School traditions are built and old coaches swell with pride when former student-athletes return to their alma maters as teachers and coaches.
Coupled with a healthy respect for past accomplishments, the rookies bring new leadership and vigor to the school and its extracurricular programs.
A handful of the current teachers and coaches in the Payson Unified School District once attended school here. After graduation, they went to earn college degrees and returned to Payson, though they could earn more money elsewhere.
One alumnus said, "It's called giving something back. I learned a lot here. Maybe now I can return the favor."
Tim Ryden, a volunteer sprints coach on the Longhorn track team and an elementary school teacher, is a shining example.
Today, Tim spends his after-school hours on the very same track on which he once starred. In the early 1990s, he was one of Arizona's best 400-meter runners.
Eight years after stardom, he's a coach, prodding, pushing and searching for ways to motivate a new crop of athletes.
Tim is modest and prefers not to talk about his past experiences with his student-athletes.
Maybe he thinks it's bragging. But it isn't. Tim worked diligently in track and field. By reliving that commitment, today's athletes might better understand the sacrifices needed to excel.
Undoubtedly, Tim is going to go on to have a fine teaching and coaching career. And, as he does, there will be those of us who will look past his coaching togs and remember him mostly as a heck of a fine student-athlete.
A dazzling run
Track coaches remember his blazing 400-meter runs that left foes humbled in the dust. But some old football coaches will remember his dazzling touchdown run in 1990 that helped Payson High upset highly favored Buckeye, 8-3.
In the final game of that season, league champion and state-ranked Buckeye, loaded with talent, was obviously looking forward to a state tournament opening-round game the following week against Blue Ridge.
Following a foiled kickoff return, the Longhorns lined up on their own six yard line in an archaic single wing formation. Most expected the long snap from center to go to quarterback David Daniels. But instead, it went to Tim, a running back, on the right side of the formation.
After gathering in the ball, Tim broke off right tackle, darted, twisted and turned on his sprinter's speed to dart 94 yards to a score. A speedy Buckeye secondary had no chance of catching him.
In retrospect, his run didn't seem much different than any of his traditional track victories, in which he sped past every opponent.
Tim's run proved the difference, as Payson upset Buckeye in what then was the most heated rivalry of the conference.
Payson should be proud that Tim, and others like him, have returned to help build a bigger and better tradition of athletic and academic excellence among our students.