With four state championships in 1998-99 and a host of other academic and extracurricular successes to our community's credit, Payson High School is in a position to assume the role of kingpin of the East Division and 3A conference.
Our community has never had that opportunity before.
Having been reared during the late 1950s and early '60s in Winslow, I had the privilege of attending a high school that was acknowledged as one of the most successful in small-town Arizona.
To a student, we knew our neighbor and community leaders cared deeply about us. Though sometimes strapped financially, they did the best they could to fund school programs and facilities.
A common bond among our multicultural student body was a strong sense of loyalty to our town and school.
In those days, the division Northern Arizona small schools competed in was known as the A North. Today, it's called the 3A East. Through the years, a few schools have grown and gone on to big-school status, but for the most part the division has stayed the same.
In the late '60s and '70s, Snowflake took over the reins as one of the state's most accomplished small schools. For years, the Lobos dominated the prep extracurricular scene, winning the prestigious Arizona Interscholastic Association's Stone award. That award, which Payson High captured for the first time last year, is given to the most outstanding small school as evidenced by success in extracurricular activities.
In the 1980s, Snowflake continued to excel but gradually Blue Ridge worked its way into the picture, mostly because of its highly successful football teams and some top-notch facilities and programs.The Yellow Jackets sport a practice football field that would be the game-night pride of many high schools.
The neighboring communities of Springerville and Eagar took their turns at statewide leadership, thanks mostly to the building of the Round Valley dome. With an indoor football field, it was the only such prep facility in the United States and has attracted countless state tournaments, concerts and conventions to the town.
In nearby St. Johns, a closely knit town in which many of the citizens are of the Mormon faith, the school has consistently been on the forefront of the Class 2A sports and academic scene. Quality school facilities, including several gymnasiums and an all-weather track surface, have contributed to the community's solid reputation.
In St. Johns, Eager and Springerville, nearby power plants create healthy tax bases from which to fund school and community improvements. Payson doesn't have that luxury.
Show Low has tried to build school and community programs with updated facilities but has usually failed because of ill-advised changes in coaches, faculty and administration.
So, what can we in Payson do to establish ourselves as one of the state's frontrunners?
A giant first step would be to back the Stadium Renovation Committee that is working to complete improvement projects on the PHS stadium and track.
If the project is completed, after almost 30 years of failure, Payson will boast of some of the best small-town facilities in the state.
With improved stadium facilities and the Wilson dome as the backdrop, the complex could be used year round for myriad events. Most notable would be events for school and amateur club sports teams from Phoenix, who would be be chomping at the bit to visit Payson if facilities were up to snuff.
That means building an all-weather track, which is a part of the SRC's plan.
If the SRC is successful, Payson will bask under the reputation as a community that really cares about its youth.
With about $19,000 in the coffers from last year's Credit for Kids tax program, the SRC members are hoping the 1999 program generates even more funds to keep the project on track.
They are also looking for other ways to fund the improvements including business sponsorships
Those interested in helping out should check out the free edition of the September 1999 Coldwell Banker/Bishop Realty Rim Country Photo Guide. The back cover details Credit for Kids and includes a contribution form. Remember, Credit for Kids costs the taxpayer absolutely nothing.
Call the school district at 474-2070 for more information.