Freshmen Athletes Heading For Excellence


Payson High's freshman class is the most athletically talented group of boys to go through the school in the past 15 years.

And that includes the Class of 1999, which helped the school win state championships in football, wrestling and baseball.

Even in middle school, the boys in the Class of '99 were extremely focused and set lofty goals for themselves. Hanging together through thick and thin, their diligence paid dividends last spring when PHS earned the prestigious Don F. Stone award given by the Arizona Interscholastic Association for extracurricular excellence.

Whether the boys in the PHS class of 2003 can accomplish what their acclaimed predecessors did won't be known for another few years.

To be successful, the freshmen boys must stay eligible by maintaining passing grades, concentrating on the responsibilities of good citizenship and rallying around the camaraderie all great teams possess.

It's a huge chore, but as a former coach of this group, I know the core leadership exists to help them become something very special.

One in that group, James Lyons, took huge steps toward excellence by competing in his first track meet Saturday at the Rotary Invitational in Payson.

Although he was exhausted after running the 100-meter dash, James quickly gathered up his relay teammates and diligently began practicing exchanges on the infield.

That's the mark of a winner.

Richly deserved

An old friend from my teaching and coaching days in Tempe was recently honored by the Arizona Interscholastic Association for his lifetime of coaching success.

Sammy Duane, now retired, was named the 20th century's winningest Arizona high school boys' basketball coach.

With a record of 663 wins, 261 losses and four state championships, Sammy was a coaching legend at Tempe and Corona del Sol high schools.

He even had a successful stint at coaching on the college level at Northern Arizona.

A task master who was respected by all, Sammy's teams weren't always the most talented but they were among the most disciplined and fundamentally sound.

In the mid 70s at Tempe High, his teams picked up the nickname of "The Little Blue Machines" (school colors are blue and white) for the way they methodically rolled over opponents.

Sammy will receive an Arizona-shaped oak plaque at special ceremonies this spring which will honor the top men and women high school coaches in every prep sport.

Newly appointed AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer said the 20th century honors "were a unique opportunity that won't come around for another 100 years -- we wanted to take advantage of it."

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