Years ago, during the Payson School District's Christmas vacation, a group of Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade football players -- who had months earlier won the 1994 White Mountain League championship with an 8-0 record -- traveled to Tempe to participate in a one-day football clinic put on by the Fiesta Bowl.
For the players, it was no big sacrifice, but to onlookers it was a tribute to the commitment the youngsters harbored for the game.
Four years after the clinic, the players who participated went on to make up the nucleus of Payson High School's 1998 undefeated, state championship team.
Some of those athletes, including Blair River and Ryan Lorentz, have carried their gridiron ambitions one step further and now play on the collegiate level.
To be successful in any endeavor, sacrifices must be made. The PHS class of 1999 seemed to realize that fact of life very early in their careers.
The Fiesta-Bowl-sponsored clinic in which the former RCMS players participated will again be held this year for both boys and girls in grades 4-8. The first clinic will be Dec. 31 at the Salvation Army located at the South Mountain Youth Center, 1351 E. Broadway Rd. in Phoenix.
The second clinic -- the one the former RCMS players attended --will be held Jan. 1 at the Arizona State University practice facility located at the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Rural Road in Tempe. Check-in for both clinics begins at 12:30 p.m., and sessions are held from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The clinics are limited to the first 500 youngsters to register.
To obtain application forms or for more information, call Laura Holloway at the Fiesta Bowl office (480) 517-6270. Registration forms must be returned by Dec. 17.
In addition to improving their football skills, the young clinicians rub shoulders with some of the best collegiate players in the nation who are there to tutor the aspiring players.
At the conclusion of the 1994-95 clinic, the Rim country athletes were rewarded by a highly motivational speech delivered by former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. His Fighting Irish team was participating in the Fiesta Bowl.
More holiday camps
On the baseball front, some of the returning members of the defending state champion Payson High School baseball team, and others, might want to get a jump-start on the pre-season by participating in the Southwest Professional Baseball School.
Sessions will be held Dec. 26 to 29 and Dec. 30 to Jan. 2 at Mesa's Gene Autry Park. The cost is $275. For more information, call (480) 830-8031.