2001 A Year In Sports


The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East coast created dilemmas in the sports world that had few right answers. Most centered around to play or not to play?

On the professional and collegiate level, most all games on the weekend following the attacks were canceled.

In the Phoenix and Tucson areas, some Friday night high school games were postponed or played the following day. But games in small-town Arizona, including Payson, went on as planned.

Just two days after the terrorist attacks, volleyball and junior varsity football games were played. A Sept. 14 varsity football game against Holbrook went on as originally scheduled.

Although sports continued, it was painfully obvious that the attacks, not sports, were on the minds of athletes, fans and coaches.

One of the most stirring tributes to the victims of the attack occurred just prior to the Payson vs. Holbrook varsity football game when Longhorn players stormed onto the field carrying an American flag. No one told them to do it, the players planned the tribute without any prodding from coaches, teachers or parents. During the moments of silence that followed, there were few dry eyes on the field or in the stands at Longhorn field.

Although the games were played, sports took a distant back-seat to the attack on America.

The 2001 sports year as we reported it:


Jan. 12 The five-time defending Arizona state champion Longhorns finished second at the Estancia (Calif.) Invitational wrestling tournament. With 260.5 points, three-time California Interscholastic Association Centennial won the tournament crown. Payson finished as runner-up with 254.5. R.C. LaHaye won the 140-pound championship, finishing with a 4-0 record that included three wins by falls and one by a 22-9 major decision.

Jan. 19 Payson High School boys soccer standouts Brandon Peters and Karri Liikkanen were named to the Arizona All-State second team.

Jan. 30 Payson High School boys basketball coach Randy Wilcox added his name to the long list of coaches who unexpectedly resigned. In a hastily-called team meeting, Wilcox told the varsity players that he was resigning as head coach. His decision came with five games remaining in the regular season.


Feb. 6 While wrestlers from around Arizona battled for East region supremacy, a fight broke out in the stands that, for a few moments, took the focus off the competition in Wilson Dome. The fight led to the arrest of 23-year-old Chad Williams of Show Low, who was charged with disorderly conduct and making threats.

Feb. 13 The Longhorns were unstoppable until the team's five-year reign as state wrestling champions ended. Upstart Rio Rico edged Payson by a scant three points for the title.

Feb. 16 There will be no visit to Phoenix America West Arena for the Lady Longhorns. A state tournament opening round loss to the Ganado Hornets ended any hopes the team had of advancing to the semifinals.

Feb. 23 A foursome of former PHS football players have their sights set on one last gridiron hurrah. The athletes Sterling White, Dusty Brockett, Sean Hounshell and Steve Williamson were all standouts on last season's football team. The four have been invited to participate this summer in the Novotel Beachcomber Down Under Bowl in Australia.


March 6 R.C. LaHaye capped his sterling four-year career by being named the Arizona Republic's "Small School (Class 1A to 3A) Wrestler of the Year."

March 16 Billy Joe Winchester was named the recipient of the Arizona Governor's Council on Health Physical Fitness and Sports, "Outstanding Leadership Award." Winchester won for his efforts as coach of the Tonto Apache Track and Field team.

March 20 Sterling White dominated the Longhorn boys basketball team's postseason awards ceremony by being named All-East first team and the team's most valuable player.


April 6 In a voting of Arizona Coaches Association members, Payson's Wes Sprinkle was selected to participate in the North vs. South All-Star cross country meet June 5 in Casa Grande.

April 13 Longtime PHS wrestling coach Dennis Pirch retired, leaving a legacy few will ever be able to match. Pirch founded the wrestling team 28 years ago. Since its inception, the team won 10 state championships, 23 regional titles, more than 100 tournaments and is ranked in the top-25 nationally.

April 27 PHS wrestler R.C. LaHaye was named an All-American this week by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. LaHaye received the honor at a banquet held in Mesa.


May 8 The quest to hang Payson High School's first state softball championship banner in Wilson Dome is over. The dream was squashed by a fiery Chandler Seton team in Phoenix. Seton's 5-0 state quarterfinals victory over the Lady Horns eliminated Payson from the tournament.

May 11 A fire engine escort from town limits to Green Valley Park was among the rewards the Longhorn golf team received after it won Payson High's first-ever state golf championship. The team captured the links crown near Show Low by carding a 625 eight strokes ahead of runner-up and defending state champion Safford.

May 22 The PHS Lady Longhorn track and field team won its third consecutive Class 3A state championship. Safford finished as runner-up at the state meet held in Chandler.


June 5 The man who helped found the Longhorn soccer program eight years ago and then left the team, has returned as coach. Roger Wholly, also a PHS science teacher, was appointed as head coach to replace Byron Quinlan who resigned last fall after one year at the helm of the program.

June 15 Former Longhorn football and basketball standout Mike Loutzenheiser was appointed the Payson Longhorns' new head coach for the boys basketball team.

June 19 Payson High School volleyball coach Chris Schwind is moving up in the ranks, and she wants her girls to, also. Next year, Schwind will be the head coach for the varsity volleyball team after several years as the freshman coach. Schwind works in the Payson Elementary School office.

June 22 30-year-old Steve Saban was appointed the new Longhorn football coach, replacing Mike Wheelis who resigned last school year.


July 3 Perennial Rim country softball powerhouse State Farm played its way to the championship of the Independence Day Firecracker Men's Softball Tournament. In winning the crown, State Farm finished with a 5-0 record.

July 10 As host of the Rim country 35-years-and-older men's soccer tournament, the Payson Futbol Club was looking to stamp itself the equal of the four Valley teams also participating. Unfortunately, the Payson squad (0-5) was not able to muster a win during the three-day affair.

July 17 The lack of a single run denied Payson its first-ever berth in the 9- to 10-year-old Arizona State Little League championships. A 5-4 loss to Page in the District Tournament ended the team's quest to advance to the state tournament.

July 31 The largest single donation ever doled out by the Tonto Apache Tribe, $150,000, is also the largest contribution ever received by Payson High School. That donation, to be used for an artificial running surface on the PHS track, was given to athletic director Dave Bradley by tribe officials.


Aug. 10 Sun Devil's disciples from around the state gathered at Camp Tontozona for a preseason glimpse of the Arizona State University football team.


Sept. 18 Shaking off the sobering effects of watching their country under attack, the Payson Longhorns took out their frustrations Friday evening on the Holbrook Roadrunners. During the action-packed evening in which the thoughts of fans, players and coaches were obviously directed toward the victims of the terrorist attacks, the Horns rocked the Roadrunners 46-0.

Sept. 21 The Lady Longhorn soccer team (6-1) played its way to a second-place finish at the Blue Ridge Invitational Tournament held in Lakeside. The championship game between Payson and Sedona had to be decided in a shoot-out after two extra periods ended in a 5-5 tie.

Sept. 28 By virtue of winning their age/sex divisions at the Payson Punt, Pass and Kick competition, seven local youths qualified to participate in the Sectional Championships in Flagstaff. The qualifiers are Marah Williams, Nicole Geavaras, Amy Wilcox, Jake Sleeper, M.C. Creighton, Bobby Nielson and Shelton Keith.


Oct. 12 The Lady Longhorns' 16th-place showing at the prestigious Doug Conley Invitational in Tempe was not what coach Chuck Hardt was hoping for from his state fifth-ranked cross country team.

Oct. 23 One of Payson High School's most accomplished athletes is nominated for the 8th Annual Wendy's High School Heisman Scholarship Program. Senior Brittany Curtis was chosen out of about 100 Arizona nominees.


Nov. 6 Pulling off one of the biggest upsets in small-school sports' history, the Lady Longhorns ran their way to the 2001 Arizona state cross country championship. The win at Anthem near Phoenix was the school's first state cross country title.

Nov. 13 Trailing Blue Ridge 8-6 in the third quarter and in possession of the ball at the Yellow Jacket 34-yard line, the Payson Longhorns were primed to pull off the biggest upset of the prep football campaign. But the Horns' offensive drive fizzled on a fourth-down short yardage play and Blue Ridge took over on downs. The Yellow Jackets went on to score 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to salvage a 29-6 win. Payson's loss in the state quarterfinal game eliminated the Horns from the tournament.

Nov. 16 For the first time in the history of the Payson Elks Soccer Shootout program, a local youngster won an Arizona state championship. Ciara Wholly captured the girls' 12- to 13- years division and will travel to the Region Nine championships in St. George, Utah.


Dec. 4 The Lady Longhorn basketball team won the championship of the Pepsi Cola River Valley Shootout held in Laughlin, Nev. The team finished 4-0 in the tournament and beat Prescott Bradshaw Mountain 52-31 in the finale.

Dec. 18 With only 11 wrestlers entered in 14 weight classes, the Longhorns weren't given much of a chance to defend their Rim Country Duals tournament title. By finishing third in the 12-team field, however, the Horns put on a gritty show Friday and Saturday in Wilson Dome.

Dec. 25 Scrap that old version of the Holiday Hoops basketball tournament. One of the 17 teams originally entered, Fountain Hills, decided to remove itself from the Dec. 27 and 28 shootout in Wilson Dome. With the Falcons no longer in the mix, tournament director Teddy Pettet had to devise new bracketing.

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