A trip last weekend to the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge was an eye-opening experience of what can be gained when a municipal government and school district work hand in hand.
The Mesa tournament, held at Mountain View High School, was unique in that it was a five-day invitational that drew some of the best high school teams from around the country, including squads from Cerritos, Calif., Oakland, Calif., South Sioux City, Neb., American Fork, Utah and Anchorage, Alaska. Most of Arizona’s top teams also competed, including eventual tournament champion Tempe Corona del Sol, Mesa Mountain View, Phoenix Desert Vista and Mesa Dobson. In all, 16 teams participated.
The presence of roughly 200 teenage players, coaches, fans, friends, parents and college scouts turned a section of Mesa, including our hotel, into a beehive of activity.
Surrounding restaurants served throngs of hungry patrons, stores in a nearby shopping mall overflowed with visitors, and movie theaters were a popular retreat away from the gym.
Most interesting about the Basketball Challenge is it appears to be a joint effort of Mesa Public Schools and the City of Mesa.
Steve Hogan, Mesa Public Schools athletic director, and Marc Beasley, the city’s sports development coordinator, worked side by side to host the tournament.
Using the resources of both the school district and city government produced a first-rate tournament that turned into an economic boon.
Payson might fare well by duplicating what Mesa has done in combining the efforts and resources of both town government and the school district to host extracurricular events designed to showcase the Rim Country.
We have in place some top notch prep tournaments with the Gracie Haught Softball Classic, the Payson Volleyball Invitational, the PHS Wrestling Invitational and Holiday Hoops girls’ basketball. However, we need even more tournaments hosted locally.
In track and field, there is room on upcoming schedules to host even more, as well as bigger and better, meets.
Years ago, thanks to a big-time monetary donation from the Tonto Apache Tribe, PHS built a state-of-the-art, all-weather track.
When the tribe donation was made to former PHS athletic director Dave Bradley, he and tribal members reasoned that PHS could host large multi meets, regional and state competitions and summer USA Track and Field club competitions.
That has not proven true.
Last year, PHS was a traveling team much more often than a hosting team, which to some seems a shame.
In cross country, Payson hosted just one meet last year and did away with the Sludge to the Judge homecoming run that was almost always a much-anticipated and festive event.
The Rim Country features some of the state’s finest fall weather, making the town an attractive site for meets, especially among heat-weary desert dwellers from the Valley.
With the town and school district working hand in hand, as many as four or five multi school meets a year could be held locally.
In boys basketball, PHS does not host a single tournament, even though the success of the Holiday Hoops could probably be duplicated in the weeks prior to Christmas Day.
Also, the town and district might consider breathing life into the Payson Summer Invitational boys basketball tournament that former coach Jim Quinlan founded and built into one of the finest off-season events in the state.
The tournament has fallen by the wayside in recent years and coaches around Arizona say it’s sorely missed.
The baseball team travels during spring break to out-of-town, and sometimes out-of-state, tournaments, which is partly understandable because Rim Country spring weather is unpredictable.
But, town and school officials might consider hooking up to host a late spring local baseball tournament that could easily draw out-of-state teams eager to escape the snow-covered northern states.
We could enlist the help of another high school, possibly Fountain Hills, to host the tournament at two sites.
In wrestling, we have the Payson Invitational and it’s a premier tournament. It, however, is the only home match on a schedule that once featured the Rim Country Duals, Tim Van Horn Memorial and almost weekly dual meets.
If the town and school came together, the two could ratchet up the schedule to more resemble what it formerly was — one of the most competitive and attractive in the state.
Long-time residents will remember weekend tournaments when the town overflowed with visitors from the Valley, Tucson and New Mexico.
While the Town Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism works almost non-stop hosting events that boost a sagging economy — some of those, like an ill-fated motorcycle rally, just don’t pan out.
Maybe the answer to kick starting the local economy via tourism is to utilize our most precious resource — our children and the extracurricular activities in which they compete.
It is common knowledge such tournaments draw large numbers of parents, fans, relatives and sports nuts. For proof, look at the huge number of visitors that descended on Payson last summer for the ASA girls state championships.
For a weekend, Payson was turned into the softball capital of America.
Those visitors spent their money and time here, eventually becoming the economic catalyst officials and businesses needed.
A side benefit to coaches, athletes and the school district is that when business owners notice school activities benefiting their financial endeavors, they buy into the programs and become more supportive.
But putting on large-scale extracurricular activities such as tournaments and invitationals takes a united effort similar to what the City of Mesa and the Mesa School District have done. Let’s hope town and school officials at least consider a united effort.