Attaining All-America high school status is a prestigious honor only a select few ever attain.
But through hard work and dedication, some uniquely talented athletes like Payson High School senior R. C. LaHaye eventually reach the pinnacle of prep success and earn the national laurels.
LaHaye learned he had been tapped a 2000-2001 All-American wrestler about one week ago in a letter from the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. In it, he also was told he was selected because of his "personal and athletic achievement" and would be recognized Sunday at banquet festivities in Mesa.
Accompanied by his parents and PHS assistant wrestling coach Don Heizer, LaHaye was introduced to the crowd as one of only two Arizona wrestler to earn All-America status.
The other was Tanner Tinscacin of Phoenix Thunderbird High School.
The fact that only a pair of wrestlers in the entire state were named All-American made the honor even more rewarding for the PHS senior.
"Just two ... makes it kind of special, doesn't it?" he asked.
Heizer also a Payson High counselor nominated LaHaye for the honor last winter. He said he felt the youngster more than met the strict qualifications. To apply for All-American honors, nominees must have put together a highly successful high school sports career that emphasized success and good sportsmanship. Senior nominees must also have maintained a 3.0 grade point average during their high school career. LaHaye sports a 3.3 GPA. Also, candidates must have a strong track record of community and school involvement and prove they are of good moral character.
The portfolio of LaHaye achievements sent to the NHSACA and its sponsor, the Dairy Council of Arizona, apparently convinced the coaches that LaHaye more than met the criteria.
The All-American ceremony, emceed by former Round Valley High School football coach Tot Workman who is also the president of the NHSACA, captured the attention of the LaHaye family, especially Ray R.C.'s father.
"We didn't know what to expect going down (to Mesa), but it turned out very impressive and emotional," he said.
With the All-American status bestowed on him, LaHaye is set to continue his wrestling career on the collegiate level.
Weeks ago, he accepted a combination athletic/academic scholarship to Western State University in Gunnison, Colo., where he will major in business. Taking the scholarship, over others offered him, was an easy choice, LaHaye said, because Western "had what I was looking for a real good wrestling program and a good business school."
At Western, R.C. will be coached by Miles Van Hee, who has built the team into one of the best in the country.
During LaHaye's four-year varsity career at Payson High, he played a prominent role in helping the Longhorns capture three successive state championships (1998, 1999 and 2000). Last winter, the team points he racked up on the way to the weight division title helped propel the Horns to state runner-up honors.
He wrapped up his college career owning a sterling 180-9 record. His 114-match winning streak is a state record.
In addition to his exploits on the mat, LaHaye starred on the Longhorn football team as a defensive back. The youngster is set to report to Western next month for an orientation and will then return to Payson for the summer.