You may not notice it from the stands, but when Payson High School’s varsity football players take the field at home for the season opener against Page tonight, something will be different.
They’ll be sporting a new Longhorn logo on their helmets. From a distance, it appears similar to the old logo. But it’s a new design that has Payson High School principal Jeff Simon and others thrilled.
“I think this is going to be awesome,” he said. “We kind of need something nice to read, because there’s a lot of not nice stuff going on right now.”
The Payson Unified School District changed the logo after the University of Texas said Payson’s longhorn logo violated its copyright. Payson’s silhouette of a longhorn was identical to the Texas school, only the color was different.
So the district unveiled a new, modern logo today.
The district will phase out the use of the old logo, seen everywhere around the district, including on trash cans, merchandise and buildings over the next several years.
People all over the country were following the story thanks to online stories and Twitter posts by nationally known reporters. The morning after Channel 3 News in Phoenix ran a story on the issue, the phones at Payson High were ringing off the hook.
“Our ladies up front were on the phone the next day until 1 o’clock,” Simon said. “It was nonstop. It was crazy.
“And a guy from ESPN posted something about it on Twitter and I went back and read his feed and everybody was in big-time support of us.”
The district asked Payson High School graduate and local business owner Joe Klein to come up with ideas for a new logo.
Klein and his team at Axis Culture Group designed a logo that received overall approval by a few dozen PUSD leadership officials, they said.
The logo isn’t a drastic departure from the silhouette, but it satisfied the University of Texas, who told officials that the changes are enough to no longer be in copyright infringement.
“Texas had to approve it. And they said we (Texas) own the copyright to any front-facing silhouetted longhorn period. So we said, ‘OK, how do we get around that?’ And they said it has to have a facial feature to it,” Klein said.
The biggest change is that eyes have been added to the face of the new longhorn.
Klein said he and his team, which included designer Adam Pavis, spent about 10 hours on the project.
Klein said they wanted to stay as close to the original logo as possible.
“We got as close to the Texas longhorn that everybody here loves as Texas would allow,” Klein said. “It’s a sharp and clean design.”
Klein said the design is simple enough that it can be printed on big and small projects.
The group spent the most time picking out eyes for the logo. Some made the longhorn appear evil, some dopey or sleepy. Since all PUSD schools will utilize the new logo, they chose eyes that they believe show “determination.”
“The goal was to figure out what do we want to capture in those eyes? First, it was a fierceness we were kind of going for. Then we brought that back a little bit because this is a K-12 thing because everybody’s the Longhorns now, as far as the schools go. So we said, ‘We don’t want it to be so game-day intimidating that a first-grader wears it and it’s a little much.’ So we went with determination in its eyes because we figured determination is a great value, a great trait for any of our young Longhorns and it fits everything from Friday night football to a first-grader taking a test,” he said. “It’s got an intimidation factor going for it, but we didn’t make it scary.”
They sketched out ideas on paper before using Adobe Illustrator for the final design.
Klein said while the new logo is similar to the old logo, it is definitely different.
“Every line is hand drawn to be ours,” he said. “Every shape of everything that’s on it is 100 percent unique to Payson, so that allows them to trademark it.”
Pavis said he’s thrilled with how it turned out.
“I’m beyond happy with how our team and the school has handled this situation,” Pavis said. “Something we said almost as a mantra, or something to remind ourselves when we were in the office working, was to make sure we respect the integrity of Texas’ longhorn, while also being a champion for and maintaining the longhorn that Payson has at the same time. Now we have something that is 110 percent organic for Payson — all our own.”
When it came time to picking a primary color for the logo, they knew it would be purple, but had to figure out what shade of purple.
Klein said coaches have come to him asking for jerseys and T-shirts over the years and when he asks what color, they just say purple. He’s happy to say that the official color is now Pantone Victory Purple.
“There are 400 or 500 shades of purple and I went through all of them before I found it,” Pavis said. “When I saw it, I said, ‘This is it.’”
You’ll see the new logo in various forms, such as on stickers, in six colors, including Pantone Victory Purple and the school’s other primary color, gold. It will also appear in black, white and charcoal.
Klein is not charging PUSD for their time.
“Our design that we created for this project 100 percent belongs to the school,” Klein said. “Axis Culture Group does not maintain any rights to that design. This was something we were asked to do, we did it and it’s fully theirs to trademark. If we wanted to use it for something we would ask their permission.”
The district invited 35-40 alumni, students, teachers, coaches, school board members, administration and leadership personnel to a live vote on the logo at the PHS Auditorium on Thursday, Aug. 15.
The redesigned logo was approved by 73 percent of those who participated. Simon said the vote tally at the event was 69 percent in favor, but a few others, who couldn’t be present, voted later, bringing the total to 73 percent in favor of accepting the new design.
“This needed to happen and I hope the community embraces it,” Klein said.
Klein said his daughters, Brooklyn and Elli Jo, both held fundraisers and are donating $3,000 worth of stickers with the new logo to PUSD students.
UT officials noticed the similarities between their logo and the PUSD logo after Payson High and Rim Country Middle School athletic director Rich Ormand reached out to Texas school officials to ask where they got their mascot costume. The PHS mascot costume was showing its age and Ormand was looking for a replacement. (PUSD is still looking for someone who can make a new mascot costume.)
That’s when someone at UT noticed the Payson Longhorn logo at the bottom of the email. It was similar, just purple instead of the UT burnt orange.
Ormand said Payson isn’t alone. He said the law firm representing PUSD told him UT has also sent cease and desist letters about logo infringement to high schools in California, Florida, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Payson is one of 20 high schools in Arizona dealing with similar logo issues with various universities.
PUSD has 10 years to remove the old logo in the center of the Wilson Dome floor, which will cost an estimated $30,000.
The district recently repaired the floor after a water leak, placing a large Longhorn in the center of the floor. Replacing that logo won’t happen soon because of the cost. And the school needs to re-finish the floor in the old gym first.
“Well, the floor over there (pointing toward the old gym) hasn’t been resurfaced since I’ve been here,” Simon said. “So I’m guessing it’ll be closer to 10 years.”
Fans will see the new logo as soon as tonight as Payson’s varsity football team opens the season at home against Page at 7 p.m. They’re expected to have the new logo on their helmets.
The district has three years to phase out uniforms with the old logo. The district can’t afford to throw out the old uniforms and replace them with new ones.
Ormand said PUSD entered an agreement with BSN Sports to get new varsity uniforms every three years beginning this school year. The old uniforms will be passed down to the junior varsity teams and their old uniforms will go to the freshman teams.
So by the 2025-26 school year, every team, from varsity to freshman, will have the new logo on their uniforms. That’s as quickly as they can make the change unless another source of revenue speeds up the process.
If you’re interested in helping the school, contact Jeff Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By 6 p.m., fans had filled every seat at the Payson Event Center — with an hour yet to go before the start of the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo.
“Standing room only!” was the message late-comers heard as they waited in a long line to buy tickets. Many had to park in the Mazatzal Casino parking lot on the far side of the highway after the event center lot filled up.
Valley visitors jostled with locals — lining up along the railing to watch barrel racers, ropers, mutton busters, bull riders and more.
Those without seats included Mayor Tom Morrissey, town attorney Hector Figueroa and town council members Steve Smith, Jim Ferris and Suzy Tubbs-Avakian.
Ferris and Morrissey said their favorite event was mutton bustin’.
“I just love to watch those kids,” said Ferris.
Tubbs-Avakain prefers a different event.
“I used to barrel race, so that is my favorite event,” she said.
A longtime resident, Tubbs-Avakian said the energy in the stands reminded her of the old days when the town held the rodeo at Rumsey Park.
Not everyone cared about watching the events, though.
Between the stands, a little cowgirl dressed in a long, royal blue gown studded with sequins studiously practiced her roping technique with a sawhorse decked out with horns.
Nearby, a young cowboy preferred to use the stands as monkey bars, climbing up and over everything.
Out by the food vendors, a Payson police officer stopped to make a baby in its mother’s arms giggle when he flicked on and off a flashing red light.
Food vendors could barely keep up with the long lines of people waiting for barbecue, frozen lemonade, cotton candy and kettle corn.
Payson Pro-rodeo Committee member and Star Valley councilor Andy McKinney volunteered for most of the three days of rodeo.
It impressed him that, “The rodeo was very well attended across the board,” but Saturday afternoon impressed him the most. Usually a sparsely attended performance, McKinney said more families than he has seen before braved the heat.
The highlight of the evening came when Wyatt Nez rode a bull for the full eight seconds, then dismounted as if riding a horse.
His score of 89.5 clinched his win at the Payson Rodeo.
The whole three days of rodeo revelry ended with the big dance.
There too, parents brought children and friends danced to country tunes.
Out on the dance floor, everyone jammed in together.
And no one seemed to mind.
The Forest Service has agreed to allow Gila County to clear boulders from the dirt road between Strawberry and Fossil Creek to streamline lifesaving rescues and maintenance of the fiber optic cables serving Rim Country.
Gary Morris, chief of the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department, has led a crusade for years to restore access to emergency vehicles, responding to a string of injuries and drownings in Fossil Creek at the bottom of Forest Road 708.
The closure of the 708 road years ago added up to seven hours to rescue efforts from Strawberry because first responders must travel toward Camp Verde then trek to the creek on 15 miles of dirt road.
The road closure has also made it impossible to get repair vehicles to the one and only fiber optic cable line serving Rim Country’s broadband needs.
The Forest Service decision to allow Gila County to repair the 708 road came after nearly a decade of complaints from Morris and members of the congressional district representing Rim Country. Several years ago, Gila County offered to provide emergency maintenance of the road, but the Forest Service withdrew permission before the work could begin.
After a meeting in August, the Forest Service finally agreed to allow the county to clear the road enough to allow emergency vehicles access to Fossil Creek.
The Forest Service is still considering alternative management plans for the creek, which draws more than 60,000 visitors annually, regulated by a permit system. One of those plans calls for eventually making the 708 road from the Strawberry side accessible to off-road vehicles.
“Fossil Creek has been an issue for five years,” said Woody Cline, Gila County supervisor during the Aug. 20 supervisors meeting. “There have been a lot of rescues and seven deaths. Hopefully ... they could allow us to put our dozers up there for access.”
A rockslide this winter blocked the 708 road that only those on foot could make their way around the debris.
The August supervisor’s meeting hammered out the details of the cleanup.
“Gary Morris has put together all the documentation for this,” said Cline. “He has it down, very precise ... that really helped out during this meeting the other day.”
A letter written to President Trump by Morris earlier in the year seems to have made the difference.
Morris wrote to the president for relief. He signed the letter as the chair of the Gila County Republican Party.
The letter got a response from Ehab Hanna, the acting U.S. Department of Agriculture’s director of engineering, technology and geospatial services.
“President Trump has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service to respond. I apologize for the delayed response ... Again, thank you for writing President Trump,” wrote Hanna in a March 6 letter. “Gila County is a willing partner to assist with emergency access maintenance needs on FR 708 once funding can be secured to repair the road to a safe standard.”
The emergency plan will only open the road to rescue crews and CenturyLink crews who need to maintain the fiber optic line that runs from Camp Verde to Payson and passes through the canyon. Erosion this winter exposed the cable and after weeks of delay the CenturyLink crews gained access. Renewed erosion has again threatened the cable.
The August meeting has still not resolved long-term questions about public use of FR 708, which provides an alternative to the arduous hike down to the spring source. Poorly prepared hikers on that steep trail have prompted dozens of rescues. The problem got so bad this summer that the Forest Service closed the trail.
The Forest Service estimates it would cost $6 million to stabilize the slopes above FR 708 sufficiently to allow unrestricted public access — or even allow small, off-road vehicles to use the road.
The Forest Service study put the annual cost of maintenance at about $100,000.
First responders have focused on the maintenance needed to allow them to get to the canyon bottom and haul injured swimmers and hikers back out.
“I’m delighted we’re able to work with the Forest Service on that level ... to me it’s an indication of more common sense response from the folk at the Forest Service,” said Supervisor Tommie Martin.
Ahead of a hurriedly called Aug. 21 Payson Town Council executive session, Town Attorney Hector Figueroa submitted his decision to retire.
“We went into executive session to address a personnel issue, and when we arrived we discovered that Town Attorney Hector Figueroa has offered his decision to resign — to retire — and we regretfully accept that decision,” said Mayor Tom Morrissey to the audience.
Figueroa’s retirement at 71 comes a little over a week after the abrupt termination of Town Manager LaRon Garrett on a 4-3 council vote. That vote spurred the formation of a committee to recall Mayor Morrissey and the three council members who voted to fire Garrett.
The mayor called for the executive session on Monday morning to discuss a personnel issue. The council met in executive session for half an hour before reconvening and announcing Figueroa had resigned.
Figueroa’s resignation follows a dust up at the Payson Rodeo over the weekend. Figueroa reportedly wore a gun to the event, which is prohibited. (See the accompanying story on the incident on page 5.)
The resignation of the town attorney completes a sweep of the town’s top positions since Morrissey and the new council majority took their seats.
Longtime Payson Police Chief and Assistant Town Manager Don Engler retired at the end of July. The exit of Engler, Garrett and Figueroa represents a combined loss of 67 years of institutional knowledge of town policies, history and procedures.
Figueroa has served as the town attorney since 2015, when he was hired under Kenny Evans’ tenure. He replaced Tim Wright, who left the town to become a Gila County Superior Court judge.
“He (Figueroa) took this job when he was at retirement age,” said Evans. “He took this job because he loved the community.”
Evans said he appreciated that Figueroa “didn’t pull any punches. He was brutally frank.”
Figueroa showed that frankness numerous times during meetings with the current council.
During the Aug. 15 meeting, Figueroa cautioned the council against the dangers of setting up a subcommittee made up of the mayor and two other council members.
“My finding is this — as mayor you have the authority to create a subcommittee, but it is equally clear that whatever this committee is called, it is covered by the open meeting law,” he said.
At another meeting, Figueroa weighed in on the definition of who was CEO of the town.
“Mr. Mayor, you are only one on a council,” he said.
Figueroa grew up in Douglas, Ariz. He received an AA from Cochise Community College and finished up his undergraduate work at the University of Phoenix. He received his law degree from the University of Arizona.
Figueroa started his law career as the City of South Tucson Chief Magistrate from 1995 to 2000.
He honed his city attorney chops as the city attorney at the City of South Tucson from 2000 to 2012, appointed six terms. He then added the City of Willcox to his resumé, working there from 2007 to 2012.
Councilor Steve Smith said he and Figueroa grew up in the same part of Arizona and though 10 years apart in age, shared a parallel career.
“My relationship with Hector is different,” said Smith, “we actually have connections in our lives of people that we both have known over our careers at different times.”
They both worked in the criminal justice system when Figueroa served as magistrate and Smith in probation.
The two also served in the National Guard.
“He was in the 158 Infantry, and then went on to the 158 M.P.s,” said Smith, “I was in the National Guard.”
Smith had only praise for Figueroa’s good works.
“I’ve had a lot of attorneys work for me in the military as judge advocates and attorneys. He would have been one,” said Smith. “I appreciated his counsel, advice and candor and responses to my questions and inquiry. I like him and wish the best for him.”
At the end of the Aug. 21 meeting, Morrissey echoed that sentiment.
“We wish him the best of everything. He served us well and we wish him the best of everything in his future endeavors,” said Morrissey.