North-South Gridiron Battle Might Be Back In Flagstaff


Although no high country football fan wants to see the Cardinals discontinue their pre-season training camp on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and move to Glendale, there could be something golden coming out of the Redbirds and Flagstaff passing on one another.

For many years prior to the Cardinals arriving in Arizona from St. Louis in 1986, the Arizona Coaches Association held its annual convention and North vs. South All-Star football games at NAU in early August.

The 1986 all-star game, which featured Payson High’s Curt Rambo and Mark Hanna, was the last played in the NAU Walkup Skydome because the Cardinals took over the campus for their annual preseason camp.

While the 1987 convention was held at NAU, the all-star game, which included PHS players Mark Velasco, Ty Goodman, Matt Rambo and Ty Chilson, was moved to Prescott rather than being played in the Skydome because the Cards were practicing in the facility.

Also after that year, the Arizona Coaches Association convention was more or less ousted from NAU due to the Cardinals’ presence.

Since then, the all-star football games have been vagabonds in search of a home first moving from NAU to Thatcher, then Casa Grande and the last few years in Surprise.

In the late 1980s, Payson was even considered to be a site for the games and convention, but adequate housing for players, coaches and fans couldn’t be found.

Being ousted from NAU has been a sore spot for some older coaches who remember the NAU campus being a perfect centrally located spot for the convention and games.

Now that the Cardinals will no longer train in Flagstaff, has the door opened for the Arizona Coaches Association to returns its all-star festivities to NAU and the Walkup Skydome?

It seeming would be a perfect re-marriage after a bitter divorce in which NAU once jilted the ACA in favor of Cardinal suitors.

Around the state, there are veteran high school coaches, both retired and coaching, who are hoping NAU and the ACA can make amends.

If the two do, coaches and all stars will finally be returning home.

Cline benefit

It’s time to begin gearing up for Fifth Annual Lorraine Cline Memorial Fund Poker Ride that begins at 9 a.m., Saturday, April 27 at the O-bar-C Ranch in Tonto Basin and continues along old Jeep and mining trails through some of the county’s most scenic high desert vistas.

John Dryer, a long-time friend of the Cline family, says the route has changed slightly from last year due to a fire that swept through the area in September.

The route travels along FR 1411 past Juniper Mountain, the ZT Ranch, Buzzard Roost Camp and near Copper Mountain before finishing at the original starting line.

“The trip will be from 40 to 50 miles,” said Dryer.

He estimates the ride will take most of the day because riders will want to stop and sightsee, eat a lunch they pack for themselves and possibly visit with other entrants.

At the start line, poker hands will be sold for $20 each and prize money will be doled out for first, second and third place.

In addition to the ride, there will be an old-fashioned benefit dinner and dance beginning at 6 p.m., Friday, April 26, the day prior to the ride, at the Butcher Hook in Tonto Basin.

The gathering is sure to include a lip smacking meal, entertainment and plenty of small town camaraderie.

Over the next month, Cline Memorial Fund organizer Laci Sopeland and other volunteers have as a goal to sell 250 raffle tickets at $100 each for the prize of a 2013 Polaris Ranger Crew 800 EPS Camo valued at about $16,100.

Tickets are now available at Anderson Dental, the Butcher Hook and from any member of the Cline Memorial Fund planning committee.

All proceeds from the ride and raffle will ultimately benefit Gila County residents in their fight against cancer.

Sopeland says a portion of the money earned will also eventually help fund a type of free wellness clinic where Gila County residents can receive health care and check-ups.

The clinic is a big-time goal for Sopeland because Lorraine Cline, her grandmother for whom the benefit is named, was not diagnosed with caner until very late in the disease’s progression and had she known about it earlier, chances for survival would have been much better. “She died only three months after it was diagnosed,” said Sopeland.


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