Reviving an athletic tradition - Tucson Local Media: Import

Reviving an athletic tradition

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Posted: Tuesday, August 24, 2004 11:00 pm

August 25, 2004 - A year ago the future of the sports program at Immaculate Heart High School, 625 E. Magee Road, was in jeopardy.

Before resigning his position, then Athletic Director Tim Tullar wiped clean the athletic slate and told the Arizona Interscholastic Association not to schedule Immaculate Heart for any sports come the fall. In his mind, sports were not a high priority for the 58-student high school.

Fast forward one year and Immaculate Heart finds itself back on the athletic map with plans to solidify its athletics for years to come.

"I can't fathom a high school without sports," said new Athletic Director Mike Grogan. Since taking over the sports program in November, Grogan and Immaculate Heart have been working to restore more than seven decades worth of history at the Catholic school.

"We've had over 70 years of tradition here," said Grogan. "Where did it go?"

Recovering the past may be difficult, especially with all the athletic records having mysteriously vanished, but officials at Immaculate Heart would sooner leave the past where it belongs, in the past. Returning its athletic teams to the field is only the first step at undoing a past gone awry.

Those teams will have a new home once construction is complete on the new gym currently being built on the property that separates the high school and Immaculate Heart Middle School. A large donation from a benefactor, coupled with loans taken out by the Sisters of Immaculate Heart and the revenue generated from the annul fund raising Spree enabled the new gym to be raised. The dance and dinner Spree, in its fourth year, alone annually nets the school an estimated $100,000.

"It's going to open a lot of doors for this school," said Mark Schneider, Executive Vice President and Director of Development, of the new gym. "People look at it (the new gym) and say 'Whoa, it's going to be big.'"

The gym will house more than just athletics. Schneider and Grogan foresee the gym as a place to hold school plays, masses, meetings and much more.

"It's what the school has been missing," said Schneider, "a place where we can come together."

Further construction of the new gym is still pending approval from the Oro Valley. School officials are targeting late fall to open its doors. In the meantime, the girls volleyball team will play all of its games on the road.

Because its enrollment is less than 200 students, Immaculate Heart competes in the 1A Division of AIA against schools such as Green Fields Country Day School and Tohono O'Odham High School. The same schools that made room for the school in their winter schedules last year.

Grogan gives most of the credit of bringing back Immaculate Heart sports to Vic Acuna, athletic director of Green Fields. School officials are banking on the new gym to repay the generosity of their fellow South Region schools by providing a place to hold 1A regional tournaments and championship games, Schneider said.

"We're grateful to the conference for what they've done for us," said Schneider.

The gym will go a long ways towards rejuvenating the fallen sports program but it's merely step one of a bigger plan to revamp the school's image and raise enrollment. An increase in students will increase the amount of money the school can put into its education, religious and athletic programs, in that order of importance.

For the first time since 1988, Immaculate Heart will have something that resembles a football team, albeit it consists of about five or six students. Immaculate Heart has teamed up with the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind to put a football team on the field. The two schools have a long tradition of partnering up in football, but not in the past 16 years.

A slow progression back into football may allow for another plan to come to fruition in the next three to five years, the addition of a football, track and soccer field. According to Grogan the plans are already drawn up to lay out the fields, the difficult part is going to be finding a benefactor to help fund its creation.

"It's a skeleton schedule right now," said Grogan of the plans to add the fields.

Not all renovations are cosmetic, however. Part of the revamping of the school is the addition of an Alumni Association to attract students of years past to come back and pledge their support, especially during homecoming. In the works is a plan to upgrade the school's Web site to hold more athletic information and include school records and accomplishments.

The program Grogan is most proud of is the deal the school has struck with the YMCA. Starting with the kindergarten class and continuing up through the grade levels, Immaculate Heart registers kids from the school as a team solely from the Catholic school. This will allow the kids to start competing together as a team at an early age. The plan is designed so that, by the time they reach the high school level, they have been playing together for years and hopefully have gelled as a group.

The Immaculate Heart athletic programs are already strong in the lower grades. Last year grades four through eight won the Diocese of Tucson basketball championship among the 350 kids who competed.

To strengthen that bond between the Academy, middle school and high school, Immaculate Heart has even changed its mascot. No longer will the younger grades be known as the Squires; now all three schools will be known as the Knights. For now the current students are just happy to have their athletics returned to them.

"It was disappointing because we had a good team the year before," said junior, Ann Adams, about the absence of the volleyball team during her sophomore year. "It takes a lot of work to get things done around here."

For the second straight year under Grogan's guidance the school will hold a bonfire for its homecoming basketball game against Green Fields. Without a football team, Immaculate Heart must celebrate its homecoming around the basketball team's biggest game of the year. Last year's bonfire was a success it raising school morale, which had been running a little low, said Grogan. The trick this year will be to find a place that won't burn up too much of the school's grass.

With or without a burnt field, Grogan is pleased with the new direction the school is heading. The school is meant for the kids and that's who should be benefiting and enjoying it the most, Grogan said.

"It been a rebirth for their school and us," he said.

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