The Payson High wrestling team is thanking its lucky singlets it opted out of a Jan. 7 and 8 commitment to compete in the Bolsa Grande, California High School Invitational.
Oh, the Rim country grapplers went to California as scheduled -- just not to Bolsa Grande.
Only days before they were scheduled to leave, coaches decided to compete in the Estancia High School tournament rather than at BGHS.
The decision turned out to be a wise one when officials at Bolsa received a bomb threat only hours before the tournament was to begin. Taking the threat extremely serious, officials canceled the event.
Had the Longhorns remained in the Bolsa tournament-- which they had entered the past 12 years and won eight times -- the expensive trip to California would have been for naught.
And the $2,500 used to make the trip didn't come easily. Most of it was earned by hawking tickets for spaghetti dinners, selling candy bars and peddling homecoming T-shirts.
But, revenue wouldn't have been the only loss; the California experience annually serves as a tune-up for the team's run at the Arizona state championship.
Longhorn coach Dennis Pirch said he learned of the bomb threat while watching a California television station from his motel room just as the Horns were preparing to leave for Estancia. His staff breathed a sigh of relief that they had chosen to opt out of the Bolsa tournament.
The reason for the shift had nothing to do with premonitions about bomb threats, but rather it was a decision to seek better competition for the Longhorn team members.
Through the years, the tournament field at Bolsa has been shrinking rendering the competition less fierce than it was when the Horns first began participating.
At Estancia, Payson wrestled toe-to-toe against 35 of California's best big school teams, many of which represented institutions with more than 2,000 students.
"It was great competition, the kind you need to get ready to pursue a state championship," Pirch said.
All the gold in California.
The opposition might have been the best Southern California had to offer, but when the final tabulations were in, it was tiny Payson High School that claimed the tournament title.
The gold didn't come easily, however -- the victory margin was a mere 239-237 over runner-up Centennial Corona.
"It was a close one -- every point counted," Pirch said.
In addition to winning the team championship, the Longhorns added even more hardware to their trophy case when junior R.C. LaHaye was crowned the "Outstanding Wrestler in the Lightweight Classes." Finishing undefeated, LaHaye won the 135-pound weight class championship.
Also claiming an individual tournament crown was 145-pound Caleb Miller.
With medals awarded to the top six tournament finishers, other Payson wrestlers who medaled were Matt McCarty (103 pounds; 2nd), Zack Lee (112; 5th), Justin Cline (119; 3rd), Aaron Bratholt (125; 4th), Levi Armstrong (140; 4th), Mike Wright (152; 6th), Doyle Van Horn (160; 4th), Jimbo Armstrong (189; 3rd) and Bryce River (215; 5th).
The showing by River was especially significant for the Horn cause in that the youngster is an untested freshman who competes in a very tough weight class, usually against veteran athletes older and more experienced.
The efforts of all the team members who made the trip, drew praise from Pirch.
"It was a solid team performance," he said.
The four-time defending state champion Longhorns, 4-0 in the division, can take a giant step toward the East championship with a win over the Holbrook Roadrunners, Jan. 16.
Then all that lies between the Longhorns and the title will be a dual meet Jan. 26 against Snowflake in Wilson dome.
Also on the agenda is the annual Tim Van Horn Invitational set for Jan. 21 and 22 in the dome.