Gotta Love An Underdog

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Why do we so love the underdog? Why do we so urgently need a surprising win? Why do we care whether some team with Payson on their shirts scores an upset?

Well, we’re not sure. But we know one thing: We’re absurdly gratified that the Payson Little League Junior All-Stars this week laid waste to Chandler National — the New York Yankees of Little League in Arizona.

Payson barely had enough players to fill out a team — and Chandler sweeps the state championships just about every year it seems. But on Tuesday the plucky Payson kids delivered a 12-0 drubbing, running up such an imposing lead that the game stopped under the merciful “run rule.”

The undefeated Payson team now has a shot at the title, but we’ll savor this victory right now while it’s as sweet as warm brownies.

Boy, oh boy, oh boy: What great kids. Pitcher Taran Sarnowski hoarded his throws like uncut rubies — spending 10 or 11 pitches to get three outs one inning after another. His teammates played flawless defense, to smother the handful of pitches that didn’t go straight to the catcher’s mitt. The whole team got hits like Godzilla doing Broadway. And Coach Tony McNeeley was so happy you’d have thought every one of those kids was his very own offspring.

Naturally — we hope these pint-sized paragons go all the way, crushing everyone in their path. But truthfully — we’re perfectly happy right now. They’re champs, Rim Country’s a great place to live and we must be pretty impressive people our own selves if such great kids have jerseys that say “Payson.”

Yeah. Well. We know: That’s not logical. These kids worked their hearts out for these wins — they deserve every scrap of credit. We didn’t do a thing, but grin and giggle.

Still, it makes you think: If these nine kids can so defy the odds by working hard and believing in themselves — what might this whole darn town do one day soon?

Hey. We’re Payson: Don’t underestimate us, bub.

Talking back

Finally, the Payson School Board got a chance to talk back. Well, all right — not the school board — just board member Barbara Shepherd.

But heck, that’s a start.

The moment came at a Payson Tea Party meeting as three Republican candidates for the state Legislature made their pitch to the crowd.

Only one of the three candidates addressed the crisis posed by our under-funded, under-performing school system.

Representative Chester Crandell wants to move up to the Senate and is running unopposed in the Republican primary to represent the dramatically redrawn Legislative District 6, which includes all of Rim Country.

Crandell wants to transform the system by which the state pays K-12 schools. He would base school funding on “outcomes” rather than average daily attendance. He said such a shift would provide an incentive for schools to move students along quickly instead of simply filling their seat all year long.

The idea prompted Shepherd, listening in the audience, to object. She has spent the last two years on the school board, implementing the painful effects of the Legislature’s cuts in education funding, helpless as a child chained in the basement. She said those cuts have robbed school boards of the resources they need to achieve any outcome. It’s like cutting off a runner’s feet, then insisting he can only get dinner if he can beat his last time.

Arizona has cut school funding more than almost any other state. Although Crandell protested that his shift to outcomes-based funding doesn’t mean cuts in funding, he also voted for the deep cuts already.

Today’s paper includes other symptoms of the effect of the Legislature’s failure to support schools. On the front page, we report on a 3 percent decline in the Payson school district’s property tax rate. That’s great — but it hardly makes up for last year’s huge increase. But once again, the school board remains hostage to the state — with little control over its own tax rates.

Instead of Tea Party meetings, perhaps Crandell, with 30 years of education on his resumé, and his cronies in the Legislature should attend some school board meetings in their districts to hear the devastation they are forcing on our school system.

We’re glad that Ms. Shepherd had a chance to object.

We hope the candidates are listening.

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