While compiling and gathering information on Payson High’s recent all-region, all-state and all-star selections, I couldn’t help but remember the trials and challenges I stumbled through in my first year as head football coach at Show Low High School.
Coaching a sport, such as football, is a test of preparation, strategy and motivation, but insuring your players get the recognition they deserve is a whole other ball game.
At the conclusion of the 1983 season, one in which our SLHS team won the regional title, one of my finest players and one of the best I ever coached did not make the Arizona Coaches Association North vs. South All-Star Game.
He was devastated and I could not fathom why he was not chosen when other players with lesser accomplishments were selected.
To this day, I harbor regrets about him not making the all-star team.
What I didn’t know at the time, being a first-year head coach, was part of the burden of him failing to be selected fell squarely on my shoulders.
I simply didn’t get him the recognition he deserved because I did not know how to play the “selection game” as well as some of the wily, veteran coaches.
Disappointed, I turned to an old rival, Round Valley’s legendary coach Tot Workman, to find out why it seemed he always was able to get his kids on all-region, all-state and all-star teams.
It was obvious one of the reasons was because the Elks were a powerhouse — winning state titles, region championships and piling up record-breaking winning streaks.
But I knew there had to be other reasons for RVHS players being consistent award winners.
In those days, coach Workman and I were not the best of buddies. But that’s all changed — I now know him as a great coach, a fine man and a great example for younger coaches.
Even though we had our differences, coach Workman shared some hints on insuring my players were recognized at season’s end.
One cunning strategy I noticed — he would send letters out to all voting coaches just before any honors selections were to be made. In them, he meticulously detailed the accomplishments of his nominees and ended by penning something like, “Do you have any good kids you’d like me to vote for?”
That question was almost a solicitation of votes — if other recipients of the letters felt as I did.
My first thought after reading the question was, “Wow, if he votes for my kid, I’ll vote for his.”
Also, coach Workman worked very closely with the media including the “big city” newspapers in Phoenix and Tucson, radio stations and just about anyone who covered small-town Arizona athletics.
Being well known to reporters, writers and broadcasters, he was skillfully adept at lauding his players when in any dialogue.
In fact, he once thought the Show Low team I was coaching was receiving an inordinate amount of publicity from our local newspaper, the White Mountain Independent.
He probably thought that was because I worked in the summer months for the Independent and those at the paper were good friends.
Somehow, coach Workman convinced the WMI publisher and editor to hire a sports reporter for the Independent’s Apache County edition. That reporter’s job was to cover just RVHS and St. Johns sports. And guess who the new reporter was? He was a RVHS football assistant and the boys basketball head coach.
With the new sports reporter on board, that left the Navajo County scribe to split news coverage among Show Low, Blue Ridge, Snowflake and Alchesay High Schools.
Coach Workman’s ploy was about as nifty of a PR move as I’ve ever seen.
Also, coach Workman was skilled at what I call the “Wow” factor when it came to his players.
Whether it was at a coaches’ meeting, buying a hamburger at the local drive-in or getting a haircut, he could be heard saying, “Wow, did you see what Dustin did Friday night? That was unbelievable.”
Like I said, coach Workman is a fine, honest man, but I came to understand that very often his players were said to have performed superhuman feats far superior to those turned in by opponents in Show Low, Blue Ridge, Snowflake and St. Johns.
I quickly learned that if I told coach Workman I had a player who could bench press 350 pounds, his response was, “Mine can bench 400.”
It is that type of salesman it often takes for coaches to assure their athletes receive the recognition they are due.
Today, a coach’s job description should read, “must be part used car salesman, pitchman, solicitor, youth advocate and cheerleader.”
If they aren’t all five, they risk their kids going unnoticed.