The Sollenberger Classic in Las Vegas is dead. But how about this version instead?
A doubleheader at Sun Devil Stadium on the first Saturday in December: The Division I champion playing the Division II champ and the Division III champ playing the Division IV champion.
“That would be awesome,” Chandler Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “I’d be all for it.”
Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Director Harold Slemmer said Thursday that he’s had preliminary discussions with coaches about staging two games in early December, likely at ASU since the Pac-12 championship game — which has caused scheduling conflicts in the past — is now held at Levi’s Stadium in the Bay Area.
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Slemmer has informally proposed the Division I champion playing an out-of-state team and the Division II and III champs facing each other. But he said he’d consider other ideas, including two games featuring four Arizona state champions.
“Everything is completely open to discussion,” Slemmer said. “I think it could be a really special event.”
The Sollenberger Classic, which honors the late Barry Sollenberger, a longtime Arizona high school football historian and AIA employee, has been staged the past two years at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. The reason: Money. Sollenberger said Bishop Gorman had a sponsor who was willing to provide funding for the event.
But the sponsorship dried up, leaving the future of the event up in the air. Slemmer came up with the idea of having the Classic the week after the championship games when he saw that Division I Peoria Centennial will face Division II Scottsdale Saguaro this fall in the regular season.
Imagine the interest, he thought, if state champions played each other at ASU, with the games being televised, possibly nationally. Slemmer is convinced that between television revenue and gate receipts the AIA could cover the cost of staging the event.
“We’re not concerned with making a profit,” he said. “All we want to do is break even. These are games to honor an individual.”
The one downside: Kids who also play winter sports wouldn’t join those teams until a week later. That won’t sit well with basketball or wrestling coaches, particularly at Division IV schools where more athletes play multiple sports. But, the football season used to end in December rather than the Saturday after Thanksgiving as it does now. And, honestly, losing a few players for an additional week is a sacrifice worth making for what could be such an extraordinary day.
“I can definitely see where there would be a lot of excitement generated by it,” Saguaro coach Jason Mohns said.
So, let’s get it done. And forget about inviting a Nevada or California state champion. Sollenberger was all about Arizona high school football. He loved nothing better than going to multiple games on a Friday night, seeing as many players and teams as he possibly could. He would have loved a postseason doubleheader featuring state champions.
“I always thought if we were talking about that guy, the games should be in Arizona,” Belles said.
Imagine the possibilities. How about Chandler taking on Saguaro, with the winner unofficially the best team in the state. Or in the Division III/Division IV game, Goodyear Desert Edge taking on Yuma Catholic or a White Mountain power.
“I think people would say, ‘How cool is that?’ ” Slemmer said.
Slemmer said he’ll meet with the football coaches advisory group next week to get their feedback. When they love the idea — and they will — he’ll move forward in terms of logistics and ultimately getting approval from the AIA’s executive board. There’s a possibility, he said, that the Classic could be put on hiatus for one year while the details are worked out but his goal is to play the games this December.
Let’s hope he can deliver.
It would truly be a Classic worthy of the Sollenberger name.
Reach Bordow at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow.
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