The 2005 sports year was filled with plenty of excitement, disappointment, thrills, chills and new challenges for local athletes, coaches and fans.
The event that probably stirred the most attention was Payson High School's return, in September, to the 3A East region from the 4A Grand Canyon where the Longhorns had spent the past two school years.
Rejoining the 3A East was like returning home for the Longhorns, who spent much of the past two decades housed in a region that has built a reputation as the most competitive small school division in the state.
The Horns wasted no time in proving PHS was going to make its presence known in a region that has long been dominated by Snowflake, Show Low and Blue Ridge sports teams.
The Longhorn football team played its way to a share of the East region title with Round Valley and Blue Ridge.
The Horns chances for winning the school's first state title since 1998 fizzled in a first round 3A tournament loss to Safford.
Some fans pointed to failed coin flips as instrumental in Horn defeat.
In the flips, Payson fell to third, from a possible first place finish, in state tournament seedings. Which meant the Longhorns had to open on the road, rather than at home, against the No. 2 seeded Safford Bulldogs.
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Dec. 9: "Coach, player honored region's best"
In a voting of East region head coaches held at Hondah Resort near Pinetop-Lakeside, Jerry Rhoades was named the "Coach of the Year" and Luke Apfel selected "Player of the Year."
Apfel -- relying on a dashing, twisting elusive style of running -- finished as the third leading rusher in Arizona. The top ground gainer, a North Canyon running back, piled up 2,250 yards, but had 14 games to accomplish it.
A pair of Apfel's finest performances were turned in during the homecoming win over Fountain Hills and in a crucial late season showdown against Round Valley.
In leading the Horns to the homecoming triumph, he rushed for 300 yards and scored both PHS touchdowns.
Sept. 30: "Dispute ends with teacher's resignation"
The Payson School board's decision not to accept Scott Dean's resignation won't keep the Payson High School teacher and head basketball coach on campus.
Dean packed his belongings and departed school the afternoon of Sept. 28, saying he was bound for Lake Region State College in Devil's Lake, N.D., where he will be associate athletic director and basketball coach.
A substitute teacher was in his classroom the following day.
A week before departing, Dean turned in his resignation to athletic director Dave Bradley. But, at a Sept. 26 board meeting, members refused to accept the resignation saying, in effect, "stay on the job."
Dean, however, ignored the board's directive.
"I hate to do this," he said. "I wish I could stay but I can't. I was a good teacher and wanted to build a basketball program here."
The 52-year-old Dean, who was hired in late June, cited a dispute with the district concerning the years of teaching service with which he had been credited as his reason for leaving.
"I was asked to start on step one (of the salary schedule), and I've been teaching 28 years," he said. "I don't know of a district that doesn't give a teacher at least five years.
"Some give 10 (years) and some more than that."
Dean was hired only a month earlier.
March 18: "Lee pins four titles, named best at state"
Many honors have been bestowed on Nate Lee, but none more prestigious than the one recently awarded by the Arizona Wrestling Coaches Association.
In a voting of AWCA members, Lee was named Arizona's "Co-wrestler of the Year" along with Nick Gallick and Matt Lopez of Tucson Sunnyside.
According to PHS assistant wrestling coach Don Heizer, the AWCA decision to honor a trio as wrestlers of the year is extremely rare, but the long list of accomplishments of the three made it virtually impossible for coaches to pick a single outstanding grappler.
"All three are four-time state champions," Heizer said. "I don't think that's ever happened before. Most seasons, there is one, maybe two, four-timers; hardly ever is there three in one season. We couldn't single one out over the other two."
Lee was Payson High School's first-ever four-time state champ.
June 17: "Resource Management new commissioner's priority"
A man with Rim Country ties and a fresh outlook on wildlife management is the newest member of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission.
Bob Hernbrode, 61, will join four fellow commissioners for the first time when they gather June 24 and 25 in Payson.
Hernbrode grew up in the Rim Country, where his father was a career Arizona Game and Fish Department employee.
He came to Payson as a fourth-grader and remembers Julia Randall as a first-grade teacher.
"I didn't have her, but we all knew her," he said.
For the past 28 years, Hernbrode has worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife as the state's big-game supervisor.
While in Colorado, Hernbrode developed a reputation as a strong advocate of wildlife education and a man with a broader interest in wildlife than hunting and fishing.
In 1986, he started Colorado's Watchable Wildlife Program that is now in use in 39 states, but not Arizona.
Aug. 19: "Devils finish foray on Rim"
For the Sun Devils, it's goodbye pine trees and hello asphalt.
Following 10 days of training under the majestic ponderosas of scenic Camp Tontozona, the Arizona State University football team is returning to the school's downtown Tempe campus.
Preseason training at Tontozona wrapped up this morning with the annual fan's scrimmage that drew throngs of Valley-area football faithful.
During the team's stay in the Rim Country, monsoon rains sometimes drenched the Tontozona grass field, forcing the Sun Devils to travel to Rumsey Park for practice sessions. Rumsey has an all-weather FieldTurf playing surface.
During the first five days at the camp, the Sun Devils have had to practice four times at Rumsey.
The Devils also had a water workout at Taylor Pool and took in a movie at the Sawmill Crossing Theater.
Aug. 26: "MSA set for Hall of Fame Induction"
The Mogollon Sporting Association has reached the pinnacle of success for a volunteer foundation -- induction into the Arizona Outdoor Hall of Fame.
MSA president Judy Baker and a contingent of 13 association members were on hand at the Aug. 19 induction ceremonies held at the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center.
"It was a very nice ceremony and a special honor for all of us," Baker said
Among the MSA members who attended were three of the five original founders -- Ted Pettet, Mike DeWees and Gary Barcom.
Following an MSA introduction by Payson-area Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Craig McMullen, Baker accepted a souvenir plaque from master of ceremonies and News Channel 3 reporter Steve Bodinet.
Oct. 28: "Payson coach honored for lifetime of service"
The man who turned Payson into the "Small Town Wrestling Capital of America" will be among five retired coaches inducted into the Arizona State Chapter Hall of Fame for Lifetime Service to Wrestling.
Dennis Pirch will be honored Nov. 13 at a reception at the Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel in Phoenix.
Pirch -- now a semi-retired teacher, business owner, Payson Roundup outdoors columnist and grandfather -- founded the Longhorn wrestling program in 1973.
Two years earlier, he graduated from Northern Arizona University where he was a team co-captain, Outstanding Senior Award winner and an All-Big Sky selection.
During a 28-year coaching career, Pirch led the Longhorns to 10 state championships, 23 regional titles, 100-plus tournament championships and a top-20 national ranking.
Compiling a dual meet record of 378 and 44, he was a 20-time region coach of the year winner; 10-time 3A state coach of the year and was selected All-Arizona coach of the year twice.
April 12: "Lake levels spell good news for Rim anglers"
Roosevelt Lake, which last week reached record heights -- just six feet shy of maximum -- attracted the combined attention of biologists, hydrologists, forest rangers, boat dealers, fishing guides and a professional football coach April 1 and 2.
The coach, Dennis Green of the Arizona Cardinals, joined the others in a special outing at the lake organized by Arizona Game and Fish officer Rory Aikens.
He said he put together the event because "an epic era of water-based recreation, especially fishing, is unfolding in Arizona thanks to the record runoffs from one of the state's wettest winters on record."
Much to the delight of a crowd of onlookers and media members on hand at Roosevelt Marina the morning of the festivities, Green showed up in a high tech, state-of-the-art bass boat decked out in team colors, donned with a Cards logo and his autograph.
Displaying a friendly demeanor not obvious when he is pacing the Cards sidelines, Green took time to exchange fishing tales with many of those on hand.
He said he was participating in the outing for two reasons -- a rare opportunity to fish Roosevelt and to promote angling among young people as a sport of choice.
"Lake Pleasant is closer for me so I don't get to come here much," he said. "And I want to talk about what fishing can mean (to youngsters)."
Other guests on hand included Arizona Game and Fish biologist Jim Warnecke, Salt River Project hydrologist Charlie Ester, professional bass fisherman Clifford Pirch, Tempe Marine owner Gary Williams, Tonto National Forest District Ranger Gary Smith and Roosevelt fishing guide Art Chamberlain.
At midmorning, all piled onto a 56-foot houseboat for a tour of the lake and to see firsthand the changes that have occurred since rains and spring runoff pushed water heights to previously unseen levels.
May 17: "Ray shines on mound for SLU Lions"
Former Lady Longhorn pitching star Rachel Ray has been named to the 2005 All-Southland Conference Softball team.
Ray, a 2003 graduate of Payson High School, now attends Southeastern Louisiana State University in Hammond, La.
After an unremarkable freshman season in which she struggled to a 0-3 record, the sophomore blossomed into Southeastern's No. 1 closer. Coming out of the bullpen, she finished the year with a 4-3 record, a 2.42 ERA and had one save.
All four of her wins came in Southland Conference play. For her efforts, she was also named the Lions' most improved player.
One of her most impressive stints on the hill was chalked up April 17 in Southeastern's 2-1 victory over Southland foe Northwestern State.
In the rubber game of a series, the former Lady Horn tossed four innings of solid relief to lead her team to the all-important victory.
In mid-April, she was listed on the Southland Conferences' "Pitching Honor Roll" for her relief efforts in helping SLU sweep Texas-Arlington.
After graduating from Payson High in 2003, she turned down a scholarship at nearby Paradise Valley Community College to accept a last minute offer from SLU.