Coaches and club sponsors from around the Rim Country are united in their praise of the Mogollon Sporting Association and its benevolent contributions that each year help fund youth sports, clubs and extracurricular activities.
Among those singing the praises of the MSA the loudest is Payson High School band teacher Daria Mason.
“Without MSA we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing,” she said. “They are absolutely essential to our (band) success and to that of many others in our schools and in the town.”
Mason’s affinity for MSA and its mission is due to the support the MSA has thrown behind the school district’s music programs.
Most recently, assistance arrived when the association agreed to fund a $9,000 matching grant to help the Longhorn band purchase new uniforms.
Acquiring the grant is a feel-good story of cooperation and hard work involving Mason, members of the band and those individuals who make up the Mogollon Sporting Association
Because the price of individual band uniforms was $210 each, it once seemed members would never be able to earn the money needed to replace their old uniforms which Mason says were, “Tattered, torn, stained, miss-matched and dreadfully out of style.”
Although members faced a seeming unattainable goal of earning enough money, they refused to quit. For four years, they worked earning money at football game concession stands. They also sold cookbooks, did odd jobs and solicited funds through Credit for Kids state tax credit program.
As they reached about the halfway point of earning the money needed, Mason decided to put in a request to the MSA asking for a matching grant.
She says she wanted the kids to have the uniforms now rather than later because the uniforms they had were almost 10 years old.
Mason was well aware of what the MSA can contribute having received a donation years ago to purchase African drums that are still being used in music programs around the district.
But Mason knew her request would be only one of piles upon piles the MSA would receive.
Those applications are gathered each spring at a member’s home where a committee mulls them over.
Members are known to carefully thumb through the applications making sure the recipients are the neediest and that the money is being distributed fairly and evenly.
Last year, the MSA committee obviously decided the band’s request was a proper use of resources and notified Mason the group would be receiving the matching funds.
“I think they chose us because they know how hard these kids work and that they are very deserving,” Mason said. “Jack (Koon, a district employee and MSA member) sees us out there on the (practice) field and understands what we do and what our needs are.”
Founding member MSA Ted Pettet also supports giving the donation to the band, “We hadn’t done a thing for them in a while.”
The new uniforms were received in mid-October, just days before the band was scheduled to do a halftime performance.
Almost immediately after members slipped into their spanking new contemporary uniforms, Mason noticed a phenomenon occurring that most every veteran high school sports coach recognizes.
“The kids seemed to play better, perform better,” she said. “It was like they had a new-found pride and spirit.”
The MSA’s matching grant and the thousands of dollars earned by the members was a perfect example of what the association’s founding fathers — Craig Swartwood, Gary Barcom, Jim Spencer, Mike DeWees and Pettet — had in mind when MSA was formed during a 1991 meeting of the five at the Country Kitchen restaurant.
“We wanted members and (recipients) to work hand in hand for a (common) cause,” said Pettet. “We’re there to help, but we also want them (recipients) to contribute.”
While the money the band received was the largest grant given out last year by MSA, there were plenty of other donations including ones to Frontier Elementary School, Rim Country Middle School, the PUSD baseball and softball programs, an elementary school literacy program, Little League, PHS Decca club and MSA paid salaries for officials at volleyball, wrestling, soccer and softball tournaments.
The MSA also donated $1,500 in hardship funds to PHS and another $1,000 to RCMS.
The money is to be used to help needy student-athletes pay extracurricular participation fees.
Lady Longhorn softball coach Will Dunman, whose program has received several donations, has lauded the association calling it “a tremendous asset to our community and our schools.”
The banquet and more
The funds the MSA donates each year are earned at the association’s annual awards banquet, raffle and auction.
This year, the event begins at 4 p.m., May 7 at Mazatzal Casino with a no-host happy hour.
In previous years, the doors have opened at 5 p.m., but for the upcoming banquet, MSA officials decided to move it up one hour.
“Before, people did not have enough time to look around (at raffle, auction and sale items),” said MSA member Sandee Koon.
At 6 p.m., dinner will be served and at 7 p.m. the real hootin’ and hollerin’ begins with the raffle and auction.
Around the Rim Country, the annual banquets are recognized as being some of the most festive, celebratory and worthwhile events on the social calendar drawing movers and shakers from around northern Gila County.
The banquets are also recognized as a golden opportunity for attendees to be on the receiving end of high-dollar prizes.
At past banquets, the MSA has raffled and auctioned admission tickets to pro sporting events, ATVs, all-expenses paid hunting and fishing trips, camping equipment, butchered sides of beef, fishing equipment, archery outfits, signed outdoor prints, jewelry, gun safes, vacations and enough high-dollar firearms to outfit a small army.
All of which has led to the banquets generating more than $1 million, which has eventually been donated to local causes.
All MSA members work as volunteers.
In addition to MSA funding youth sports, music and other youth activities, the association has financed many outdoor projects including wildlife guzzlers, the annual Payson Wildlife Fair, controlled burns, forest reseeding, Green Valley Park trout stockings, habitat improvements and the purchase of much-needed equipment for Arizona Game and Fish officers.
The MSA also funds a pair of $2,000 Payson High School scholarships that are given out each spring in Pettet’s name.
The contributions of the MSA have not gone unnoticed around the state.
In 2006, the Arizona Game and Fish Department bestowed the MSA with statewide recognition as the Conservation Organization of the Year.
In August 2005, at the Scottsdale Resort and Conference Center, the MSA was inducted into the Outdoor Hall of Fame.
At the time, Steve Hirsch, president of the Wildlife for Tomorrow Foundation that sponsors the Arizona Hall of Fame, said MSA was chosen because of the contributions the organization makes in the Rim Country.
“The Mogollon Sporting Association is a perfect example of how a group of dedicated individuals can have a very positive effect on wildlife and people as well,” Hirsch said.
“Their program to utilize youth volunteer labor not only gets the job done, but also instills an appreciation for the great outdoors in these young people.”
Also, one of the MSA founders — Barcom — a Payson man, long known for his conservation efforts and civic contributions, was inducted into the Arizona Outdoor Hall of Fame in 2008. Several other individual MSA members have received similar honors.
Among those who laud the MSA and its members is former Payson High School wrestling coach and teacher Dennis Pirch, himself a tireless worker in the cause of conservation.
“If it is good for kids and funds are a little short, the MSA will step up to the plate and make it happen,” he said. “That’s just the kind of people they are.”