It was welcome home week in the old Payson High School gymnasium.
There, two of the finest wrestlers to ever don a Longhorn singlet were on hand June 21 to 27 to help host the High in the Pines Arizona Intensive Wrestling Camp.
Zack Lee, a two-time state champion during his tenure at PHS and his younger brother Nate, a four-time state high school champion, were members of the eight-coach staff.
After graduating from Payson High School, Zack went on to earn back-to-back All American honors at Western State College in Colorado.
Nate departed PHS for Boise State where he wrestled his way the last two seasons to the NCAA national championships.
Also on the coaching staff was Payson High School coach Travis Koppenhafer, a three-time All-American and an Olympic trials qualifier; Arizona State University star Kyle DeBerry, who won four state titles at Tucson Sunnyside; Benson High coach Casey Woodall; and Aaron Simpson, an All-American U.S. National freestyle team member.
Rounding out the staff was 2009 All-American Anthony Robles.
“We absolutely have the best clinicians in the country,” Payson High School principal Roy Sandoval said.
The camp drew 87 aspiring wrestlers from around the country including as far away as Washington State.
Of the contingent in attendance, 10 are Payson High School wrestlers.
Sandoval calls the camp the “toughest in Arizona” saying the wrestlers are put through a rugged regime designed to mold the teens into the finest wrestlers in the prep ranks.
Koppenhafer agrees, “This camp is a high intensity, high altitude experience designed for very serious high school wrestlers who desire a demanding and disciplined schedule of wrestling and conditioning.”
During the seven days, campers wrestled in 20 live matches, which represents about one-half of a high school season.
During pre-match sessions, they were taught the latest in techniques and strategies that many of the coaches used during their careers.
The campers also participated in daily strength training and conditioning drills including weight lifting, long distance running, sprints, partner lifts and hills.
“Wrestlers will be asked to break through conditioning barriers,” said Koppenhafer.
Each day wrapped up with a leadership development message from a guest speaker.
“We believe in building young men whose citizenship is as outstanding as their mat skills,” Koppenhafer said.
During the camp, wrestlers were housed in various classrooms around campus. Each wrestler brought his own sleeping bag, cot and bedding.
Meals were served in the PHS cafeteria. Each day began with a wake-up at 6:30 a.m. and a morning workout 15 minutes later.
Morning sessions included dual matches and technique wrestling. In the afternoon, intensive practices and combative tournaments were held. The days wrapped up at 10 a.m. with team meetings.
Sandoval says the campers who completed the demanding seven days are sure to return to their school teams next season with a firmer grasp of the sacrifices needed to become a championship wrestler.