Payson Teams Get Little Respect In East Region


For a variety of reasons, Payson is usually considered an unwanted stepchild in the Class 3A East region.

And that always gets my dander up, now that I'm a Longhorn.

But 25 years ago, as head coach of the Show Low Cougar football team, I wasn't overly excited that Payson was to be included in the Class A East region, now the 3A East.

My mentality was then the same of many other coaches, administrators, parents and athletes in the White Mountains -- Payson is not our neighbor, they are not part of our football history and those winter school bus trips across the Rim are the stuff of which bad dreams are made.

When AIA-mandated realignments rolled around in those years, the mentality was to send Payson West or South, but only to the East as a last resort.

And that's what the AIA usually did, moving Payson from the East to the West region, then to the now-defunct Central region and back to the East. Payson even spent a two-year hiatus in the 4A Grand Canyon region.

Former PHS athletic director Harry Hochstetler once said, "It doesn't seem any region wants us and the AIA doesn't know what to do with Payson."

Conversely, Snowflake, Show Low, Lakeside Blue Ridge and Round Valley have been close members of the East since 1984.

The vagabond nature of the Payson has contributed to the lack of recognition and respect it receives in some White Mountain schools, communities and in state polls.

Couple the school's nomadic ways with the fact it is now housed in a close-knit East region that has produced 19 state champions in the past 25 years, and you have a Longhorn team that is scrambling for recognition.

A former Longhorn football assistant coach once said, "we are sometimes treated in the East as if we are outside in the cold, looking in."

Snowflake is heralded because it won state championships in 1982 1988, 1991, 1992 and 1993.

Blue Ridge took 3A titles in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 200, 2001 and 2004.

Round Valley claimed the 3A title in 1985 and Show Low was champ in 1999 and 2003.

Payson won the state title in 1998, but was not then a member of the East region. Rather, the Horns were aligned in the Central. When Payson won the state crown in 1981, it was a Class B team.

Former PHS wrestling coach and team founder Dennis Pirch once said the region has a type of "East Mystique" in that the teams are expected to be better, stronger and more well-coached than others from around the state.

Only trouble is, the Longhorns were not always included in the mystique.

Also, Payson often suffers from a lack of respect in the White Mountains because the football team has never won the East championship outright.

The only East honors Payson can claim were scored in 2005, when former coach Jerry Rhoades led PHS to a share of the title along with Blue Ridge and Round Valley.

The Longhorns have a rich and storied football history, but don't tell that to those in Navajo and Apache counties.

Some there believe the only good high school football is played in Lakeside, Eagar, Show Low and Snowflake.

Only today, a sports buff from the White Mountains was in the offices of the Roundup spewing the gridiron virtues of the Lobos, Cougars, Yellow Jackets and Elks.

"Longhorns who," he said.

I call those types of attitudes compounded arrogance -- an "I'm better than you" mentality.

A great hope I have is for the Longhorn players to take the field this evening with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and determined to prove they are as fine a team as any in the White Mountains.

Believe me, they are.

As for the parents and fans, the best way to let our neighbors to the East know that our community has the same commitment to nurturing our youth as they claim to have, is to show up in force for tonight's game.

Rest assured, Show Low will bring a large contingent of rabid supporters to Payson. Payson's challenge is to counter with a bigger, louder, more fervent fan base.

It's all about respect.

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