by Max Foster
roundup staff reporter
The largest single donation ever doled out by the Tonto Apache Tribe, $150,000, is also the largest private contribution ever received by Payson High School.
That donation, in the form of a check, was presented to PHS athletic director Dave Bradley Wednesday afternoon at the tribal office.
In awarding the money, tribe officials earmarked it to be used for construction at an all-weather track facility at Payson High School. The new track has long been a part of the ongoing Stadium Improvement Project that has been primarily funded by the Credit for Kids Tax Program.
Several construction delays including the relocation of a sewer line under the existing track and a lack of money has slowed the project to the point that middle and high school coaches were left wondering if the long- awaited all-weather surface would ever become a reality.
The Tonto Apache's donation, Bradley said, is a step toward finally building the new track.
In awarding PHS the donation, Tribe chair Vivian Burdette said it was a unanimous decision among the council to help with the new track.
"(The gift) is because of our interest in sports and in the youth," she said.
Tonto Apache committee member Ivan Smith said he hopes a new track at Payson High School will bring more amateur track competitions to the Rim country.
For the past several years, the tribe has sponsored one of the most successful youth track teams in the state. But it must travel during the summer months to Phoenix and Tucson for competitions," Smith said. "It's hot down there. (The meets) could be up here if we had a track."
For Payson High School, a new track would mean the Longhorns will be able to once again host regular season meets.
Due to the deteriorating condition of the PHS dirt oval, the Horns now schedule most of their competitions at Valley area sites that have all-weather surfaces.
Last season, Payson High School did not host a single track and field meet, which means the district must shoulder a greater financial travel burden and student athletes spend a great deal of time on the road and away from the classroom.
The lack of an adequate track and field facility has also resulted in the demise of the once highly competitive and popular Payson Rotary Invitational.
After years of declining participation and lack of interest, the meet now a freshman-sophomore competition was moved last spring to the campus of Apache Junction High School.
Rim Country Middle School held just one White Mountain League meet last year and that was conducted on a rag-tag track shortened to just four lanes because of the construction of a retaining wall between the football field and Wilson Dome.
Also, with a new track surface, Payson High would boast the facilities to host regional track and field competitions that would bring at least six high school teams to the Rim country.
Coaches have also indicated that a state-of-the-art track and improved stadium might be all it would take to entice officials to hold the state championships in Payson.
In receiving the tribe's donation, Bradley who's jaw dropped when he saw the size of the check said the school district was extremely grateful.
He also assured the council that the money would be used as they wished for completion of the track surface.
A Phoenix consultant, Greg Hull, has been retained by the school district to help in the planning and construction of the artificial running surface.
Next on the agenda will be to survey the track and begin receiving bids, Bradley said.
Construction of the track will probably have to wait until next summer, he said, when there is no threat of snow and temperatures are warm enough to lay the artificial surface.