High School Athletes Ride The Bus Bench

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During sport seasons, travel plays an overwhelming role in the lives of Payson High School coaches and athletes.

At Tempe McClintock High, Corona del Sol or Marcos de Niza, the longest trip to a game might be a few-minutes bus ride across town.

But in the Rim country, the journeys become much longer and more exhausting.

Consider these jaunts:
Coach Jerry Daniels' Lady Longhorn basketball team has already traveled to the Arizona-California border, where it played in a three-day early season tournament.

Saturday, the team begins an almost five-hour trip to Kayenta to play Monument Valley High School. The journey, which also involves the boys' basketball team, will wrap up about 20 hours after it begins.

Luckily, it's not on a school day and the players will have a day's rest before returning to the classroom.

Add to those two lengthy jaunts the upcoming school-day rigors of two trips per week to Globe, Miami, Fountain Hills, Cave Creek, Eloy and Queen Creek, and you have an agenda that would send the greatest of vagabonds looking for bed rest.

Coach Randy Wilcox's boys' team opened the season by traveling to and from Winslow for three days to play in a tournament.

Two weeks later the team was in Flagstaff for three days participating in another tournament. Luckily, the team stayed over one evening in a Flagstaff motel.

Wilcox says by the time the season is over, he might have to reintroduce himself to his wife and kids.

Coach Dennis Pirch's wrestlers will be as equally road-weary by the time the season ends.

Early in the campaign, the team traveled south to Tucson for a full day. But that's only a short hop compared to the upcoming tournament trip to near Anaheim, Calif.

The team will drive to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, board a plane for a flight to LAX, then rent vans for another drive to the tournament site.

After the tournament and a two-night stay, the team drives back to LAX, flies to Phoenix and motors home to Payson. Oh yeah -- there's also a drive to Disneyland on the Sunday after the tournament.

The team will wrap up this season by traveling to Eloy for a divisional tournament, and then to Phoenix for state finals.

The journeys will become even more extensive next season, when Payson leaves the Central Division and returns to the East, where the school competed from 1991-96.

The bus ride to Eagar/Springerville for games against Round Valley is a trying one, especially when it's over icy winter roads at slow speeds.

Lakeside, Blue Ridge and Whiteriver are also extensive trips that often don't end until the wee hours of the morning. Visits to Show Low and Snowflake are a piece of White Mountain cake -- unless it's snowing.

Once, when Payson's high-road sports adventures were explained to Tempe High School football coach Tim McBurney, he thoughtfully hesitated, then asked, "Maybe you coaches should trash your contracts and ask to be paid mileage."

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