After watching the Rim Country Middle School eighth-graders win championships in football, basketball and baseball, it's obvious they are a talented group of all-around athletes.
But only time will tell if their ability will transcend into high school titles by the time they become seniors.
In the next four years, the teens will face many challenges, and how they handle them will determine what type of seniors they become.
In 37 years of teaching and coaching I personally witnessed some talented eighth-grade classes grow into state championship contenders as seniors.
I've also seen very talented eighth-grade teams fizzle in high school sports and never live up to their potential.
A pair of Rim Country Middle School classes that represent opposite ends of the achievement spectrum come to mind. I coached football for both eighth-grade groups.
The 1994-1995 class, that included such fine athletes as Cable Morris, Hunter Walden, Ryan Lorentz, Josh Barnhart, Marc Bennett and others, lived up to all expectations by helping PHS win state baseball and football championships as seniors.
That group stuck together through their freshmen, sophomore and junior years and managed to stay academically eligible, obey rules and build upon their athletic abilities.
Even today, the PHS class of 1999 is widely considered to have contained some of the school's most successful athletes.
Another eighth-grade class, which passed through RCMS a few years after the 1994-1995 group departed, actually had more talented athletes than any group that preceded them.
In fact, it contained more truly gifted young men than I've seen at RCMS or Payson Junior High School.
As eighth-graders, they finished the football season undefeated and won most games by 30-40 points.
But by the time they were freshmen, the wheels began to come off the Longhorn wagon.
A player with the most God-given athletic ability I'd coached either in high school or middle school moved away. He ended up attending five high schools in four years.
At least two other fine athletes found themselves in trouble with the law and never played a varsity down for the Longhorns.
A couple of others lost interest in sports and quit participating.
At least two of them couldn't measure up academically and spent much of their senior year on ineligibility lists.
Some others found girls and cars more fascinating than the weight room or the summer conditioning program.
By the time their numbers had been whittled down, there was only a handful of standouts remaining
They finished up their senior football season with a 5-4 record and only in wrestling did some of them make a run at the post season.
That group of young men, who once seem destined to be Payson High's next band of state champs, never was able to realize the tremendous athletic promise they once possessed.
Standing on the sidelines of an RCMS football game last fall, I heard the father of a player proclaim the team would become two-time state champs once they reached high school.
I hope so.
But a lot can happen in four years.
My faux pas
In an article about crappie fishing that appeared in the April 26 Payson Roundup, I referred to Dennis Pirch as a co-owner of the Tackle Box in Payson.
Coach Pirch tells me he is not a co-owner, but rather simply helps owners Mark Kyle and Clifford Pirch when he's needed.
Links battle to benefit youth football
The Payson Youth Football Association will host its annual benefit golf tournament May 14 at Payson Golf Course. Check-in is 7 a.m. and tee time is 8 a.m. A luncheon and post tournament awards ceremony begins at noon. The entry fee into the tournament is $80 per person, or $400 for a four-person team. All proceeds will be used to purchase much-needed equipment and supplies for the youth football association.
Registrations may be mailed to Payson Youth Football, P.O. Box 624, Payson, AZ 85547. The deadline for pre-registration is April 29.
For more information, call Angela Parker at (928) 468-6482.