One of the positive things that came out of this pandemic year is that the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) had to ditch its absolutely ridiculous insistence on holding one giant state track meet in the noonday heat in Phoenix in the middle of May. Up until about 10 years ago, there were seven classes in Arizona and each one had its own state meet, with small schools competing against other small schools and the Tucson Highs of the world competing against the Chandler Hamiltons of the Valley.
These meets were wonderful, competitive and fan- and athlete-friendly. Sometimes they would hold the 2A and 4A at the same venue, but they were so efficiently run, they could start at 4 or even 5 in the afternoon, allowing the kids to compete in late-day warmth and early-evening coolness.
But then, the AIA, under the “leadership” of the awful Chuck Schmidt, cut the seven classes down to four, effectively eliminating the chances of most small-school kids of ever making it to state. And then, to make things much worse, they decided that instead of having multiple meets throughout the Valley of the (Blazing) Sun, they would hold one big, fat, ridiculously overcrowded state meet at Mesa Community College. And in order to get everything in and not be going past midnight, the meet would start at noon, when the temperature was often in the triple digits.
(A few years ago, a kid had a decent shot at running a sub-four-minute 1600 meters—just short of a mile, which is 1609 meters—and he might have done it if he hadn’t been forced to run the race in mid-afternoon.)
This year, because of concerns over crowd size, the AIA split up the meet, with the D-I and D-III meets held at Desert Vista in Phoenix, with the D-II and D-IV running at Perry High in Gilbert. It was still not perfect, but it was way better than that annual disaster at Mesa CC. (For local results, see Extra Points below.)
Back in the day, when it came time for state competitions, the AIA used to throw Southern Arizona a bone every now and then to at least try to keep up appearances. Every fourth or fifth year, the state football championship game or the state track meet would be held in Tucson. But, as the tree rings of unchecked growth (there’s now a 303 Loop with a 404 Loop in the planning stages), they just said what the heck and everything was contested north of the Gila River. (Flagstaff and Prescott paid the AIA a pretty penny to hold basketball championships, providing local hotels and restaurants with a nice payday.) The only time that Tucson got to see state games was on those rare occasions when two Southern Arizona teams were pitted against one another.
That went by the wayside last week and not because of the AIA. In the 4A baseball playoffs, the teams from Canyon Del Oro and Salpointe both made it to the Final Four. The unique matchup would have been a perfect fit for a Tucson venue. These things have to be thrown together on the fly. When it was suggested that the game could be played at Kino Stadium (off I-10 on the south side), inquiries were made as to its availability.
Pima County, which operates Kino Stadium, wanted to charge the two schools almost $2,000 to use the empty stadium, to which the two schools replied, “Uh…no!” The proposed cost included $90 for prepping the field, $175 for post-game clean-up, and $180 for security. All of those costs are reasonable and would have amounted to $445, so each school would have had to kick in a couple hundred bucks to give fans the opportunity to drive 20 minutes instead of two hours to see a great game featuring two great local teams.
And no, they couldn’t have recouped it from gate receipts, even in non-COVID times, because the AIA keeps every penny of gate receipts from all state contests in every sport. But it would have been worth it to have the game here in town. However, the County also wanted to charge more than $1,000 just to hold the game at Kino and another $235 for “oversight,” whatever that is.
The two schools turned down the offer and the game was played in Phoenix. It’s a shame. There should have been somebody, somewhere in that hierarchy, who could have made the right decision by waiving those two non-essential fees. This should have been done, considering the rough year that student-athletes, their parents and fans have had to endure. Plus, there’s a whole lot of federal relief money sloshing around in local governments these days.
It was a missed opportunity. Let’s hope they don’t miss the next one, whenever that is.
EXTRA POINTS: Track and field athletes from the Northwest schools acquitted themselves well in last week’s state track meets. Leading the way was Mountain View’s Sam Halaufia, who won D-II State championships in the shot put (52’ 4.5”) and the discus (160’ 2”). Ethan Seppala of Canyon Del Oro also won a state championship, winning the 300 hurdles in a time of 38.32 seconds.
The CDO boys team finished seventh in the State in D-II, while Marana finished 22nd, Mountain View 11th, and Ironwood Ridge finished a strong fourth place. The Pusch Ridge boys finished 10th in D-IV.
On the girls side in D-II, Ironwood Ridge finished 12th, Marana 13th, and Mountain View 18th. The Pusch Ridge girls finished 5th in D-IV.
Among the individual highlights:
• Shania Santos of Marana had a nifty (and grueling) double. She finished sixth in the 1600 with a time of 5:12.94, then came back and took second in the 3200 at 11:09.25.
• In the 4 X 100 relay, CDO’s boys finished fourth at 42.67, while the Ironwood Ridge girls finished 6th at 49.86.
• Ironwood Ridge’s Logan Marek put in an incredible Ironman performance, taking 4th in the 800 meters (1:56.82), 3rd in the 3200 meters (9:20.85), and 2nd in the 1600 with a blazing time of 4:12.39. In the 3200, he finished just ahead of teammate Joel Gardener (9:21.30). Gardener also finished 8th in the 1600 (4:22.70).
• Pusch Ridge’s Sydney Soto had a nice meet, finishing 8th in the long jump (15’ 10”) and 7th in the javelin (90’ 7”).
• The Marana girls and boys both placed in their respective 4 X 800 relays. The girls ran 7th at 10:00.97 (it has to be frustrating to come that close to breaking 10 minutes), while the boys finished 8th at 8:20.96.
• In the D-II girls shot put, Mountain View’s Myra Johnson finished 3rd with a throw of 35’ 0”), just ahead of Flowing Wells’ Navine Mallon, who took 4th with a toss of 34’ 1.25”.
• Marana’s Maxwell Brent grabbed 7th in the long jump (21’ 7.75”) and another 7th in the triple jump (42’ 5.25”).
• CDO’s Isaiah Miles took 4th in the high jump at 6’ 2”, while Marana’s Charles Ebunoha grabbed 4th in the long jump with a leap of 22’ 2.5”.
• Pusch Ridge’s Ava Wagner grabbed 3rd in the long jump (17’ 1”) and 4th in the 200 meters (27.08).
• Justin Ripperdan of Pusch Ridge took 7th in the shot put (42’ 3.5”) and 4th in the javelin (140’ 9”).
Others who placed at state include, on the boys side, Kendrick Astacio and Matt Pueshner of CDO; Pusch Ridge’s Jayden Rittenbach, Carson Lewis and Elijah McKenna; and Mountain View’s Devin Nester.
On the girls side, there was Kyra Floyd, Jazmine Schraeder, and Molly Garnand of Pusch Ridge; Katelynn Aych of Ironwood Ridge; and Natalia Sepulveda of Mountain View.
All in all, it was a strong finish to a tough year. Maybe someday soon, they’ll hold one of the state meets here in Tucson.