A great way to enjoy a fine meal, revel in great, small-town camaraderie and support the Payson High School boys and girls basketball teams is to take advantage of the annual fish fry when it is held from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 1 in the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria.
The tickets are $5 for those 10-years-and-under, $6 for adults and $30 for a family pass.
The menu includes fried fish, slaw, french fries and drinks.
Also that evening, fans can walk over to the PHS gym or Wilson Dome and take in both the girls and boys junior varsity and varsity teams in action against Chino Valley.
Ticket sales have taken on a new twist this year with Lady Longhorn first-year coaches Kelly Krieg and Jared Swanson drumming up some friendly competition between the boys and girls players. The group that sells the most dinner tickets will be treated to a pizza party.
Tickets to the fish fry are available from any Friends And Neighbors (FAN) Club members, basketball players or at the door.
The fish fry always drums up some fond memories in this old coach. In 2005, I was the coach of the PHS junior varsity boys basketball team and one of those assigned to help host the meal.
It was held on an evening both the boys and girls teams played the Chinle Wildcats. Those who follow high school basketball know parents and fans follow reservation area teams in droves. The numbers they bring with them to away games are legendary.
On the evening of our dinner, it seems hundreds of visiting Wildcat fans decided to dine at the fish fry.
What occurred was a whole lot of scrambling and a long dinner line of hungry fans that extended out the RCMS cafeteria door and across the school campus.
It was a turnout we never expected and were not prepared for.
Ultimately we got most everyone fed, but it was an intimidating challenge none of us will soon forget.
Spaghetti feast for matmen
Most every Longhorn coach, fan, parent and athlete has enjoyed one or more of the spaghetti dinners held annually to benefit the Payson High School wrestling program. Those who have, usually fondly remember the good times associated with the annual benefit.
Longtime assistant wrestling coach and PHS counselor Don Heizer, who has recently tapered down on his coaching duties to spend more time with his ill daughter, recalls the origins of the spaghetti dinners, more than two decades ago.
“Dennis (Pirch, former PHS wrestling coach) and I were looking for ways to earn money so the kids could go to Disneyland during the Christmas vacation,” he said.
“We came up with the spaghetti dinners. They earned good money, and we’ve never stopped doing them.”
For the first dinner, Heizer and Pirch enlisted the cooking expertise of Pine Realtor Mark Fumusa, who had two sons on the team.
After his two sons were long departed from PHS, Fumusa continued to play a huge role in hosting the event.
This year, he again will be helping prepare the meal, which will be held from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 in the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria.
All-you-can-eat tickets are $5 per person or $25 per family. Tickets are available from any wrestler or at the door.
This year, PHS wrestling coach Travis Koppenhafer has asked booster club member Jacque Lee to oversee the event.
For it, a crew of about six volunteer assistants, led by Fumusa and Lee, will spend the entire day cooking a spaghetti feast for the more than 500 people expected to attend.
The cooks will use about 110 pounds of spaghetti noodles, 120 pounds of ground beef, four gallons of homemade salad dressing and 100 pounds of flour for delicious homemade rolls prepared by Lee.
As lip-smacking good as the homemade meals are, they have become much more than an Italian dinner.
“It’s a time and place where we can all gather and enjoy the fellowship of one another,” Heizer said. “It’s the type of thing we can do in a small town.”
The benefit also produces money the wrestling team uses for travel and to purchase equipment not available in the school’s athletic budget.
Heizer estimates the dinners can earn more than $2,000 annually, thanks to donations of food items.
“Without the money earned at the dinners, the wrestling program would not be able to do a lot of the things they have done for the kids,” Heizer said.
The coach also sees the dinners as events that benefit everyone.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “The team earns the money it needs and the people get a great meal at a low price.”
Tickets, which are available at the door or from any PHS wrestler, are $3 for children, $6 for adults and $20 for a family pass.