Kudos to retired Paradise Valley basketball coach Bill Farrell, PHS coach Joe Sanchez, the Town of Payson and several Longhorn varsity players for staging a very successful basketball camp last week in Wilson Dome.
The camp attracted about 50-plus aspiring players who seemed to thrive during the two-hour-per-day sessions.
The town has hosted several of these camps and they continue to be very popular, drawing enthusiastic youngsters, both boys and girls, from around the Rim Country.
No Cards, but there’s Devils
The Arizona Cardinals have abandoned Flagstaff as a preseason training camp, meaning local football fans can no longer make their annual pilgrimages over the Rim to catch the Cards in action.
But fans shouldn’t fret, they can still get their gridiron fix by traveling Aug. 12 to 17 to the iconic Camp Tontozona to watch the Arizona State University Sun Devils as they prepare for the 2013 season.
Former ASU coach Dennis Erickson abandoned the camp after the 2008 season, but in 2012 Todd Graham — the man who replaced Erickson — elected to return the Devils to Tontozona for preseason training.
Graham and Vice President for University Athletics Steve Patterson spearheaded the “Return to Camp T” campaign that earned the money needed for ASU’s first trip to Tontozona in four years.
The White Mountain Alumni Association helped make the return a reality with a matching donation program.
Frank Kush, the former Sun Devil coach who first turned Camp Tontozona into a football training camp, was a familiar sight at the camp last year.
Sitting on the sidelines, most every passerby acknowledged the venerable ex-coach, stopping to shake hands or retell classic tales of life at the camp.
Kush first took his Sun Devils to Tontozona in 1960 after eyeing the university retreat as an ideal spot to train his players away from the heat and distractions of Tempe.
“No calls, no girls, no distractions; just football,” former ASU assistant coach Bill Kajikawa once said.
The no-nonsense Kush got the idea for an ASU training camp from his days at a Pennsylvania high school.
“We had preseason (practices) at an old, abandoned Pittsburgh Steelers camp,” he said.
Kush first spotted the scenic Rim Country retreat while visiting then-ASU president Grady Gammage who had a summer home there.
“We were going up there (Tontozona) when nine miles of the road from Payson to Kohl’s Ranch was dirt,” Kush said.
Because there wasn’t enough room for a full-sized football field in the narrow meadow at Tontozona, Kush approached a construction crew working near Kohl’s Ranch and solicited the heavy equipment needed to widen the area. Later, with the help of assistant coaches, friends, family and players, a regulation field was forged out of the pine-studded forest.
“We had a Sun Angel member in Albuquerque send us Kentucky bluegrass for the field,” Kush said.
Kush remembers that in the early years of Tontozona, torrential downpours almost caused him to give up the camp.
“We practiced many times in ankle-deep mud,” he said.
Practicing in the mud was nixed several times by ASU coaches who followed Kush. Both Larry Marmie and Dirk Koetter opted to break camp early and return the team to Tempe because of the downpours that drenched the retreat.
Each time Marmie and Koetter left, ASU had subpar seasons prompting Sun Devil football faithful to blame the decision to depart Tontozona as a contributor to the dismal season.
Today’s Camp Tontozona, which has been upgraded with new buildings, dormitories and other facilities, is vastly improved over what it was in Kush’s coaching days.
Then, Tontozona was a Spartan retreat that had no hot water, phones or televisions and about the only spectators at practices were bears, squirrels and mountain lions.
Old-timers scoff about the upgrades at the camp, saying players now have it too easy.
With Kush relying on Tontozona as a site to build the foundation of his 22 teams, he was able to compile a 176-54-1 record. Most importantly for Devils disciples, he dominated the series against the University of Arizona, winning 16 of 21 games against the Cats. From 1965 to 1973, Kush’s teams built a 9-0 winning streak over the Cats.