Fledgling players on two Payson youth flag football teams, as well as their coaches, enjoyed the thrills of a lifetime Dec. 12 in Sun Devil Stadium.
During halftime of the Arizona vs. San Francisco National Football League game, the Payson Raiders of the 6-to-8-years-old age division and the 9-to 10-year-old Payson Cardinals played games at the opposite ends of Frank Kush field.
The Raiders, coached by Teddy Tomerlin, whipped their Phoenix YMCA opponent 14-7. The Cardinals of coach Bill Schwind tied the Surprise Cards 0-0.
According to Schwind, the youngsters were anxious to be a part of the ceremonies; the time leading up to the game produced some tense moments.
"With about nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, we had to wait in the tunnel to take the field," he said. "The kids were nervous as all get out."
Following the flag football skirmish, the youngsters stayed on to watch the Cardinals drop a 31-28 decision to the 49ers in overtime.
The invitation to participate in the ceremonies was offered by Arizona Cardinals representative Rich Tomey who played a role in helping Payson set up its first NFL Youth Flag Football program.
The inaugural campaign wrapped up a week ago.
Schwind, who doubles as a team coach and the town of Payson Parks and Recreation director, said the flag football league was a complete success.
Next year, he said, the league will probably expand to include a 12-15-year-old division.
This year, Payson only fielded teams in the 6-to-8 and 9-to-11 years division.
"We only had a handful in the older division that wanted to participate," Schwind said. "I think that will change next fall."
Schwind also plans on having league play start earlier in the year -- about the time school begins around the first of August. In the league's inaugural season, play didn't begin until late September.
Schwind is among those league supporters who say flag football is a great way for youngsters to learn the skills of the sport without the contact.
Conway's nephew in NFR
Shain Sproul of Benson, a cowboy who finished 14th in the team roping event at the National Finals Rodeo, is the nephew of Rim country resident Penny Conway.
Penny says she watched her 27-year-old nephew mold himself into one of the top competitors on the rodeo circuit.
Sproul is the son of Penny's sister, Pam (Simon) Sproul.
The rodeo blood runs deep in the family. Milt Simon, Penny and Pam's father, competed in the bull dogging event at the first National Finals Rodeo in 1959.
Sproul -- a heeler -- teamed with Kinney Harrell of Brady Texas to earn the 14th-place finish.
Several other cowboys with local ties, including those who have participated in the Payson rodeo, did well in the national finals.
Jake Barnes of Scottsdale, a frequent competitor in Payson, tied for first in the 10th round.
Steve Dollarhide of Wickieup, also a regular entrant at Payson, tied for 12th in the saddle bronc event.
Taylor cowboy Cody Hancock tuned up for his appearance in the NFL bull riding at the Payson rodeo. In Las Vegas he tied for fourth.