A Payson High School assistant coach's unwavering loyalty to three head coaches over 18 seasons is now paying huge dividends.
For Don Heizer, the rewards have arrived in the form of Arizona state and Region 8 Assistant Wrestling Coach of the Year honors. The honor qualifies him as one of eight finalists for the National Assistant Wrestling Coach of the Year.
The national award is given each year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA).
Heizer was voted the state's best assistant at the conclusion of the wrestling season in February and only last week did he learn of the Region 8 title. The region includes California, Nevada, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.
According to Mingus coach Tom Wokash, also the state's representative to the NWCA, the national award winner will be announced in August.
As one of eight finalists, Heizer will be invited to the NCAA wrestling tournament in March 2006.
"He'll attend a coach's association banquet and will be introduced there and at the tournament," Wokash said.
To Heizer, the recognition is a treat.
"It sounds like a lot of fun," he said.
At Payson High School, Heizer has served as an assistant to head coaches Dennis Pirch, Dave LaMotte and Rich Ormand. During that stint, he helped coach eight state championship teams, four state runners-up and 17 region champions.
Before arriving in Payson he was head coach of a pair of state runner-up teams in Colorado. In 1977, he was the state's coach of the year.
In addition to his assistant coaching duties, Heizer is the tournament director at the Tim Van Horn Memorial, Rim Country Duals and two junior varsity meets.
He has also served as director of several state and region tournaments.
Over the years, he's built a reputation for hosting some of the finest tournaments in Arizona.
"Tournaments are something we want to do rather than travel," he said. "It brings people, and their money, to Payson and we don't have to spend money traveling."
Former PHS assistant coach Roy Sandoval, now the principal of Payson Elementary School, is dazzled by Heizer's ability to pull off efficient tournaments.
"No one is more well organized and works harder than him," Sandoval said. "He's totally committed and puts in the time and elbow grease."
Heizer quickly shrugs off any credit for the overwhelming success of the tournaments saying instead the accolades should go to the volunteer workers and Rim country businesses that are always willing to step up.
"The community is always there to help out," he said "It's amazing the number of people that are willing to lend a helping hand."
A trademark of all Heizer-directed tournaments has long been the hospitality rooms that serve up lip-smacking delights to coaches, bus drivers, scorekeepers and trainers.
On most any tournament day, a quick glimpse into the Wilson dome hospitality room reveals a horde devouring mouth-watering meals, which have included Mexican dishes and wild game casseroles.
"Everywhere we go, people ask us about our hospitality rooms," he said. "But that's just one of those things that our volunteers work so hard at."
Over the years, Heizer has molded hundreds of wrestlers into the finest athletes in small-town Arizona.
Although he admitted he holds a special fondness for all the youths he's coached, there are a few who still stir his emotions.
"Watching Bryan Ross wrestle to the (state) championship with a shoulder injury that would sideline most wrestlers was amazing," he said.
Heizer also fondly recalls Doyle Van Horn maturing from a rotund freshman into a chiseled, superbly conditioned senior.
"He wanted to be a state champion for his dad (Tim Van Horn) and he was able to do it," Heizer said.
"Doyle set high expectations for himself and then performed at the highest level he could perform."
Tim, a longtime PHS wrestling supporter, died in an auto accident when Doyle was an infant.
Following his death, the Payson Invitational was renamed the Tim Van Horn Memorial.
For Heizer, the contributions he's made as an assistant coach are no big deal.
"It's just a special opportunity that I have," he said. "And I enjoy doing it."
Over the years as Heizer has helped coach the PHS team, his wife, Pat, has not been far away.
She is the longtime coach of the Longhorn Wrestlerettes whose responsibility is to cheer and support the team. Heizer's daughters, Whitney and Lyndsey, were members of the Wrestlerettes.
"I guess that makes us kind of a wrestling family, doesn't it?" Heizer asked.