Wanting local soccer players, including their own sons, to have the opportunity to successfully make the leap to high school play with more than limited town recreation experience, Judy Perham and Mike Weisser founded Payson's first entry in the American Youth Soccer Association.
Today, two years after the inaugural team first took the field, the youngsters on the Payson Predators --mostly 15 years of age -- have wrapped up their AYSA careers and are set to try out for the Longhorn boys' team when pre-season practices open Aug. 9.
The success of Weisser and Perham's experiment won't be known until the former Predators play their first prep game next September, but both coaches are optimistic.
"We think they could have a real impact," Perham said. "This team has really matured in competitive play."
Payson High varsity coach Dave Greiner is optimistic the players will eventually make a contribution to his program.
"(The Predators) can't do anything but help," he said. "Anytime you get a group together and play against outside teams, skill levels improve and the kids begin to understand the commitment needed."
At the request of Perham, Greiner visited one of the team's practices last spring and came away impressed. "I really liked what was going on," he said. "They look like a good group of promising players."
In its first year of existence, the Predators participated in the Chino Valley-based Flex league against more experienced teams, but did manage to finish with a 4-4 record, Perham said.
This year, the Predators moved into a Prescott Valley league that was shy on 15-years-and-under teams. As a result, the Predators often found themselves outmanned against 18-years-and-under teams.
"We won only one game (6-4 vs. Chino Valley), but the scores were all very close," Perham said.
Not winning consistently didn't deter the enthusiasm of the group.
"They were dedicated and they worked hard," Perham said. "We knew we were playing against older, more experienced players on teams that have a larger pool (of athletes) to draw from."
In addition to regular season play, the Predators participated in three tournaments around the state.
In one of the frays -- the Grand Canyon Games contested last month in Phoenix -- the Payson squad played its way to a fourth-place finish.
In fielding the team the past two seasons -- both in regular season and tournament play --Weisser and Perham faced the financial dilemmas most club teams eventually struggle with.
"There are a lot of expenses involved," Perham said. "People helped us out with traveling, entry fees and uniforms. We could not have done it without their support."
Gila Recycling stepped in to purchase uniform tops and Klaus Kriutzer funded the soccer cleats. Cash donations were received from Payson Goldworks, Beeline Chiropractic, Arizona Respiratory Services, Penny Navis-Schmidt, Northstar Surveying and the Kiwanis Club of Zane Grey Country.