The winter sports season opens on the campus of Payson High School with a new twist in the Class 3A prep mix --the Longhorns are returning to the East division.
The past two school years, the Horns competed in the now-defunct Central division after being relocated from the East in an Arizona Interscholastic Association-mandated realignment.
Last spring, the 3A conference was reduced to four divisions from five, and AIA officials yo-yoed the vagabond Longhorns back to the East for the 1999-2000 seasons.
The return East will mean the Horns once again must do bi-weekly battle against some of the best teams in 3A circles. Through the years, the East has traditionally been the most competitive division producing bevies of state champions and finalists.
When Payson was removed from the division three years ago, PHS wrestling coach Dennis Pirch lamented the move, saying the division had a certain winner's mystique about it.
Now, Horn coaches are saying "we're back."
The first Longhorn team to make its winter sports debut was the Lady Longhorn basketball squad which participated in a controlled scrimmage at 5 p.m. Nov. 18 in Wilson Dome. Class 4A Mingus Union traveled to the Rim country to ply their wares in the scrimmage. (See the Nov. 23 issue of the Roundup for complete results.)
The boys' basketball team jumps into action at 2 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday, against Monument Valley.
Like the girls' game, it's a controlled scrimmage in which no score is to be kept and results or statistics are not to be counted in final standings.
Pirch's wrestling team leaps into winter action at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 in Wilson dome against the Round Valley Elks.
Since the clash is an all-important East match, the grapplers will find themselves without a tune-up for divisional warfare. A victory would send the defending state champion Horns off and running toward a division crown and an advantageous seed into post-season play. A loss, would be a hole the team must dig itself out of as the campaign wears on.
The home wrestling season will be highlighted by two tournaments -- the Rim Country Duals Dec. 17 and 18 and the Tim Van Horn Invitational Jan. 21 and 22.
The girls' home campaign will feature the Third Annual Holiday Hoops Tournament Dec. 20 and 21 in Wilson dome.
The boys' team is not scheduled to host any home tournaments, but will travel to Winslow (Dec., 2, 3 and ) and Camp Verde (Dec. 28 and 29) for tournaments.