One last look at the high school football season …
As Scottsdale Saguaro last Saturday ran out the final seconds of its third straight state championship, fifth in six years and eighth in 10 seasons, I thought back to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s legislative council meeting in late September.
I was certain that someone in the room – most likely Phoenix Union High School District Athletic Director Dr. Zack Munoz – would suggest making football an exception to the classification process, given its dependence on numbers and inherent safety concerns.
No one did.
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Instead, Munoz proposed individual sport appeals – essentially the same system in place this school year – it was quickly dismissed and a bylaw was approved forcing schools to appeal their conference placement as an entire athletic program.
The result: Two state champions this year – Saguaro and Peoria Centennial – will play down a level the next two seasons. Centennial, which won the Division I title, will play in 5A while Saguaro, the Division II champs, will play in 4A.
I’ve already heard some athletic administrators say they would favor an exception for football in two years when this current system can be re-worked. Let’s hope that comes about, not only for schools that can’t compete at their enrollment level but for programs that should be playing at a higher classification.
Player of the Year
My ballot would have one name: Paradise Valley quarterback Daniel Bridge-Gadd.
I can’t imagine any single player being more responsible for his team’s success than Bridge-Gadd, who led Paradise Valley to a 13-1 record and the Division III state championship game, where it lost to Goodyear Desert Edge.
Paradise Valley had a combined 6,554 yards rushing and passing; Bridge-Gadd accounted for 4,895 of those yards. The Trojans had a combined 90 rushing and passing touchdowns; Bridge-Gadd had 64.
Then, in the state title game, Bridge-Gadd accounted for every … single … one … of PV’s yards. Actually, that’s not correct. He had 454 total yards; PV had 452 thanks to minus-2 yards rushing on two carries by running back Jared Beamon.
Was Bridge-Gadd the best player in the state this season? Probably not. That honor likely would go to Saguaro’s Byron Murphy.
But he was, without question, the Most Valuable Player.
Coach of the year, big school version
I thought long and hard about this one. I considered Paradise Valley’s Greg Davis, Desert Edge’s Rich Wellbrock and Saguaro’s Jason Mohns.
But my vote goes to Centennial’s Richard Taylor. Centennial moved up to Division I this year after winning Division II last season, and it had to beat powerhouse programs Chandler Hamilton and Phoenix Mountain Pointe just to reach the state championship game, where it ran all over Mesa Desert Ridge.
Just because Centennial is one of the top five or six programs in the state shouldn’t discount the job Taylor did as his team moved up a level and survived a brutal schedule to win a state title.
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What needs fixing
First, school officials need to do a better job of policing who is allowed on the field during games. At some big games – Chandler vs. Hamilton, most notably – the sidelines are flooded with former players, current and former school coaches, important alums, etc., and they’re constantly criticizing the officials.
It’s just wrong.
Officials already get an earful from coaches. They shouldn’t have to put up with heckling from anyone else. If I’m Gary Whelchel, the state commissioner of officials, I’m sending an email to the AIA’s member schools next August clearly stating that if someone who isn’t a player or coach starts verbally abusing officials from the sideline, they’ll be tossed and the team will be flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Second, the AIA needs to have some sort of fitness test for its officials. I saw far too many officials who were at least 50 pounds overweight and could barely run down the field. Forget about affecting the quality of the officiating, which it does. I’m worried a 300-pound official is going to keel over in the August and September heat.
Officials don’t all have to look like Ed Hochuli. But they shouldn’t look like John Goodman, either.
It only lasted one year but look what we got when football classification was treated separately from other sports. The Division I championship game pitted a No. 4 seed (Desert Ridge) against a No. 6 seed (Centennial). Division II featured a No. 5 seed (Tempe Marcos de Niza) against a No. 7 seed (Saguaro). Division IV was wide open, with eight teams having a legitimate shot at the title.
Something to remember when the classification process can be changed in two years.
Congratulations to the Team of the Year, Tucson Pusch Ridge Christian. I’ll be honest: Before the season began, I couldn’t tell you where Pusch Ridge was located. I wasn’t even sure what division it played in. (With 270-plus schools, it’s hard to keep track of every program.)
Turns out Pusch Ridge moved from D-V to D-IV this season. Turns out it has a terrific coach in Troy Cropp. And it turned out to be a heck of a story, with tiny Pusch Ridge beating defending champs Mohave Valley River Valley in the quarterfinals; Lake Havasu, with six times the enrollment, in the semifinals; and perennial powerhouse Phoenix Northwest Christian in the state championship game.
Oh, and Pusch Ridge started eight sophomores.
Beat that, Cinderella.
Reach Bordow at email@example.com or 602-448-8716. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.
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