to the Mingus softball team. The Marauders finished 19-11 overall this season and were destined to make the Division III state semifinals before losing a heartbreaker to No. 1-ranked Payson High School, 8-7.

Against the Longhorns, Mingus led 7-0 heading into the seventh inning before losing in extra frames.

Receiving the Surprise Team of the Year award for the spring 2012 season is the Camp Verde High School baseball team.

Led by seniors Jesse Fullbright and Kody Rayburn, the Cowboys finished the 2012 campaign with an 18-10 overall record and earned a No. 17 seed heading into the Division III state playoffs.

Camp Verde fought hard but lost to No. 16-seeded Snowflake High School in the first round of the state tournament, 4-2.

The runner-up Surprise Team of the Year award goes to the Mingus boys tennis team.

The Marauders made it all the way to the Division III state semifinals for the second straight season with players like seniors Jonathan Witt and Andrew Hickey along with sophomore Talon Walz having great seasons.

This leads into my spring Player of the Year nomination for an athlete who had a great season in a Mingus baseball uniform: senior Evan McFarland.

McFarland hit .402 this spring for the Marauders, which went 17-14 overall. McFarland’s .402 average was tops on the team, collecting 42 hits in 102 at bats. He had two home runs, 14 doubles, three triples and led Mingus with 41 RBIs.

He scored 26 runs and stole 16 bags to lead the Marauders, not to mention his pitch-calling abilities behind the plate, making him the best baseball player in the Verde Valley this spring.

Receiving my runner-up Player of the Year award is a Scorpion track and field standout, senior Chris Oestmann.

Oestmann set school records this season in the high jump, 110- and 300-meter hurdles and had the fastest 400-meter dash time in school history at 49.8 seconds. It is not considered a school record since he set the mark during a 4x400-meter relay event. His 6-foot, 7-inch high jump record is more than likely the best high jump mark of any school in the Verde Valley, ever.

I also need to hand out an honorable mention Player of the Year award, which goes to two young athletes in the Verde Valley.

Juan Wells, a senior at Mingus, won an individual state championship in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs in Mesa and helped the Marauders 4x800-meter relay team to place first and set a school record at state. If that wasn’t enough, Wells broke the 1,600 school record at the Meet of Champions one week after state.

The other young athlete receiving honorable mention is senior Nyomi Mosley of the Sedona girls track and field team. She took home gold at state in not only the triple jump but the discus as well and set a school record in the shot put this spring.

Last, but certainly not least, I must make sure Verde Valley coaches get some recognition for their efforts on the field of competition this spring. My spring Coach of the Year award goes to Mingus track and field Head Coach Yancey DeVore.

In his first year at the helm for the Marauders, DeVore brought home a Division III state championship for the girls, the first in school history.

Need I say more?

Receiving my runner-up Coach of the Year award is Sedona softball Head Coach John Brown.

Although the Scorpions finished 9-14 overall this season, having won two of their last three games, Brown led a group full of newcomers since many of the returners missed substantial time due to injury. Senior Whitney Cooper missed most of the season while recovering from an unfortunate knee injury while senior catcher Maria Micheli was plagued with back problems throughout the spring.

Along with a freshman pitcher on the mound, Brown did quite well under duress and surely deserves this nomination.

Congratulations to all the Verde Valley teams on another great spring.{jcomments on}

One of the most entertaining sports columns I’ve read in awhile came from Hampton Stevens, a writer for several publications including The Atlantic, Maxim, Playboy, ESPN the Magazine and many more.

His column was called, “Why cheerleading isn’t a sport, but croquet is.”

He wrote about it simply as a “bargument,” or a debate with no right or wrong answer that must be uncomplicated enough to discuss after three beers.

I, myself, have had many “barguments” over the years with friends about what is, and what isn’t, a sport, and we’ve always somehow come to the same understanding. It is impossible to define what is, and what isn’t, a sport.

But we can try.

For starters, Stevens brought up the famous court case in June 2010, sharing in his column about when Quinnipiac University administrators wanted to save money and attract more students, they decided to replace the volleyball program with a competitive cheer squad.

The volleyball coach at Quinnipiac sued, claiming a Title IX violation, stating that college students have a right to play volleyball. The ruling judge, naturally, decided to rule that according to the NCAA and Title IX definitions, volleyball is more of a sport than cheerleading. Let the vein in the forehead of many cheerleaders reading this start to protrude.

Reading Stevens’ column, of course, only gets my competitive juices flowing to argue, or “bargue,” what is, or isn’t a sport.

The court case in 2010 naturally sparked debate as to what else isn’t considered a sport, or less of a sport, inciting debates over NASCAR, golf, bowling, curling, bull-riding, bass-fishing, ping-pong, poker and many others.

If we use Stevens’ point of view, every single sport on earth shares three fundamental characteristics: people compete at it, computers can’t do it and aesthetics don’t count.

To me, this seems like a broad spectrum.

My old pal Bob Murphy would say, “If you can smoke while doing it, it’s not a sport.”

Does that mean we should throw golf out the door as a sport and consider it just a competition? I think those who play golf regularly would have something to say about that.

My point of view would be slightly different when it comes to defining if it is a sport or isn’t: If it requires a lot of practice, athletic ability, a ball or object of some sort to use while competing, and the general public may not do it well, despite how much they practice, then it shall be labeled a sport.

Let’s get the obvious for-sure sports out of the way, allowing football, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and tennis to be a sport. There is no debate there.

What about horse racing, or hot dog eating contests, a-la Takeru Kobayashi, the top hot dog eater of them all? Sure, people compete at it and computers can’t do it. As for aesthetics, come on, throwing down 100 hot dogs with water isn’t aesthetically pleasing, but it’s sure not a sport.

Professional hot dog eaters don’t need to be athletes to shove lots of hot dogs down their respective pie-holes. Golf is a sport. Although one may be able to smoke between strokes, it still requires a lot of practice, athletic ability and has a ball.

If you don’t believe me, go grab a buddy’s 7-iron, find the nearest driving range and try to hit a little white ball more than 1 foot.

I may get a lot of crap for this, but I do think NASCAR is a sport.

Although I think it’s completely ill advised to watch a bunch of cars go in a circle for three hours, I’ve always thought the best drivers on the road were athletes. Good anticipation and feel for the road is required. Not everyone has it — it’s why you still see gosh-darn people sitting in a roundabout looking like they are driving through time in “Back to the Future.”

NASCAR drivers have no ball, but do have an object [race car] to get the job done and have to practice plenty going 200-plus mph with 40 other cars only inches away from putting them into the wall.

This brings me to other activities I consider a sport like skateboarding, snowboarding, biking, skiing, boxing, and Frisbee golf. Add swimming and running to the list, too.

I debated about running and swimming actually, if they are a sport, or not a sport, and as my esteemed colleagues pointed out in the office, “try and run five miles without stopping and we’ll see if you think it’s a sport or not.”

In the end, I guess it’s too hard to define if an activity is a sport or not, and there is no blueprint for it. It is true, mostly everything can be done without being athletic, it’s just the matter of if it’s done well or not. I better stop before I get in trouble, but I challenge the readers out there to come up with their own reasoning.

Let the barguments begin.

More changes by the Arizona Interscholastic Association may be on the horizon. Presented at the AIA Executive Board meeting March 19, three major issues were discussed and will be voted on for change by September.

One involves a transfer rule change. Any athlete who moves within a 50-mile radius of his or her current domicile will be automatically ineligible for a year at a new school. Currently, athletes and their families can be eligible right away if they move into a new school district.

Another issue involves a proposal of forcing private, charter and parochial schools to move up at least one classification.

The third issue involves allowing a struggling program to move down a classification after it meets specific guidelines.

On the transfer rule, I agree with the AIA and its stance. There are too many student athletes swapping schools for better programs, a decision they make solely on their chosen sport, instead of making it for academic reasons or other personal reasons. There are plenty of cases where student athletes leave a district for other issues, but they are too many that do it for the wrong reason.

For example, a young baseball player is enrolled at Mingus Union High School, and his family lives in Cottonwood. He plays for the Marauders baseball team during the 2012 season. His family decides to move to the Sedona area this summer, and the student would be looking to enroll and play baseball at Sedona Red Rock High School for the 2012-2013 calendar year.

Under the current guidelines, this would be fine. With the new proposed change, this would not be allowed.

The second proposed change, bringing private schools into the discussion and forcing each school to move up a division, isn’t something I would agree with.

A school like Scottsdale Christian High School, which is private and currently sits in Division III for a sport like basketball, or in Division V for a sport like football, would be forced to move up one division in each sport.

Most of you know I’m not a big fan of many private schools, or the fact that a basketball team like Orme High School can win a 1A conference state title in Arizona and not have one player in its starting lineup from the United States, much less Arizona, like in 2010-2011, or that many recruit and get away with it.

The fact remains, however, many private schools don’t participate in the nonsense previously mentioned, and shouldn’t be forced to move up a division.

Finally, allowing a struggling program to get some relief and move down a classification is one of the only beauties of the new alignment put into action by the AIA two years ago.

The terms of the new proposal are if a program finishes in the bottom eight in power point rankings for three consecutive years, the program could petition down a division. There is a motion to make it a two-year deal instead of three.

For those who don’t know, a football team at a certain school may be in Division IV, and the softball team could be in Division II. It all depends on how many schools play a particular sport.

A football team that struggles every season and sits in Division II could petition down to Division III if it struggles for three consecutive years, and the school would play a completely different schedule.

There are plenty of sports where this change wouldn’t matter. Playing a computer-generated schedule, a team could struggle, but then if the program decides to drop a division, the new division could be just as strong, and the program would still struggle.

I guess, in the end, this new proposed change would at least give administrators and coaches something to discuss, eventually making their decisions based on what’s good for the program.

While we’re talking about change, I wanted to let all those readers out there know a change for baseball and softball did take place last month.

From now on, a losing team down 15 runs or more can call it quits after three innings of play, instead of the normal 10-run rule that stops play after five innings are complete. A 1A conference athletic director proposed this change, and it was passed quickly.

I kind of laughed at this one when I heard about it. What did the AIA expect? With new generated schedules presented by the AIA, small schools like Mayer High School, which may have around 180 students enrolled, are forced to play Mingus, a school that has nearly 1,300 students enrolled, because of geographical closeness.

Mingus beat Mayer in a doubleheader earlier this season, 29-0 and 37-1.

Are you kidding me? How can you put even one kid through this? We constantly talk about keeping kids interested in sports and keeping them active and out of trouble. Who would want to go out for a baseball team when they know they’re going to get beat 66-1 in a doubleheader?

We’ll see where the proposed changes go. Hopefully, the right thing will be done in interest of the student athletes, not the AIA.

At the end of every sports season, I like to recognize the local teams, players and coaches on a job well done. This past winter, there were plenty of great performances to chose from but here are my final picks.

I’ll start with my Team of the Year pick, which will go to the Camp Verde High School girls basketball team.

Under the tutelage of longtime Head Coach Mark Showers, the Cowboys finished the 2011-2012 season with a 27-6 overall record, making it all the way to the Division III state semifinals in Glendale 11 days ago.

The Cowboys lost to Page High School in the final four, but that doesn’t take away from what this Camp Verde team did this season. Page was the eventual state champion, making it slightly easier on Showers and his girls to swallow the loss. It’s always nice to say you lost to the state champ after exiting the playoffs.

Runner up for my Team of the Year award is the Camp Verde wrestling team.

Head Coach Bob Weir and his Cowboys won the Section I [Division IV] Championships, then followed up that performance with a second-place finish at the Division IV State Championships in Prescott Valley a week later.

My honorable mention Team of the Year pick goes to the Mingus Union High School girls soccer team. The Marauders finished the  season with an impressive 19-1-2 overall record, losing only to No. 4 Seton Catholic High School in the Division III quarterfinals, 1-0.

Moving on to my Surprise Team of the Year award, I’d like to nominate the Mingus boys soccer team and Head Coach Cade Densmore.

Densmore and the Marauders finished the season with a 10-4 overall record and qualified for the Division III state playoffs as a No. 6 seed.

Mingus lost a heart breaker Jan. 31 to No. 11 Gilbert Christian High School after a controversial call, 2-1. The play at the end of the match can even be seen on the Internet, and the coaches from Gilbert Christian pushed to go to overtime, but the match was called.

Despite the bitter ending, the Marauders were one of the best teams in the state this season and had their best year in a long time under Densmore.

My runner up Surprise Team of the Year award would go to the Camp Verde boys basketball team.

The Cowboys finished their winter campaign with a 16-12 overall record and qualified for the Division III state playoffs. Camp Verde’s biggest win of the season, 59-57, came against Division II Prescott High School on Jan. 6.

Camp Verde eventually lost to Valley Christian High School in the state tournament, 68-53, but having lost the best two players in the Verde Valley to graduation the year before, it was certainly a monumental achievement.

Seniors Jake Spleiss, Johnny Hudson and Brian Hudson had excellent seasons and were a big reason the Cowboys had a surprising 2011-2012 campaign.

My honorable mention pick for the Surprise Team of the Year pick goes to the Sedona Red Rock High School girls basketball team. The Scorpions finished 16-12 overall and qualified for the Division III state tournament before losing to Window Rock High School, 63-31.

Now for my individual awards. For my Player of the Year award, I name senior Mingus girls soccer player Torey Braly. Braly scored 35 goals this year while leading her team to a 19-1-2 overall record. Braly scored 39 in 2011, making it 74 goals in two years, easily the best performance of any girls soccer player in Mingus history.

Runner up for the Player of the Year award goes to Lila Hickey. A Camp Verde girls basketball player, Hickey was one of the most dominant big girls in Division III this season and was a big reason the Cowboys made it to the final four.

Receiving my honorable mention title for Player of the Year is Mingus boys basketball player Rashonn Montgomery. He was one of the leading scorers for the Marauders and really helped turn that program around quickly. Montgomery is a junior this year, so look for better things from the point guard next year.

Last but not least, my Coach of the Year considerations. Darren Gagnon from Camp Verde boys basketball is my award winner. Gagnon took the Cowboys to the state playoffs after graduating a ton of talent in 2010-2011. He got this year’s team to play together, which is why the Cowboys were so successful.

My runner up Coach of the Year award goes to Tina Hawes for Sedona girls basketball. Hawes did an excellent job managing the Scorpions, and she looks for an even bigger 2012-2013.

I’d also like to hand out an honorable mention Coach of the Year to first-year boys basketball Head Coach Mark Owens at Mingus. The team went 10-16 this season, and since the Marauders have made a habit of winning only two or three games a year in the recent past, a 10-win season is only the beginning for Owens.

Congratulations to all the award winners on an excellent winter.

A few days from now, my son Admir Jeremiah Bergner will be born into this world. Bringing a life to this planet, a life that I will now be responsible for, scares me.

Not so much the ensuing labor, hospital stay, poopy diapers, getting up at 2 a.m. to bring A.J. from the crib to his mother, the endless barrage of puke fests, or watching an infant child for several hours by myself.

What scares me is one simple question. This simple question has caused many sleepless nights over the past few weeks. Or the countless minutes of staring into the distance like I were a war-weary veteran with the 1,000-yard stare.

That question is: What type of father, or parent, will I be for this child?

Since I am the head boys basketball coach at Sedona Red Rock High School, and have coached teenagers since 2004 for the Scorpions, I’ve been privy to hundreds of kids, and their parents.

Many players were excellent, full of commitment, pride and joy for the game. Their parents were supportive of me and what we were trying to accomplish.

There are, of course, other players, who at times could be destructive, and they had similarly destructive parents. There have also been good kids with athletic-agenda-filled parents and troubled kids with parents who don’t have the answer as to why their child acts like they do.

In the end, for all the years in being around parents and supervising their children during athletic competition, I’ve found that for the most part, they are only looking out for their own.

This leads to another big question for me, which is what type of athletic parent will I be?

This is not to say A.J. will be born into athleticism, but come on, I’m 6 feet 8 inches tall, love sports, coach basketball and write about athletics for a living. I played hoops in college and several other sports in high school. How could he not be at least involved a little?

Will I be the father who yells from the stands at the referee or instructs my kid play-by-play when all he wants to do is what his coach tells him?

Will I be the parent who goes home after the game and complains about the coaching or how bad the officiating was, or will I come to terms with maybe my son shouldn’t have fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line twice?

Will I be the parent who bashes the head coach behind his or her back because I think A.J. should be playing more instead of realizing I’m not at practice, and I don’t truly know what is going on?

Will I be the parent who decides to take my son away from the team because it suits the family instead of thinking of the rest of the team and all that depend on him?

Or will I be the father who coaches his son through his childhood and on into high school until he’s 18?

I’m completely fine with fathers, or parents, stepping in and coaching their young athletic hopefuls until high school, but once they reach high school, as a coach myself, I’m not the biggest fan in the world of having parents on the payroll.

It seems most of the time the parent is coaching for his or her child and not the program. When the child graduates, he or she too, graduates. It’s not fair to the rest.

This isn’t to say it can’t be done. There are plenty of great coaches who coach at the high school before, and after, their young athlete attends the school.

Most of the time though, in my opinion, a parent can never look past one thing — his or her own child. He or she can’t see the big picture because he or she is focused on his or her own child and his or her well-being.

This is not a bad thing, of course, but when it comes to team sports, it can be disruptive. Parents will always, no matter how hard they try, or how much they try to ignore it, have an agenda for their offspring.

On the other side, will I be the parent who helps the program out whenever needed? Run a hospitality room without the first thought of being thanked? Keep the book, drive other parents’ kids to practice, find time to wash the team’s uniforms, or film a game?

Will I make sure if the coach tells A.J. something, he had better do it, or there will be hell to pay not only at practice, but at home?

Will I keep in mind A.J. is a young man, and he’s going to make mistakes, and I shouldn’t take him away from the team just because I feel he needs to be punished when in fact that will only hurt the team?

Now, as a first-time parent-to-be, all of the above thoughts have come crashing down on my head like a ton of bricks, because I now have to look at it from a different perspective and assume my feelings, or opinions, may change one day.

Parents can be your greatest asset as a coach. They can also be your greatest enemy. What type of parent will I be?{jcomments on}

This may be a difficult pill to swallow for many athletes, parents, the family members of those athletes and future hopefuls: Club sports are not a guaranteed avenue for a college athletic scholarship.

Oh, and here’s another zinger for you: I hate club sports.

Why? Because club sports, which have become the devil of amateur athletics, take away from the normal experience of high school athletes and thrusts them into singular thinking — putting all one’s eggs in one basket, so to speak.

How can a parent, or a coach for that matter, ask so much of a 14-year-old? What has a kid at that age really figured out?

As an athlete, would a person really learn how to only shoot a basketball, but not dribble? Or learn how to catch a fly ball, but not throw? Or learn to run, but not jump?

Remember the days when college sports felt so innocent, back when we used to think college athletes played for the love of the game?

Every day we hear about athletes taking money to attend a certain school. Do you really believe a kid from the Bronx can afford to live in a condo and drive an Escalade? Give me a break.

It’s a blatant stripping of what was once good about athletics.

In the last 15 years, club sports have taken over the high school sports scene. No longer do you see many college scouts sitting in the gymnasium watching an 18-year-old play out his senior hoops season, then shake the kid’s hand after and say, “good game.”

Now, it’s all about club tournaments, making it easier for college recruiters to find that athlete.

I will agree, if an athlete decides he or she is interested in an athletic scholarship, going the club route is a fine idea.

What I don’t agree with is this: Instead of playing two or three sports in high school, young misled athletes play only one. They play baseball in the spring, then instead of playing football, volleyball, running cross-country, or swimming in the fall, they play club baseball. It’s insane.

Parents and coaches, your child or player will not become a better athlete by playing one sport. To think so is wrong.

Doesn’t anyone remember the days when the summer was over and you and your friends suited up for football, then when the leaves began to change and snow started to fall you laced it up to hit the gym for basketball practice?

Then, at the end of winter as the weather turned a little nicer, you brought out the mitt, oiled it up, and went out to play baseball or softball? Or maybe your sport of choice was soccer, or hockey, or whatever else. It doesn’t matter.

Most kids can’t stand to do one thing year-round, but they and their family members are fueled by greedy club coaches who charge insane amounts of money to play a sport for them, all while whispering in their ears, “The only way to get a college scholarship is to play for me.”

Trust me, if an athlete is good enough to play at the next level, college coaches will find them.

If the athlete’s goal isn’t to play at the next level, but to improve for the upcoming season, for whatever sport they play, club sports isn’t a great idea either. Swimmers are a good example. Basketball is one of the best cross-training sports out there for swimmers.

Instead, a young 14-year-old swimmer is told to forgo a sport he or she loves — such as basketball — because, “Club swim season is in the winter, and we all know if you want to get better at swimming, you need to do it year-round.” Baloney.

Similarly, a young basketball player might choose not to go out for the baseball, softball or track and field team because club basketball season is in the spring. Decisions such as these hurt the high school programs and the athletes themselves.

I’ll give it to you straight. According to research done by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, only 3 percent of high school basketball players will go on to earn a scholarship for a college basketball program — only 3 percent.

The research also revealed only 6.1 percent of high school baseball players earn a college scholarship, while 11 percent of high school hockey players go to the next level and about 5.7 percent play football in college.

Now, I realize many athletes just want to get better at the sport they love, but a club basketball website doesn’t say, “Get better at dribbling.” No, it says, “Here’s all the kids who went on to play college ball that played for my organization.” This may not be a realistic goal for some athletes. In the end, if club sports didn’t take away from the high school sports season, I would be OK with it. For example, if club sports were only in the summer, I could live with it. I’m sure many others agree.

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