Trusted local news leader for Williams AZ and the Grand Canyon
Mon, March 08

State meet gives small-school<br>athletes chance to shine for day<br>

Sitting on the grass waiting for Scott Olsen, Ryan Eck and Steve Vessey to take their first attempts in the long jump, a kid from Phoenix Life School provided entertainment.

“Take a picture of me, I have an awesome vertical jump,” he called out to me, trying to play to the camera.

This particular athlete was also very verbal with the other athletes, sometimes it came off as funny, other times it came off as demeaning to the not-so-talented jumpers who were really just trying to better personal records.

The long jump official running the event also warned the Life School kid and many other athletes to quit cussing or they would be disqualified, something I was pleased to see.

Despite that little experience at the long jump pit, the Class 1A state track meet gives small-school athletes like those from Grand Canyon an opportunity to shine for a day.

Over the course of the season, Grand Canyon competes in large meets against bigger schools. Team points and medals are far and few between. A meet like the Joseph City Invitational is a great event to have near the end of the season, but even that includes 2A schools.

But down in the Valley of the Sun, the Phantoms can test their athletic abilities against athletes from schools the same size. Everybody is on an even playing field and it was fun to watch the Phantoms have some nice moments.

Jacob Wahler’s first-place finish in his heat of the 800-meter run caught my eye. Jake is a great kid, smart in the classroom and competitive in athletics. He seems to get mad at himself when he doesn’t perform as well as he should. It was very satisfying to see him break the tape in that heat of the 800.

Just as satisfying was watching Sally and Chuck Wahler in the stands. In particular, it was touching to see Chuck beaming with pride as his son led the athletes around the track. I’m used to seeing Chuck in school board meetings, running an official meeting and getting after people for bringing up issues not on the agenda. It’s great to see these folks in other settings.

In the high jump, Dennis Booth and Ryan Eck were among the final jumpers, both going out on 5-6. But just watching them in this arena at Chandler Hamilton High School, conversing with other athletes and wearing their Phantom red with pride, it’s nice to see.

The Class 1A state track meet has a lot of those moments. Janna Barth in the discus, sitting on the bench in a long line of athletes, waiting for her turn, probably with butterflies in her stomach. Justin Kremer, sprinting around the track and revealing he will be winning a lot of medals in the future if he sticks with the sport.

Then there are the parents in the stands, cheering them on. I already mentioned the Wahlers. Olsen’s mother and sister cheering him on in the 400-meter run also caught my eye. Cynthia is my son’s teacher and Kristin coached him in soccer last summer, so they’re very familiar faces. It was somehow exciting to see them in this different arena, proud of their son and brother.

This was the third 1A state track meet I had covered and Hamilton did a great job of hosting the event. It previous years, it had been staged at Mountain View over in Mesa. The weather was very cooperative, much nicer than the strong winds I experienced Friday during the Williams baseball and softball games in the 2A playoffs for those sports.

The concessions were even moderately priced, something I also found at the Desert West complex in softball, but not at the Maryvale Baseball Park for baseball. The state championship items such as T-shirts and caps seem to sell fairly well, but are too steep for my tastes. If my son was participating in an event at the state level, I suppose I would break down and buy something.

I’ve seen small-school state championship events improve in my six years covering Williams and Grand Canyon sports. The low was a 2A volleyball tournament I covered back in 1997, which I criticized in a column. Those opinions brought disapproving phone calls from the AIA. I also remember having the feeling that the 1A track meet was a little disorganized a few years ago.

But this past weekend’s track meet at Hamilton was pretty nice. The school campus is just a few years old (they even have an aquatic center) and the facilities are top notch.

I was glad to see our athletes have a chance to run on such an impressive track in nice weather. It’s a memorable way to end the season, especially after practicing on our substandard track at Grand Canyon, battling wind and cold temperatures and getting up at 4 a.m., to catch a bus somewhere.

Perhaps sometime in the future, the Phantoms will be able to practice on a nicer track, and maybe even host a big track meet every year. I know it’s been mentioned in the past and the money’s definitely not in the budget right now, but it’s OK to dream, right?

In the meantime, Annie Phillips and her assistants will keep motivating athletes with the end goal being a personal best at state. What a great part of the educational experience!

(Brad Fuqua is editor of the Grand Canyon News).

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