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.

Before I dive into covering the spring sports here in the Verde Valley, I thought it would be prudent to congratulate all the high school teams that did well this winter.

For my “team of the year” vote, I would have to choose the Mingus Union High School girls soccer team.

From beginning to end the Marauders were the best soccer team at the 4A-II conference level, and maybe even better than that.

Their 20-2 record and 1-0 state championship victory over rival Flagstaff High School a few weeks ago will always be something to remember for Buddy Rhodes and his entire program, as well as myself, who had the privilege of standing on the sidelines and watching the girls jump for joy as the final horn sounded.

I think it’s important to announce a runner-up “team of the year” as well, and my vote would go to the Mingus wrestling program, finishing second behind the girls soccer team only because of the individual nature of the sport.

Just shy of two weeks ago the Marauders claimed their unprecedented fifth straight

4A-II team state championship after claiming the individual state championship just one week before.

With Head Coach Tom Wokasch at the helm, there’s no sign of this program slowing down anytime soon.

For my “surprise” team of the season we’ll stick with the sport that doesn’t require hands and give it to the Sedona Red Rock High School girls soccer team, finishing 13-6 and 8-0 in the 1A-3A North, claiming a region title.

Sedona made it to the 1A-3A conference final four, only to lose to eventual state champion Estrella Foothills High School, 2-0.

Head Coach Tom Cadigan and his troops had a special year and an unexpected year at that.

As for a special mention in the “surprise” category, I would have to recognize Mark Showers and his Camp Verde High School girls basketball team.

Led by three starting freshmen and a sophomore in the middle, the Cowboys were not expected to do much this season but finished the year 18-10 and qualified for the 2A conference state playoffs as the No. 10 seed.

Camp Verde lost in the first round to St. John’s High School, but in the end, it was a big step forward for the Cowboys.

Now that we’re done with the team awards, I can focus more on the individual efforts.

Receiving my “coach of the year” award, I would have to nominate Showers from the Camp Verde girls basketball program who took a team full of young talent and turned them into a state playoff qualifier.

Showers, and I, expected the young Cowboys to struggle a bit this season but what they did was far from it.

If the cards fall the way Showers hopes in the future, the Cowboys could be playing for a state championship in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

My “athlete of the year” award would have to go to Mingus senior Luke Goettl and his 140-pound dominance on the mat in 2009-2010.

Goettl finished his illustrious career with four straight individual state championships, a rarity in Arizona wrestling. Goettl won at 112 pounds, 130 pounds, 135 pounds and 140 pounds.

Goettl signed a letter of intent to wrestle for Iowa State University just a few months ago.

Congratulations to all the coaches and athletes for another great winter season.

 

Brian Bergner Jr. can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 131, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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