Every time I catch a flight at Tucson International Airport, I browse the bookshelves and inevitably see Jay Dobyns’ compelling, “No Angel,” his account of a harrowing period in which he infiltrated a Hells Angels gang.
The former UA and Sahuaro High receiver, a former agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is 52 now, the receivers coach at Salpointe Catholic High School. His mission has changed but his message hasn’t: Life is tough, keep plugging.
At Gate A-6 on Friday morning, Dobyns boarded a plane for Los Angeles, accompanying the Lancers for a meaningful game against L.A. power Crespi High School. The excitement was such that you could hear the young players chattering all the way down the concourse.
It was a lifetime weekend for many of the Lancers, one they’ll never forget.
The chance to play in such a high-profile game took Dobyns back to his high school days, 1977, when, as a Sahuaro sophomore, he prepared to play neighborhood rival Sabino. Two weeks before the game, Sahuaro’s star player, senior QB Rick Botkin, was killed when his pickup truck rolled on East Houghton Road. Several other Cougars were injured in the tragedy.
Sahuaro went into the Sabino game 0-7-1, and only suited up 24 players. The winless Cougars dedicated the game to Botkin’s memory and put such emphasis on preparation that they didn’t show up at Sabino until a moment before kickoff.
“We warmed up miles away, on our field, with the southern bank of lights off,” Dobyns remembers. “We didn’t want Sabino coach Ollie Mayfield to look down the hill and see our lights.
“We wanted to put some doubt in his mind.”
Heavily-favored Sabino rolled to a 12-0 halftime lead. But in the final minute, Sahuaro drove the length of the field to score, winning 13-12.
It was a week Dobyns and his teammates will likely never forget; they had never lost to the Sabercats.
Now, 36 years later, Friday night at Sahuaro, Dobyns’ old school lost its 11th consecutive game to its old rivals, 31-10.
To the disappointed Cougars, Dobyns would say the memory of his ex-teammate’s death should be a powerful reminder that high school football is just a game.
BASEBALL: Duncan's baseball ride has taken him to bigs, buses
- No one knows better than UA career home run leader Shelley Duncan how fragile a baseball career can be. After opening the season with the Tampa Bay Rays, and playing 330 games for the Rays, Yankees and Indians, Duncan has since hit .215 for the Triple AAA Durham Bulls. When Durham reached the International League playoffs last week, Duncan and his teammates took a nine-hour bus ride to Indianapolis on Thursday night, beat Indy, and then took a nine-hour bus ride that night and Saturday morning back to North Carolina for Round II of the playoffs. Duncan, 33, who led Canyon del Oro to the 1997 state championship, is playing for his eighth minor-league team in 13 years.
- Former Marana and UA pitcher Ryan Perry, the first-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2008, made his big-league debut in 2009 at Detroit, when he was just 22. After pitching in 156 games for the Tigers and Washington Nationals, Perry has struggled. He spent this season entirely in the minor leagues, yielding 51 runs in 64 innings.
- Empire High School middle infielder Donny Sands was a guest of Arizona State at Thursday’s ASU-Sacramento State football game. After driving in a school-record 63 runs last season, Sands accepted a scholarship offer from the Sun Devils last week. He is the second Tucson-area baseball player to commit to ASU this summer; Sahuaro pitcher-outfielder Alex Verdugo did so earlier.
SHORT STUFF: Hoops almost here, but two UA foes still TBA
- Ready or not, the UA will begin basketball practice on Sept. 27, a Friday. That’s more than two weeks earlier than the traditional college hoops start date. And yet two opponents are still to be named. UA will play host to a pair of preseason NIT games on back-to-back days, Nov. 18-19, both starting at 9 p.m. for ESPNU. The NIT committee has only made public Duke’s foes for the Nov. 18-19 games: The Blue Devils will be at home against UNC-Asheville and either Norfolk State or East Carolina. If the committee gives Arizona a similarly easy track to the semifinals, the night before Thanksgiving at Madison Square Garden, it will send teams such as Southern Utah and UC Riverside to McKale Center.
- Inspired by TV, for the first time since it joined the Pac-10 in 1978, Arizona will play four conference games on Wednesday this season: at Stanford, at Oregon State, at Utah and at home against Cal.
- Former Arizona All-Pac-10 center Channing Frye is hopeful that Phoenix Suns medical specialists will approve him to return for the 2013-14 NBA season this week. He missed last season with an enlarged heart. Frye told reporters last week that specialists in Baltimore cleared him to play, but the Suns, who owe him $6.4 million this season and $6.8 million next year, have not made an announcement. Frye turned 30 in May.
- Four-time UA all-conference guard Davellyn Whyte will miss the rest of the WNBA season with a partially torn Achilles in her left foot. Whyte averaged 4.5 points and 15 minutes a game for San Antonio.
- Monday will be a big day for Tucson High athletic director Jerry Gastellum. He will be inducted into the Arizona Interscholastic Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Prescott. Gastellum, a former Pac-12 football referee and long-time AD at Cholla, will be just the sixth AD from Tucson inducted into the AIA Hall of Fame, following Santa Rita’s Pat Hale and Joni Pabst, Flowing Wells’ Ted Sorich and Howard Dean and Tucson’s Seraphina Grace.
MORE SHORT STUFF: Miller's son a name to watch in Class of 2017
- Cameron Miller, son of UA basketball coach Sean Miller, will be a freshman this season at Salpointe Catholic. At the Full Court Press Arizona Showcase last weekend in Mesa, Cameron was listed among the two most impressive players from the Class of 2017. He is a point guard.
- Remember Sunnyside all-state running back Freddie Sims, who was recruited to powerful Oklahoma in 1981 by coach Barry Switzer? Freddie’s son, Quentin Sims, who played at Georgia Tech and Tennessee-Martin, was signed by the New England Patriots last week and added to their practice squad. He caught a touchdown pass from Tim Tebow in the Pats’ final exhibition game.
- Before he tore his ACL entering his senior season at Catalina Foothills, in the summer of 2011, Nick Chronister established himself as one of Tucson’s top high school football players. But he persevered, accepted a walk-on spot at Utah State and now, as a redshirt freshman, is part of USU’s Mountain West Conference football team. He is a safety.
MORE SHORT STUFF: Tucson swimmers dominate USA national team roster
- Six Tucson-affiliated swimmers were named to the 2013-14 USA national team last week: Matt Grevers, Caitlin Leverenz, Margo Geer, Clark Burckle, Kevin Cordes and Sarah Denninghoff, a Sabino grad who became an All-American at Texas last season.
- The Tucson Ford Aquatics program lost one of its assistant coaches last week when 2005 Catalina Foothills state champion Bryan O’Connor accepted a position with the ADN Project in Caserta, Italy. He will help coach Italy’s elite-level swimmers. O’Connor was a three-time All-American at Arizona in 2009 after making the Wildcat roster as a walk-on. Talk about a success story.
- At the Southern Arizona Roadrunners annual Labor Day run through Saguaro National Park last week, a hilly, eight-mile challenge, one of the top 40-over female finishers was Cindy Schnell. Ring a bell? She is the mother of USA National Junior, 14-15, platform diving champion Delaney Schnell. Cindy ran the course in 1 hour 13 minutes 52 seconds. Good genes, huh? Delaney will be the headliner in the Junior Pan American Diving Championships Sept. 26-29 at Hillenbrand Aquatics Center.
- The once-prominent Arizona National Golf Course, former home of UA men’s and women’s golf teams, remains closed, part of the financial meltdown of the IRI Golf Group, a golf operation that also can be traced to the demise of Green Valley’s once-popular Canoa Hills Golf Course, among others here. The IRI Group, which is owned by Jeff Silverstein, continues to struggle. Two of his courses in the greater Charlotte, N.C., area were taken over by court-appointed receivers and appear headed for foreclosure, the Charlotte Observer reported last week. Arizona National is scheduled to re-open next month, which now seems tentative.
- While at Rincon/University High School, receiver Joseph Matthews was one of Tucson’s top football players in 2010. He caught 65 passes, 11 for touchdowns. Last week he caught four passes for 52 yards in New Mexico State’s opener, at Texas. He is listed as a starter for the Aggies; Matthews made four starts as a sophomore in 2012.
- It was sad to learn that Arizona’s five-time Pac-10 Gymnastics Coach of the Year, Jim Gault, died of cancer last week in South Carolina. He was 77. Gault began teaching gymnastics to Kerri Strug in 1983, establishing her foundation for a 1996 Olympic gold medal.
- Strug, who lives in Tucson and is the mother of a 16-month-old son, will be the guest speaker at the Old Pueblo Gymnastics Academy on Sept. 21. An open gym program, as part of National Gymnastics Day, will be held from 1:30-3 p.m. To participate, phone 628-4355.
MY TWO CENTS: Pac-12 shouldn't be so quick to criticize Grand Canyon University
So far, Arizona hasn’t scheduled Grand Canyon University in any sports, men’s or women’s, and has avoided the public bickering between GCU, the Pac-12 and ASU.
The Sun Devils won’t play GCU, a for-profit institution, because it suggests GCU’s mission — to make money and raise its stock price — is skewed.
I wouldn’t engage in activities against GCU on general principles, if for nothing more than the way it fired former UA interim basketball coach Russ Pennell this summer.
Pennell had coached the Antelopes to a 42-16 record the last two years, but was released when Jerry Colangelo orchestrated a move to get ex-Phoenix Suns star Dan Majerle into college coaching.
But in a league in which the Oregon Ducks spend an estimated $138 million on a football training center, adorned by Persian rugs and urinals imported from Turkey, it all comes off as empty posturing.
If you’re going to chastise any school for chasing a dollar, Grand Canyon stands in a long line behind the Ducks and their Pac-12 partners.