We Are The Champions!

Victory comes to the wrestling capital of small-town America


The shining legacy of Longhorn mat supremacy glowed even brighter last weekend when the newest edition of the PHS wrestling team churned out yet another state championship.

It was the Horns' fifth consecutive state crown and the 10th since coach Dennis Pirch founded the program in 1974.

In addition to the state titles, the Longhorns have posted four state runner-up finishes and 22 regional crowns.

Rated the 25th best team in the United States by Wrestling USA magazine, Payson wrestling is now one of the most successful high school sports stories in America.

Since the inception of the program, priorities have revolved around team excellence and sacrifice for a common good. But the pursuit of unity hasn't hindered individual wrestlers from basking in the spotlight of personal recognition.

The most heralded of the group is Tyler Robertson, a state champion in 1993, 1994 and 1995.

His amazing gold-medal feats could be duplicated next season if current PHS junior R.C. LaHaye -- who has two state titles to his credit --claims another crown.

Other notables etched into the Arizona record books include a who's who list of two-time state champions. They are Christopher Pirch (1997-98), Kyle Hilton (1991-92), Beau Robertson (1991-92), Ray Sharp (1985-86), Dan Rackley (1980-81) and Scott Clifford (1978-79).

Also scribbled in state sports annals is the teenager who in 1977 wrestled his way to Payson High's first weight division crown -- Mike Allen.

Like warriors charging relentlessly onto the battlefield, the athletes are anointed year-after-year as Arizona's best young wrestlers.

But success on the mat is not sufficient in the PHS program. Wrestlers are also asked to excel academically, be worthy citizens and contribute to the school and community.

A sign above the wrestling room door reads "Those who stay will be champions." The slogan has long referreed to a young wrestler's life on and off the mat. The unbridled success of the team wouldn't be possible without the sacrifices of one of the most accomplished high school coaching staffs in the country.

The four men -- Pirch chooses to call "co-coaches" rather than assistants -- are PHS teachers Dave LaMotte, Don Heizer, Bob Hoyt and Doug Eckhardt. The four lend expertise, dedication and years of experience to the PHS program.

The unique combination of outstanding coaches, eager young athletes and supportive fans has stamped Payson the wrestling capital of small town America.

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