The 2010-2011 school year is sure to have plenty of exciting games to watch, players to cheer and story lines to cover over the next 10 months.

It seems like the first day of school gets earlier every year, but Mingus Union High School, Camp Verde High School and Sedona Red Rock High School are all a week or so away from their respective start dates.

 

Being the Midwest corn-fed boy that I am, this starting school before Labor day business is a little strange, especially when two of the three schools start classes in the middle of next week.
August brings excitement for me to tell you the truth.

Not that the two-plus months of summer aren’t fun in June and July, but it seems the hotter it gets, the fewer sporting events there are to cover.

This fall, all three high schools have their own exciting story lines that should unfold as time goes by, some of which are more interesting than others.

For starters, the biggest questions surround the Marauders football team in Cottonwood.
With almost everyone returning, can Mingus get back to the state championship game like it did in 2008 and this time finally win the big one?

Santa Rita High School ended Mingus’ season last year in the state semifinals, handing the Marauders their only loss of the season as they finished 12-1.

With most of the players coming back as seniors this year, it’s quite possible the boys in red and gray will bring home a title.

Sticking with Mingus, Athletic Director Mike Boysen hired a new swim coach this summer, Erin Estes, who is looking to continue the great work Rick Heisley did in bringing home a Grand Canyon title for the girls.

Out on the trails, can Jim Bostwick and his cross country team repeat what they did in 2009 when they took home a 4A-II state championship?

Over in Camp Verde, the Cowboys football team graduated a few seniors, including All-State quarterback Mike Boler, but Head Coach Luke Steege always has a few tricks up his sleeve.

In soccer, Dave Miller and his boys are certainly going to be in the mix for a 2A state championship this season, having lost in the state quarterfinals last season with many young players who are coming back.

Of course, Sedona is never missing from any water cooler discussions at this time of year.

The defending 2A-3A state swimming champs are back for the Scorpions this season, and the girls cross country team under the tutelage of Head Coach Harry Schneider could win a state championship this season at the 3A level.

In volleyball, Head Coach John Parks led a strong group of girls to the school’s first final four appearance but lost to eventual state champion Monument Valley High School.

Although Sedona lost a few seniors, the program is strong, and the Scorpions are primed for another run in 2010.

As for football, the Scorpions haven’t been the strongest team in recent years. In fact, they’ve been downright horrible, but with new Head Coach Rick Walsworth running the show all summer, it seems a new era is about to begin, even if it doesn’t mean a whole lot of wins in 2010.

It’s good to be back, folks, so get your tickets and enjoy the show because the fall 2010 season is going to be a whole lot of fun.

Since there are no stock car races, go-cart sprints or dirt tracks to cover in the Verde Valley, I guess the only plausible option is to cover the local roundabouts.

 Like NASCAR, except every day of the week instead of just Sunday afternoons, thousands of cars pass through our local roundabouts and most motorists have figured out how to use them.

 However, some drivers still haven’t mastered the traffic circles, as evidenced when a big black SUV turned left into oncoming traffic, the complete opposite of the way it should be going.

 Ever seen a driver want to turn right with the flow of traffic, but stop, proceed past the middle section and then turn right onto oncoming traffic? I have, and it’s quite laughable.

 Not laughable would be when someone actually uses the roundabout correctly and a big 18-wheel semitruck comes dashing through, taking up every foot of space and squeezing you between him and Nancy’s art displayed center stage within the roundabout.

 Of course, the most obvious violation of our new roundabout madness are the drivers who completely stop while still in the flow of the circle, not only upsetting those trapped behind them but making those at the yield sign escalate to their craziness point and yell, “Your turn…,” add any expletive of your choice to fill in the blank.

 So how do we solve this roundabout madness? Should we invite locals and tourists alike to take a class called Roundabout 101? Should we set up a driver’s education course online for the computer literate?

 How about a written test during the driver’s exam when the young ones get their permits? In fact, how about making it part of the checklist the Motor Vehicle Division employees can mark off while on a road test?

 In the end, there is no exact answer, but to add to the roundabout madness I’m calling for a new sport to hit the streets using none other than … Big Wheels.

 My fantastic idea would not only solve the lack of racing coverage in the Verde Valley, but also give the locals something to cheer about instead of calling out for the man upstairs to fix our roundabout problem all while behind the wheel, drinking a cup of coffee, eating a doughnut and sending a text message to their loved one to find out what’s up.

 Wouldn’t it be exciting to see local business owners and other sponsors fighting to get in line to throw money at their favorite Big Wheel driver?

 Let’s just call it the Verde Valley Circuit. Patent pending.

 Each Verde Valley police department can shut down a certain roundabout when it becomes their weekend for a race for just the afternoon.

 In Sedona, we could hold our first race of the Big Wheel season at the busiest roundabout in town, at the intersection previously known as the ‘Y’ and now lovingly called the ‘O.’

 The city could call it the Red Rock Big Wheel 400 sponsored by ... pick any local business you would like. I think lots of local business owners would jump all over this one.

 Race fans would turn out by the hundreds to see 40 to 50 people strap themselves into a Big Wheel and pedal as fast as possible for an hour or so.

 Of course, there would be prizes for the winners like a gift certificate to a local pizzeria or even a toy store to buy bigger and better Big Wheels.

 How about the pit crew? We must have a pit crew stationed somewhere along the roundabout for each driver and their plastic vehicle with water and sports drink refreshments.

 Before each race gets started we would have the proverbial “Drivers, start your engines.”

 Since the Big Wheels make no sound whatsoever, we could have either the drivers make the sounds themselves or even a loudspeaker play it for the crowd.

 For the national anthem we would have our local talented singer, Courtney Grieco, winner of the Sedona Sunrise Superstar competition. Sedona Mayor Rob Adams could wave the checkered flag to signal the beginning and end of the race.

For Camp Verde and Cottonwood, the theme would be the same, especially in Camp Verde where the Cliff Castle Casino roundabout would bring the gambling crowd.

 Either way, these Big Wheel races sound like a fun alternative to the everyday madness of driving.

 Start your Big Wheels!

While 2010 steamrolls into the summer months, I find it more and more entertaining each time I put together my monthly column and the June edition is no different.

Last week, we recognized athletes for their performances on the field as All-State and All-Region team awards were announced, which were decided by a coaches panel within their respective conferences and regions.

In this column, like I did in the March 3 edition for the winter season, I would like to recognize the high schools I cover here in the Verde Valley by designating top-achieving individuals, teams and coaches for the spring season.

For my “team of the year” vote, I chose the Camp Verde High School baseball team for a fantastic spring.

Despite their 6-5 loss to Bourgade Catholic High School in the 2A conference state finals a few weekends ago, the 21-9 Cowboys came together as a team in late April and made a run to remember in the state playoffs.

The Cowboys defeated Williams High School [19-6], Northwest Christian Academy [11-1] and powerhouse Valley Christian Academy [3-1] to reach the finals.

Led by seniors Mike Boler, Curtis Hawk, Randy Justus, Taylor Mathews and Aaron Stutzman, their special run this spring will be something to remember for years to come.

For the runner-up “team of the year” award I have to go with the Sedona Red Rock High School boys track and field team, which claimed a 3A conference state championship May 15 and won a 3A West region title.

The Scorpions might have taken the top team award if it were not for the individual nature of the sport, but that doesn’t take away from what Sedona accomplished in earning its first boys track and field state title this spring.

Also, I would like to give an honorable mention to the Verde Valley School girls tennis team for the “team of the year” award by jumping right into my “surprise team of the year” award, which goes to the Coyotes.

Led by seniors Cassi Kovac and Sarah Jane Slater, the Coyotes went on to defeat Duncan High School in the 1A conference state tennis team tournament, 5-4.

During the process, Kovac claimed her second straight singles state title.

Verde Valley Athletic Director Matt Moran officially called it, stating these girls were fit to win a title, and surprisingly enough, they did.

Not bad for a small private high school nestled somewhere in the Village of Oak Creek that not too many people know about around these parts.

Receiving the runner-up “surprise team of the year” award is the Mingus Union High School girls track and field team.

The Marauders had one of their best seasons in recent memory and claimed a 4A-II Grand Canyon region championship, and also won the Winslow Invitational, one of the biggest meets in Arizona.

Also, the Sedona boys tennis team deserves a little something for their 1A-3A West region championship. I’ll give them the “surprise team of the year” honorable mention award.

My decision for the “coach of the year” award was a difficult one with so many coaches doing a great job this spring.

I believe Sedona track and field Head Coach Harry Schneider is my pick, however, as he led his boys team to a state championship and the Scorpion girls team to state runner-up.

The girls won it all in 2007 under the tutelage of Schneider, and now with a boys title this spring, Schneider has turned the Scorpions track and field program into a powerhouse.

Schneider did receive the 3A West coach of the year award after being selected by his peers.

Runner-up in the “coach of the year” award vote would be Camp Verde baseball Head Coach Steve Hicks, who in his first season worked his magic and took the Cowboys to a state championship game.

Mad scientist anyone?

For my “athlete of the year” award, I would like to congratulate senior Mingus baseball player Hunter Zwart.

Zwart hit .467 at the plate this season with a team-leading nine home runs and 41 RBIs while recording 11 doubles and three triples along the way.

In 40⅔ innings pitched, Zwart was 5-1 while boasting a 2.58 ERA, allowing only 32 hits and striking out 38 batters.

Zwart was selected as the 2010 4A-II Grand Canyon region MVP and will play in the North-South All-Star game which takes place Saturday, June 5, at Surprise Stadium with a first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.

My runner-up for “athlete of the year” would be Sedona senior Kevin Cox who won four gold medals at the 3A West regional championships and won three gold medals at Arizona State University in the 3A conference state championships.

Tieing with Cox for “athlete of the year” runner-up is a classmate of his, sophomore softball superstar Whitney Cooper.

Cooper hit .649 this season with an astonishing 14 home runs and 70 RBIs this season, making her the obvious choice for 3A West region MVP.

Receiving the “athlete of the year” honorable mention award is Mingus senior tennis player Alexander Lineberry who won a 4A-II Grand Canyon region MVP and took third at the 4A-II conference state meet a few weeks ago.

A new idea I had for the spring awards is a “freshman of the year” vote which I would happily give to Mykala Seresun of Sedona.

Seresun was one of the best long distance runners in the state this season in track and field and won the 3,200-meter run at the 3A West regional meet with a 12:50.04 time.

Also in the mix for “freshman of the year” is Sedona’s Shelby Cordova [softball] and Donnie Buss and Amanda Showers from Camp Verde [track and field].

Congratulations to all the teams and their players and we’ll see you in the fall.

In today’s world, money shortages and cutbacks have become more than just water-cooler talk between co-workers.

Teachers, administrators, educators and others have either lost their jobs, or been cut back to help balance the system again due to the silly funding our great state of Arizona gets for schools. No wonder we rank near the bottom in education.

One of the things on the chopping block in schools besides physical education classes, music, art and theater are sports programs.

Although nothing has come to fruition within the athletic departments around the state, or in the Verde Valley for that matter, the need to cut costs always rears its ugly head at athletic programs within our schools.

Let me assure you, however, this would be a bad move on Arizona’s local school boards and city councils.

According to a study done by the National Federation of State High School Associations, there are hundreds of case studies, research papers and documents pointing to a most important fact: Athletics and other forms of school activities are desperately needed.

Generally, to summarize the full extent of the research, students are generally more successful in school if involved in athletics.

Students with the highest classroom attendance are athletes and most have a better grade point average than their peers who don’t participate in sports at all.

Coaches hold their student-athletes accountable for all of the above and more — a higher standard one might say.

Students participating in athletics seem to be more socially involved in other programs besides the normal 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. class time at school. Also, those students who seem to be constantly in trouble with one, the school, or two, the law, or both, aren’t usually participating in athletics.

Now, it’s obvious those who watch the news on television or read it in the newspaper or online see troubled professional athletes’ faces posted all the time for their bad behavior. Sports are held at a higher profile usually, making it instant news.

Are you shaking your head yet?

Research conducted by Skip Dane of Hardiness Research in Casper, Wyo., revealed the following about participation in high school sports:

One, by a 2-to-1 ratio, boys who participate in sports do better in school, do not drop out and have a better chance to get through college. Two, the ratio for girls who participate in sports and do well in school is 3-to-1. Three, about 92 percent of sports participants do not use drugs. Four, school athletes are more self-assured. Five, sports participants take average and above-average classes. Six, sports participants receive above-average grades and perform above average on skills tests. Seven, student-athletes appear to have more parental involvement than other students.

If parents are more involved, it becomes harder for kids to do things they shouldn’t be doing.

A study of 75 Fortune 500 companies, done by the Colorado High School Activities Association, reveals 95 percent of corporate executives at the executive vice president level participated in sports during high school.

Nothing is ever black and white, but according to

S. Dinitz and B.A. Pfau-Vicent in “Self-Concept and Juvenile Delinquency,” a lack of participation in school activities, or sports for that matter, can be associated with a greater likelihood of involvement in delinquent behavior for high school students.

Mmm.

In the end, one can decide what they think about all of these studies, research and hours upon hours of testing that may mean nothing to the average person walking down the street. The fact remains that athletic programs in today’s schools mean a lot to many individuals.

I, for one, am one of those individuals. If it wasn’t for my high school coaches pushing me to do my best, pushing to get me involved in other people’s lives — if it wasn’t for sports, or basketball for that matter, which led me to college, which in turn led to a degree in journalism and a career in sports, writing and coaching, then I don’t know where I would be. That’s the truth.

Let me be case study number infinity.

In fact, making the point that athletics is important in schools may even bother some people, or upset them that such a study was done in the first place. Well, I bet those naysayers weren’t involved in athletics.

Events like the Verde Valley Challenge Relay are usually used in an effort to raise funds but what the track and field teams from Sedona Red Rock, Camp Verde and Mingus Union high schools accomplished Saturday, April 3, was quite refreshing.

The Say Yes to Athletics event — a 64-mile trek around the Verde Valley — brought no funds, no benefits and no donations to any of the three schools or their respective programs.

The event was solely for the athletes, to see if they could do the almost impossible, and what a treat it was to stand by and watch while nearly 75 kids took their turn running a mile.

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