When I started in journalism, typewriters had just gone away in the newsroom and computers were evolving, changing every other year, it seemed.
The high school landscape then was nothing like it is today.
So with that, I’m going to start counting down the years that I’ve been covering high school sports in 35 snapshots, picking one story line for each year. It could be about an athlete, a coach, a parent, an administrator, a game, an issue, a ruling.
I’ll start with 1982, when I came out of college and started working at The Arizona Republic, and count backwards, rolling four years at a time each week. I’ll go in sevens each week.
1982: School’s out
Mark Alarie was the first athlete I covered who jumped out, starring on the basketball court at Phoenix Brophy Prep.
And the coach who stood out? None other than Royce Youree at Phoenix East. The big news that year? The closure of Phoenix Union and East. The legendary basketball coach was leading the Longhorns through their final season, wearing his emotions on his sleeve, embracing players as they came off the court after victories. He was the ultimate player’s coach and it was sad to see his dynasty shut down because of diminishing enrollment numbers. The same with Phoenix Union and its great basketball coach, Argie Rhymes, who took the Coyotes to the state final with his brother Billy leading the way in the school’s final season. But Argie Rhymes’ coaching career was just taking off, as he moved onto Phoenix Carl Hayden, starting a dynasty there.
1983: Parker vs. Kiefer
This was the heyday of high school football coaching rivals and there was none greater than Mesa Mountain View’s Jesse Parker and Tempe McClintock’s Karl Kiefer. They hated losing, especially to each other. This was the only year that the two men faced off in the state final. Parker got the last word with his Toros’ 34-14 victory over Kiefer’s Chargers, capping a 14-0 season. From 1977 to 1989, those two men had an incredible run. Kiefer won crowns in ’77, ’80 and ’89. Parker won titles at Mountain View in ’78, ’83, ’86 and ’86. Parker’s last title came in ’93.
1984: The upset
Kiefer brought back a more talented team in 1984, led by the backfield of quarterback Kent Kiefer, Cleveland Colter Jr. and Art Greathouse. McClintock was being hailed as “the team of the century.” There was even rumor that the Chargers had championship embroidered wallets made before the state semifinals. But Phoenix St. Mary’s, behind quarterback Steve Belles, pulled the upset in the semifinals, and gave coach Pat Farrell his first state title as a coach and third overall at St. Mary’s (he won twice as a player in 1967 and ’68), finishing it off with a 31-14 win over Tucson Sahuaro.
1985: Gea Johnson red carpet
Gea Johnson did it all so well – track, basketball, volleyball, heptathlon and her schoolwork to name a few things – that she was honored at the Dial Awards, a black-tie event celebrating the top male and female high school athletes of the year in Washington D.C. with actress Goldie Hawn and Miami Hurricanes quarterback Vinny Testaverde in attendance. Jeff George, a quarterback out of Indianapolis, was the male recipient. Johnson, who started a multi-sports career at Tempe Corona del Sol and ended it at Phoenix Washington, was the female recipient. I recall renting a tux and flying to D.C. to cover the event. Her sister, Mya Johnson, won the top honor the following year.
1986: Record crowd
Tempe McClintock faced off against Phoenix Brophy Prep at Wells Fargo Arena for the big-schools state boys basketball championship, and it drew a then-record crowd of 14,123 fans – on a Monday night. The atmosphere was electric and it was a showdown of centers – McClintock’s Mark Becker and Brophy’s Jim Renforth. Brophy came in 27-0 but McClintock captured its first state basketball title with a 71-67 victory that was fueled by the board play of arguably the school’s greatest football player, Cleveland Colter Jr.
1987: Year of the Mustang
Since 1980, Brophy Prep finished first in the state swimming and diving championships every year but one. That was in 1987, when Mesa Dobson’s Mustangs scored 232 points to Brophy’s 125 at state. Dobson’s girls team won the state swim title. And Dobson capped the fall season with its first and only state football championship, beating Mesa Mountain View 35-14, behind the Wright brothers, running backs T.C. and Toby. Coach Mike Clark’s Mustangs got on a big playoff roll, dominating everybody on their way to the gold ball.
1988: 3-point marksman
It was during the 1987-88 school year that the 3-point shot was adopted nationally by high schools, a year after the NCAA went to the 19-feet, 9-inch distance for 3-point goals. It altered the youth basketball world and nobody took better advantage of it than Glendale Apollo point guard Damin Lopez, who was a junior that year. He changed the game for his father David Lopez’s Hawks team, and the following year, during Apollo’s state championship season, he made a record 10 3-point shots in a game against Phoenix St. Mary’s.
To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.