New Phs Track A Long And Winding Road

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As Bobette Sylvester remembers, the movement to build Payson High School an all-weather track and field surface had its roots in the early 1980s.


"I was in junior high, and my dad helped put up one of the (track and field) storage buildings. After it was finished, they were talking about someday having a new track," said the Payson Unified School District's business manager.


Almost 20 years after she first heard mention of a dream track at Payson High, Sylvester is playing a pivotal role in helping acquire the funds needed to finally build the new surface.


But this effort is different from previous ones in that there's money in the coffers, plans to acquire more funds and a new-found determination to finish the project.


It's been a long time in the making.

Former track and field coach Dennis Hansen, now of Tucson, worked to muster support for facility improvements in the early and mid 1980s -- when Sylvester was starring for the Lady Horns --but funds were limited and the project fell by the wayside.


Following Sylvester's graduation from high school in 1985, then-athletic director Harry Hochstetler led an ill-fated movement to acquire a new artificial-surface track by asking local citizens to "sponsor" sections foot-by-foot.


That effort fizzled and the money collected eventually went to build runways for the jump pits.


Although Payson High was a track and field power, winning state crowns in 1987, 1988 and 1990, and finishing as runner-up in 1989 and 1991, the school and community could never muster the funds necessary to rebuild the track.


Across the state in Apache County, tiny St. Johns -- then a Class B school -- was erecting a top-notch, all-weather track that was the envy of Arizona's small schools.


Some locals, including coaches and athletes, openly expressed their frustrations that Payson couldn't match the efforts of what was occurring in St. Johns and other communities around Arizona.


Without an all-weather surface, Payson lost out as host of many track and field events which could have served as a shot in the arm for the local economy.


It got worse
As Payson High's dirt running surface deteriorated even further, it began to hamper athletes' performances and was viewed as a possible contributor to injuries. So, former track and field coaches Dan Reid and Donna Reid took their team's act on the road, competing in the Valley, where almost every school has an all-weather surface.


Also, because opposing teams were choosing to participate where there were better facilities, Payson's home schedule was whittled to two or three meets per season.


The Payson Rotary Invitational, once a premier track event in small-town Arizona, also suffered. After years of decline it was canceled before being resurrected two years ago as a jayvee meet.

"There definitely was a need all those years (for a new track), and still is," Donna Reid said.


The current effort might have the inside track to success.

The plan

PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels and Sylvester are heading a 16-person committee that met Thursday evening for the second time.


The purpose of the meeting was to develop a consensus about what should be included in a master plan for a major overhaul of the PHS track and football facilities.


At the first meeting of the Stadium Renovation Committee more than a week ago, Weissenfels said, "a lot of ideas, suggestions and discussions were offered to move along a major stadium improvement project."


The superintendent described the initial meeting as "a recharging of the batteries to see this project through to completion."


A final master plan is a ways down the road, Sylvester said, but everyone on the SRC committee is expressing "their dreams and concepts" as what should be included.


In addition to an all-weather track surface around the football field, some committee members are asking that the home football stands be moved from the north side of the field to the south side near the Wilson dome.


That concept was originally expressed by Glen Hale several years ago when he was involved in a track renovation project that included curbing and fencing but not money for an all-weather surface.


Other improvements the SRC committee is focusing on include storage facilities under any new stands that are built, improved public parking and more restrooms.


Another concept is the construction of a grassed park-like area where athletes and fans could lunch and rest during the spring track season.


"Something like that would have a lot of other uses too," Sylvester said.

Show me the money

The SRC committee has about $80,000 for use in renovations. The amount is not enough to complete the project, but is much more than has ever before been generated.


The money was acquired in 1998 through the schools district's "Credit for Kids" tax program. With the 1999 tax program under way, more money could be on the way.


Sylvester said the SRC committee is exploring several other funding sources, including private donations and possibly a joint effort with Eastern Arizona College.


Preliminary plans call for the project to be done in phases as funds are received.


To do that , Sylvester said, an immediate goal of the committee is to prioritize the improvements.


How Credit for Kids works
In 1997 the Arizona Legislature passed a bill that allows a $200 state tax credit for any household that "donates" a similar amount to a local school district.


Payson Unified School District Business Manager Bobette Sylvester emphasizes the credit is against any tax liability and is not a deduction from income.


It costs the taxpayer nothing, Sylvester says. "It's a decision on taxes you pay and who you want to receive the $200 -- the schools or the Department of Revenue."


Using Form 322, the taxpayer can take the amount as a credit and get full dollar-for-dollar value against tax liability, Sylvester said.


If you do not owe any taxes, you get a refund for the amount of your credit.


Last year, PUSD collected $113,779 in donations through Credit For Kids.


The school district used the money to purchase band instruments for all the school sites and completed the black box theater at Payson High. Funds were also set aside for the stadium project.


To participate in Credit For Kids or for more information, call Sylvester at 474-2070.

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