Payson High School boys basketball coach Mike Loutzenheiser has put together a summer tournament that might be the toast of small-town Arizona.
Teams from 16 high schools, 3A to 5A, have committed to participate in the showdown June 14 and 15 in Wilson Dome, the old PHS gym and at Rim Country Middle School.
The biggest gem in the field might by Mesa Mountain View which is coached by part-time Payson resident Gary Ernst.
Mountain View enters the tournament loaded with a roster full of talented players, including Yashosh Bonner and Dallas Rensch.
Bonner, who transferred to Mountain View from Utah last year, is being recruited by Arizona coach Lute Olson and is widely considered one of the finest point guards in the state. Some have gone so far as to predict that he'll someday play in the pros.
Rensch, an all-region player for the Toros last season, formerly attended Payson High School but transferred to Mountain View two years ago.
Some doubted whether a small-town athlete could compete on the 5A level, but Rensch has made the adjustment successfully. In off-season tournament play, Rensch has showcased his ball-handling and shooting skills around the country.
Other big school teams set to participate in the Payson summer shoot-out are South Mountain, Caesar Chavez, Casa Grande, Phoenix North, Mesa Red Mountain, Shadow Mountain and Tucson Amphitheater.
Last summer, when the Payson tournament was limited to 2A and 3A schools, Amphi's string of 11 consecutive appearances in the Rim country ended.
Amphi coach Pat Derksen says his players are elated that they can return to Payson and resume the Panther tradition of making the local tournament an annual stop.
Other teams in the tournament include Blue Ridge, Seton Catholic, River Valley, Grand Canyon, Higley, Chino Valley and Queen Creek.
If you see Loutzenheiser around town, give him a pat on the back for taking on the challenge of hosting such an impressive tournament.
Of course he knows that having top-caliber players in Payson can only help the Longhorns as they prepare for next season.
Visit with an ex-coach
It was only fitting that former Payson High School principal, athletic director and baseball coach, Tom Meck was on hand to watch the Longhorns play in the state tournament Friday at Peoria Sports Complex
Always the one to churn out a good joke or yarn, Tom visited throughout the game with many of his old friends.
The former PHS coach was slightly taken aback by the fact that the Horns have won 20-plus games this season.
He recalls that in his 1970s tenure, such a feat would have been impossible because high school teams simply didn't play 20-plus games. The difference, Tom said, is the several tournaments in which teams now compete. Prep-team squads can play in five or six games over the course of a three- or four-day tournament. In past years, teams played in only one regular season tournament and it usually featured a maximum of three games.
Now retired from the education profession, Tom is owner and operator of Tomek Sports Inc. He specializes in sporting goods and custom wall pads for gymnasiums.
Zoe and Mark Merkle of Payson picked up $200 in prize money for their eighth-place finish in the Best Bet Team Bass Fishing Tournament held April 27 at San Carlos Lake. The two weighed in 9.63 pounds of bass. The largest catch of the day was a 9.72-pound largemouth caught by the Phoenix team of Chris Santana and Vern Schultz.