Statewide Recognition Comes To Payson

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Payson has been basking in much-deserved glory since the Longhorn football team wrapped up its unbeaten, state championship season in October by ending Blue Ridge's state-record 54-game winning streak.

Players are being chosen to play on all-star teams traveling abroad, football clinicians are tapping coaches as guest speakers and the big city media, including television and newspapers, is focusing more attention on our community.

In February, additional glory came rolling into Payson when the wrestling team battled through a string of injuries to win yet another state championship.

Don't be surprised if the Lady Longhorn track and field team doesn't tack on a third state crown in a few weeks.

From outside, Payson is viewed as a town and school that takes great pride in its youth. In past years, those adulations might have been reserved for Lakeside or Snowflake.

The gridiron future?
With a strong crew of juniors set to take over the football leadership roles vacated by the likes of Cable Morris, Marc Bennett, Hunter Walden, Josh Barnhardt and others, Payson's football future appears to be in good hands.

Among the underclassmen is another talented crew capable of carrying the Longhorn football banner.

But what about four years down the road? What will gridiron fortunes be like then?

At first glance, chances for more honors appear likely.

In the Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade class is a highly talented group of athletes that, as a football team, won back-to-back White Mountain League championships.

In WML play, the group -- about 30 strong -- was undefeated.

Usually that's a good omen because the WML is made up of schools that also form the Class 3A East division which Payson High will play in for years to come.

As eighth-graders, the Payson High School Class of 1999 represented the inaugural WML football team at RCMS. The group surprised everyone by winning the White Mountain crown. One year later, the current PHS junior class posted an unbeaten championship year.

Today's eighth-graders possess talent at least equal to those two RCMS teams.

But four years can make a huge difference. Following their winning ways at the middle school, the PHS classes of 1999 and 2000 stayed together. focusing on athletic and academic success.

Both classes featured a number of topnotch players who were also good citizens and academically responsible.

Sure, there were a few defectors but a solid core remained tight-knit through the years.

If the current crop of eighth-graders is going to live up to its athletic, God-given potential, the players must duplicate what their predecessors did -- stay in school, stay focused and step away from the distractions that will cause them nothing but harm.

This could be a daunting task in today's society where opportunities to make bad choices lurk around every corner.

Academic ineligibility, refusal to abide by school and team rules and the inability to stay the course can end a player's athletic and academic future in a heartbeat.

We sincerely hope each and every member of the 1998 WML eighth-grade championship team finds a way to follow in the football steps of their predecessors and become true champions on and off the field.

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