The Little Team That Could


For today’s Payson Roundup, Extra Points has been turned over to Payson High School principal Roy Sandoval. He’s penned an anecdote on the Longhorn wrestling team, he calls “Principal’s Panache” and is subtitled “The Little Team That Could.”

Once there was a town in the mountains of Arizona that was revered for its rich history in the sport of wrestling. Forever it seemed, wrestlers from Payson were some of the most feared “creatures” on the mat. Then quietly, somehow, the championships dwindled. The program continued and people spoke of Payson wrestling as though it were still as tough and fearsome as it always was — everyone but the opponents. While some remembered, and a few kids did well and people still talked as though it were true — the real “glory days” were a figment of the past.

Then one year a new wrestling coach came to Payson. He began to work with the boys and fill their heads with new ideas. Not about what had been, but what they could be. The wrestling room was lined with years and years of trophies from hundreds of tournaments. One day the coach told the boys, “You need to stop resting on all the laurels and reputation of everyone else. You didn’t earn any of this and you need to start forging a tradition of your own!”

When the boys heard this they were inspired to continue with new focus and energy. They worked day and night toward the goal of forging their own tradition of excellence. The work was hard and along the way, some sadly decided it was too hard. Still a small, focused group continued to sacrifice.

At the end of the first season, there was great disappointment. The boys who had worked so hard only placed seventh in the state as a team.

Meanwhile, some in the wrestling community were in an uproar. The coach and his little team had a pretty rough time.

They didn’t spend any time whining about it. Instead, they went right to work on the next year. They ran a “Little Longhorns” wrestling camp in the spring. They met two days a week all spring.

They planned a weeklong, intensive camp and brought in the best wrestlers in the U.S. to work with them and help them become better. They met three nights a week all summer and wrestled and lifted and wrestled and wrestled and wrestled.

The next season began with high hopes. But soon enough, calamity struck — a broken hand, a dislocated shoulder, eligibility problems, weight problems, problems with too much hard work. In spite of it all, the coach and the kids kept forging ahead.

By January, the numbers on the little team had dwindled to 13.

Soon the regional tournament rolled around and the little team placed fourth. Of the nine kids who went, eight qualified for the state tournament.

The next week passed quickly as the coach and the little team prepared for the state tournament. By the end of the first night, five had wrestled their way into the semifinals and the other three were still in the consolations. All had scored points. The next day, four of the eight boys made it into the finals with one narrowly missing by a point at the end of his match. Seven of the eight were still in the tournament and all had scored points — and the little team was in fourth place. The finals were tough, but the wrestlers forged on. They wrestled valiantly in the finals, but placed second, one won, one placed fourth and one placed fifth. Some even pinned to earn bonus points!

When the dust finally settled the little team that could was runner-up in the state as a team. Eight boys who believed in their coach, and a coach that believed the eight boys. What a story, what team!

Last Saturday (Feb. 20) the team presented their trophy to Senator John McCain along with a “Payson Wrestling” T-shirt and sweatshirt.

Afterward, their coach gathered the boys and spoke to them about Senator McCain, “Boys, I don’t care what your politics are, you just shook hands with a true American hero. This man served his country. This man was a POW for eight years!

“He could have come home because his dad was an admiral, but he chose to stay with his colleagues and endure.

“That’s what heroes do. Don’t ever forget that!”

What a coach!


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