Granted, the selection of postseason high school sports honorees remains an inexact science. Each year, some student-athletes deserving recognition get left out and some who haven’t earned the honor get lucky. That’s simply the nature of prep sports.
But what occurred last week in the selection by coaches voting for All-Division III and All-Section III softball team members was a sham.
Payson High, a team that had its finest season ever and wound up ranked No. 1 in Power Points had only one player, pitcher Arianna Paulson, named either first or second team all-section or all-division.
Moreover, the All-Section III team included eight players from Estrella Foothills — an outrageous representation that deprived other players around the section from honors they deserved. Mind you, Estrella didn’t even win the state title — but had twice as many players selected as the school that did win.
No doubt, Estrella had a good team that played well enough to reach the final four. But the EF roster did not have eight of the finest players in the section.
The voting snubbed Lady Longhorns truly deserving of postseason recognition, including Kaitlyn Wessel, Megan Wessel and Taylor Petersen. This slap in the face leaves us wondering what coaches were thinking when they voted.
Blame the online voting system mandated this year, for the first time ever, by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
In previous seasons, coaches picked honorees in face-to-face voting.
If Section III coaches had met face to face, there is no way they would have chosen eight players from one school to the first team. There were simply too many other good players coaches would have recognized, including the three slighted Lady Longhorns and others from state champion Bourgade Catholic, a very good Mingus team and a River Valley squad that finished 15-3 in D-III play.
Understandably, the failure to recognize the Wessel twins, Petersen and possibly other Lady Horns has rankled Longhorns softball coach Will Dunman, who has been outspoken about the slight.
Clearly, Valley schools still wallow in an underlying superiority complex. They view us as small town hicks who don’t field the quality teams and athletes that the larger Valley-area schools do.
That misperception often leads coach-voters to favor student-athletes from Valley-area schools over ones from a small mountain community.
We’ve heard in the past from Valley residents, “They don’t even have club teams in all sports up there. They don’t play year-round, how good can they be?”
Through the years, PHS coaches have recognized the bias, intended or not, and in face-to-face voting have had the opportunity to sell others on the quality and contributions of local athletes.
Proof the bias exists surfaced last football season when a group of Valley students began a chant that depicted Payson as an incarnation of “Hee-Haw.”
Later that year, when that school’s basketball team traveled to Wilson Dome to play the Longhorns, a group of PHS students arrived costumed as hillbillies.
That set off a confrontation of sorts in the stands that had to be quelled by coaches, administrators and Payson police.
But online voting strips away the debate and dialogue. That’s why coaches like Tolleson’s Mike Brown vehemently opposed the AIA’s online voting mandate.
In an e-mail last fall to the state’s football coaches he wrote, “We are doing all-section like we have done all regions in the past and how it should be done: coaches talking about kids and voting in person.”
He also contended it’s important that voting remain entirely in the hands of the coaches and not with a state entity.
The coaches in Brown’s section of Division I continued to vote in meetings as they had done for decades.
Certainly, we hope our division will return to face-to-face voting next season.
But in the meantime, a trio of very deserving and hardworking PHS softball players were denied the recognition they earned.
And that’s not what high school sports is all about.