The Rim Country Middle School Maverick football teams should be well-outfitted this season with 60 state-of-the-art, high-tech Riddell helmets, the official helmet of the NFL.
The Mavs were able to procure 15 of the helmets with a donation from the Mogollon Sporting Association.
The Payson High School football club then chipped in with almost a $4,000 donation to purchase RCMS 45 additional helmets.
Previous Maverick helmets have been white or gold, but the new ones are black, the same color as the high school helmets.
PHS coach Byron Quinlan says the middle school players have been extremely appreciative of the new helmets, thanking him over and over.
Calling all boosters
The Payson F.A.N. Club will meet at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 10 at Tiny’s Restaurant. Anyone interested in helping Payson High School and its extracurricular programs is welcome and encouraged to attend.
Barry Sollenberger — the prep sports historian who the upcoming Sollenberger Classic football game is played in memory of — was no stranger to Payson High athletics.
Over the years, it wasn’t unusual for him to show up at Longhorn football games, especially those played in the Valley.
Sollenberger was also instrumental in hosting a 25-year anniversary celebration for a Payson High School state championship basketball team.
Prior to his death in 2005 at 60 years of age, Sollenberger had been for six years the Arizona Interscholastic Association media relations director.
In prep athletic circles, Sollenberger was long acknowledged as the state’s sports historian and for the past 30 years published the “Phoenix Metro Football” magazine as well as record books in several sports.
Each summer, when “Arizona Football” reached store shelves, coaches and players from around the state rushed to buy the magazine to see who Sollenberger had picked for his “Friday Night Heroes” or “Top-10 teams.”
As the guru of Arizona high school sports, Sollenberger was able to recite sports facts and history without hesitation.
In the early 1990s, I was talking with Sollenberger about then-Payson High School football player Jon Gunzel.
Sollenberger paused, then asked, “Is he the son of Steve Gunzel?”
I replied, “yes,” and without hesitation Sollenberger said “Steve threw the discus 186 feet in 1969 for Tucson Palo Verde.”
I later checked the record books and Sollenberger’s recollection was right on target.
Sollenberger, a track and field standout at Arcadia High School in the early 1960s, had a special fondness for prep football and was known to visit three and four prep games each Friday night of the fall season.
In 1991, he also was on the sidelines of a Payson High School football game against Dysart.
Apparently, he took an instant liking to Bo Althoff and his hard-nosed style of play.
Immediately after the game, he approached me and asked Bo’s name and whether he was going to play football collegiately.
“No,” I said. “He likes pole vaulting too much. That’s what he’ll do in college.”
More than a decade later at a high school state tournament basketball game in then-America West Arena, Sollenberger and I struck up a short conversation.
Out of the blue, he said, “Bo was sure a fine safety. He could have played D-1.”
It was that type of instant sports recall and fondness for high school athletics that made Sollenberger a legend among the state’s coaches and athletes.
He also had an amazing curiosity about small-town sports history and must have spent most of his waking hours researching a book he was going to write about the past 100 years of Arizona high school football.
He was never able to complete the book he worked on for about 10 years.
A few years prior to his death, I received a late-night phone call from him wanting to know more about Pine High School. He asked if the mascot had been a buffalo and if the school had a football team.
“I didn't even know Pine ever had a high school,” I replied.
I promised Sollenberger that I would publish a request in this column asking readers for information about the high school.
Sure enough, longtime Rim country residents responded with more than enough history, which I forwarded to Sollenberger.
Around the state, Sollenberger is remembered by high school coaches, former athletes, parents and fans as one of the most influential persons in high school sports.