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Fri, Feb. 28

Challenges of rural athletics: Grand Canyon School committed to school sports

Grand Canyon Phantoms play at the regional tournament Feb. 5 against Basis. Grand Canyon School is a 1A Division school. Players often spend hours traveling to games and must share the gym and track with other after school programs. (Abigail Kessler/WGCN)

Grand Canyon Phantoms play at the regional tournament Feb. 5 against Basis. Grand Canyon School is a 1A Division school. Players often spend hours traveling to games and must share the gym and track with other after school programs. (Abigail Kessler/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Basketball season is wrapping up with a regional tournament, which means spring sports are on the way. Middle school volleyball and high school track and field are up next, starting as soon as Feb. 24.

Track and field is especially important at Grand Canyon School. The students can choose which events to participate in, from relays to shotput to discus and high or long jumps. The specifics of the events can help students focus in on perfecting a skill, and the variety taking place throughout the day make for an engaging time in the stands.

Because Grand Canyon School’s track isn’t regulation size, all official track meets are primarily away games. However, the track is big enough to hold practices, with a special bus for athletes leaving later in the afternoon. Athletics in this school district often involve a significant time commitment, with practices happening nearly every day after school.

Competing as a 1A Division

Though the sports are the same no matter the location, there are some aspects of athletics that are specific to Grand Canyon School. The school is a membr of the Arizona Interscholastic Association which divides schools based on size.

Grand Canyon High School is 1A, the smallest division. Most of the distinct characteristics of the school come about because of its size.

To begin, there is the question of practice. Even with two gyms, practice times must be staggered to accommodate the number of practices that need to happen in a limited space. This is also designed to benefit the students — both early and later practice times can be challenging for different reasons. Going right after school doesn’t give student athletes much of a break or time for homework, while leaving the school after an evening practice can be exhausting. And since they often have practice on a daily basis, it can be important to alternate the times, so they aren’t continually dealing with one or the other.

Another challenge shouldered by the staff is scheduling the games. Often a team needs to play a certain number of games in order to qualify for state at the end of the season, so it is important to get at least that many in. However, games must also be scheduled so they interfere with other school responsibilities as little as possible. This is part of the reason GCUSD has a four-day schedule. The school is small enough to be significantly impacted by student athletes leaving early for a Friday game and because of the remote location, substantial travel time can often be involved.

Being part of such a small district can also have its benefits. Especially high levels of participation. According to Grand Canyon Athletic Director Cyndi Moreno, between 70 and 80 percent of students participate in at least one sport, and many students often end up in the stands for sports they don’t play, cheering on their friends.

The school is also small enough that students don’t have to worry about try-outs. If they want to participate, they can, and will get the benefit of working with a coach to improve their abilities. This also gives them the opportunity to be a part of a team and learn skills which apply to many areas. For many students, this is a major part of the appeal of athletics. The camaraderie and fun associated with a sport is what brings most in. Some develop a real passion for the sport, while for others it remains an enjoyable pastime. Either way, students benefit from participation.

More information about GCUSD athletics and a complete schedule is available at grandcanyonschool.org.

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