The Tucson Amphitheater basketball team and coach Pat Derksen have been a huge part of the Rim country summer sports scene for the past 20 years.
Each year during those two decades, the Panthers have participated in the Payson Invitational Summer Boys Basketball Tournament.
About 10 years ago, the Amphi team held a highly successful week-long summer camp in the old Payson High School gymnasium. It culminated with a visit and parents' picnic at Tonto Natural Bridge.
During the Panthers' weekend tournament stays in Pine and Payson, the players have also enjoyed many other high country activities, including visits to local swimming holes, bowling, hiking and camping.
Following the conclusion of the tournament, older members of the team take freshmen and first-time Payson visitors on a traditional "Snipe Hunt." The hunt is said to be legendary on the Amphi campus.
Derksen says he can't imagine a player passing through the Panther program without going on a Pine Canyon snipe hunt.
Derksen's Irish-like intensity has not endeared him to some summer league officials, but he continues to call the Rim country his team's summer home.
Amphi is not a private school that can recruit much sought-after players the way other state high schools do. The school also is located in a declining enrollment district that doesn't have thousands of potential athletes to draw upon.
That means, coach Derksen has to play the cards he's been dealt. Often playing five different, off-suit cards, Derksen has been able to deal winning teams and send several graduates to Division 1 universities.
Probably the most memorable player was 6-foot, 10-inch, 280-pound Anthony Oates, who turned heads every place he visited in the Rim country.
Watching Anthony clutching a gunny-sack and crawling on his hands and knees through the ponderosa pines on a snipe hunt is a memory not soon forgotten.
After leaving Payson, Oates played for the legendary John Calipari at UMass.
After 28 years of coaching, 19 of them at Amphi, Derksen may have his best team ever.
He's been able to mold a diverse group of players that includes one of Egyptian descent, two Muslims, the class valedictorian and a baseball player into a 24-3 team that is in the hunt for the Class 4A championship.
His accomplishments have earned him a flattering feature article in the Feb. 16 Arizona Daily Star --n the sports pages that are usually reserved for King Lute.
Having coached alongside Pat, been the best man at his wedding and watched him toil at Amphi over the years, I'm certain there is no Arizona coach more deserving of the success he's now enjoying.