The ranks of Payson High School coaches who have recently resigned has claimed yet another member.
Mike Wheelis, the head football coach for the past year and an assistant in the program since 1992, turned in his resignation last week to PHS Athletic Director Dave Bradley.
After stepping down, Wheelis said he would be pursuing teaching and coaching opportunities in the Riverside (Calif.) School District where his wife Debbie recently accepted a teaching/administrative position.
Although Riverside has not yet officially offered him a teaching or coaching job, Wheelis said he was optimistic he would have the opportunity to continue his career there.
One of his goals, he said, was to return to the classroom as a social studies teacher.
At Payson High School, Wheelis was a classroom teacher for five years until being appointed director of personnel and student services in 1997.
That position was eliminated this year in a series of school district budget cuts.
Other PHS head coaches who have quit this school year include Byron Quinlan (boys soccer), Sue Weems (girls volleyball) and Randy Wilcox (boys basketball).
In recent years the list has included Jim Beall (football), Steve Konvalin (volleyball), Jim Quinlan (boys basketball), Jerry Daniels (girls basketball) and Dave Greiner (boys soccer).
All cited personal reasons for their resignations.
As the head football coach last season at PHS, Wheelis led the Longhorns to a 5-4 record (3-3 in the East region) that was capped by a stirring 10-0 season-ending victory over the defending state champion Show Low Cougars.
Prior to taking over the head coaching duties, Wheelis served for four years as the team's defensive coordinator under Jim Beall.
Wheelis first arrived on the PHS sports scene in 1992 as a freshman football coach after retiring from a 20-year career with the Phoenix Police Department.
He moved to Payson, he said, "because at that time in my life, I needed to get out of the city."
As a Phoenix police officer, Wheelis was ambushed and shot by a deranged sniper. Although he fully recovered from the wounds, a fellow officer also a friend was killed by the sniper.
In addition to coaching football at PHS, Wheelis served one season as the jayvee baseball coach.
In reflecting on his career, Wheelis' fondest memory is of the 1998 state championship game in which the Horns claimed the crown by ending Blue Ridge's 64 game winning streak.
His recollections of the 29-20 victory, he said, center on the heroics of the Horn defense during a fourth quarter determined Yellow Jacket drive.
On fourth down, from inside the 30-yard line, Yellow Jacket signal caller Nate Jackson who had competed three of four passes on the final drive uncorked a sideline pass that, if completed in the end zone, would have kept BR's title hopes alive.
But from out of nowhere, PHS defensive back Jeremy Huff made a diving, twisting interception of Jackson's last-gasp aerial.
Earlier on the drive, Wheelis remembers, Horn defensive tackle Mike Barker took control of the game by continually running down Jackson as he scrambled to look for receivers.
"Mike sacked him three times ... the defense really stepped up that night," Wheelis said.
In leaving Payson, the former coach said, he'll remember it as a "great place for us to raise our two daughters."
Eldest daughter, Melissa, will graduate this spring from Northern Arizona University. Erin Wheelis attends Yavapai College in Prescott.
Both girls are PHS alumni.