The ear-to-ear grin on former Lady Longhorn basketball Coach Tim Fruth's face is not because he's holding the winning lottery ticket.
He's wearing the beaming smile because the Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade girls team he now coaches just pulled off the upset of the White Mountain League season.
Tuesday afternoon in Wilson Dome, an enthusiastic crowd of middle school onlookers cheered the Lady Mavs to a 41-36 victory over the Snowflake Lobos.
What made the victory oh-so-sweet for Fruth and his charges is that no one in White Mountain hardwood circles gave the Mavericks a chance to win the WML showdown.
Earlier this season the Lobos whipped RCMS twice. In both wins, Snowflake appeared to be the much superior team.
Snowflake has been a thorn in Payson's side since the school teams started playing one another on a regular basis in the mid-1980s --hich made the victory even sweeter. If won-loss records between the two teams had been kept over the years, Snowflake would hold a huge edge.
Of course, Fruth probably still has stuck in his memory someplace the bitter recollections of his Lady Longhorns losing a 1986 state tournament game to Snowflake. That PHS team entered the state tournament as the A West division champions.
Like coach Fruth, the members of the Lady Maverick team enjoy nothing better than a win over the Lobos. That's because, through the years, the girls have suffered more than their share of losses to Snowflake.
"I guarantee you, these girls have never beaten Snowflake," Fruth said.
In Snowflake, Lobo faithful consider Show Low a much bigger rival than they do Payson.
But in the Rim country, there's nothing sweeter than a victory over the Lobos.
End just around the corner
The really sad note in the Payson High move next year to the Class 4A Grand Canyon region from the 3A East, is that rivalries, like Payson versus Snowflake, could fall by the wayside.
Payson against Page doesn't sound as daunting or as thrilling as Payson versus Show Low or Payson versus Blue Ridge.
Because the White Mountain League and East region are made up of many of the same schools, it's possible for athletes to play one another from seventh grade until they are seniors in high school.
Through the seasons, healthy rivalries, and even some friendships, can develop among the East/WML players
That's much different from the huge 4A and 5A conferences where young athletes might meet only once in their entire prep careers. Usually, all big school players know about their foes is what's written in press clippings.
As an ex-Show Low High School football coach, I vividly recall the excitement of traveling to Payson to challenge coach Terry Nodlinski's Longhorns.
While at Payson High, nothing got the adrenaline flowing like a showdown against the Lobos, Yellow Jackets or Cougars.
Those rivalries could end next season. Hopefully, new ones will develop that will provide young athletes and their coaches with the same excitement that existed while Payson was battling the beasts of the East.