All-Star Game Was First Class All The Way

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The Arizona Football Coaches Association North vs. South All-Star game might have finally found a permanent home.

At least that is the opinion of Payson High School coach Josh Anderson who took part in the annual gridiron clash last week.

Anderson returned from the game saying "it was first class for everything."

Going even further, the coach said, "I would go so far as to push to have the state championship game played at that facility if they could bring in some sort of bleacher system for the fans to get a better view."

The game was played in Surprise Stadium, which is actually the spring training site of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. The new facility is comprised of 12 baseball fields and an eight-acre multipurpose facility.

Nearby is a hustling, bustling commercial area complete with restaurants and motels.

Anderson said the coaches and players were housed in a first-class hotel and treated very well by Surprise town officials during their entire stay.

"There was always something to do for the kids to stay busy," Anderson said.

Two years ago, when the game was played for the first time in Surprise, PHS all-star Luke Apfel returned from the game singing the same praises as Anderson.

Which is good news for future all-star players, coaches, the public and the AzFCA.

You see, the annual all-star game has been a sort of vagabond after being booted out of Northern Arizona University in the mid-1980s to make way for the Arizona Cardinals fall training.

The NAU site was a great place for a postseason all-star game, but money talks. And the Cardinals had much more cash to throw NAU's way than did the then-Arizona Coaches Association.

The last Payson all-stars to play in the North vs. South All-Star game when it was played in Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University were Curt Rambo and Mark Hanna in 1986.

The following year, the South team featured Ty Chilson, Ty Goodman, Mark Velasco and Matt Rambo. The team practiced at NAU but the game had to be played at Prescott High School to accommodate the Cardinals.

After unceremoniously leaving Flagstaff the next summer, the games were played for a while at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher.

Eastern Arizona was a good site, but the facilities were somewhat spartan and the location meant a long trip for all-stars, parents and fans from the Northern half of the state.

The games later moved to Casa Grande for a few years and then, after scouring the state for a new home, accepted the invitation to move to Surprise.

In the 1980s, Payson had the opportunity to host the game but adequate housing for the players and coaches couldn't be found.

Because Surprise is somewhat centrally located in the state and the housing and playing facilities are first-rate, the town might be just the home sweet home the coaches association has long yearned for.

About the only drawback is the searing desert heat, but that can be overcome with early morning and late evening practices.

Gasping for air

As a seasoned runner, Lynne ODonnell -- also the Safeway fund-raising coordinator -- is hoping for a large turnout for the inaugural Huffin' & Puffin' in the Pines 8-Mile, 5-Mile and 1-Mile runs to be held July 12 in Rumsey Park.

The Safeway Foundation and the Payson Parks and Recreation Department are sponsoring the first-ever runs.

In addition to the running events, organizers are in the process of setting up music venues, food booths, a family fun zone and spectator viewing locations.

In the family fun zone will be a slip-and-slide, bounce house, snow cones and cotton candy.

Huffin' & Puffin' is the work of ODonnell who says, "I want to promote a healthy lifestyle and fitness through events for the community."

The new run, she added, seems to be the ideal way to attain her goals and support Safeway fund-raising at the same time.

All proceeds from the upcoming runs will benefit foundation charities which include Easter Seals, Special Olympics, Prostrate Cancer Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, City of Hope and Cancer Research Center.

ODonnell is encouraging participants to seek run sponsors willing to make donations to the Safeway Foundation.

"You can collect donations online when you create your own fund-raising page," she said.

That page can be found at: www.active.com/ donate/makingadifference.

"You can also collect and turn in sponsor money on race day," she said.

Prizes will be awarded to the top three fund-raisers. For those who pre-registered before June 19, the entry fees were $30 for the 8-mile run, $20 for the 5-miler and $10 for the 1-mile fun run.

After the deadline, registration fees increased.

The fees include a race T-shirt, goody bag, post-race breakfast and entry into a door prize raffle.

Pre-race pasta dinner

Also, there will be a pre-race pasta dinner served from 4 to 7 p.m., July 11 for $5. Race awards will be presented to the first five male and female finishers in each of the events.

As for the courses, ODonnell says the 8-mile run "winds through tree-lined neighborhood roads, up the dreaded Airport Road "Summit" where a special aid station surprise awaits."

The course continues around the western perimeter of town and along Main Street before concluding at the original starting line in Rumsey Park.

The 5-mile course, ODonnell said, has "some gentle rolling hills where runners will enjoy views of the Mazatzal Mountains" before returning to Rumsey Park.

The 1-mile course is tree-lined and flat. Aid and water stations will be positioned on both the 5- and 8-mile courses. The courses can be previewed at www.mapmyrun.com.

ODonnell is inviting even those who can't or don't enjoy running to join in on the festivities.

"Volunteers and sponsors are needed," she said.

For more information, call ODonnell at (928) 472-4661 or e-mail lynodonne@netzero.com.

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