Players won't forget championship day

2009-12-04T00:00:00Z Players won't forget championship day Opinion by Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 04, 2009 12:00 am  • 

No day in the life of a high school athlete surpasses state championship day. Not the prom, not the day you get your driver's license and not graduation day.

Canyon del Oro, Sabino and Santa Rita high schools have competed in athletics for a combined 121 years, which is what, 22,000 school days, give or take a few? They've won a cumulative 76 state titles, girls and boys, all sports.

So, yes, it gets your attention. You can forget the senior play or senior ditch day: a state championship game accompanies you throughout life, available on instant recall.

Those who play and coach football for the Dorados, Sabercats and Eagles will forever carry memories of Saturday's state championship football games, a lifetime companion, unforgettable in scope and undying in recollection.

Canyon del Oro won its first of 45 state championships in the spring of 1968. Mark Udall, Mo's son, was the medalist as the Dorados won the boys golf title.

How'd that work out? Mark Udall is now a United States senator from the great state of Colorado.

Sabino won the first of its 18 state championships in 1979 (boys tennis) and required another decade before it had an undefeated state champion, in girls volleyball.

You don't forget a 22-0 season, and even though Tim Demarchi was the original boys basketball coach at Sabino, hired in 1972, his memory of the long-ago state championship is clear.

"I treasured every minute I was with them," he says now, retired and living in Goodyear. In the final match, against Glendale Cactus, Demarchi worried that his team was exhausted, dragging from the Friday night semifinals.

"I called my final timeout, ready to share my vast wisdom with them," he remembers. "I swear, they said, almost as one, 'Coach, it's over; they won't get another point.'"

And they didn't.

Santa Rita won its first of 13 state championships in May 1971. The Eagles won the girls tennis championship, but it didn't win a high-profile state title until 1979, when Bill Bland's boys track team won the first of two championships.

It's funny about the timing. In '79, Bland's Santa Rita track team was missing the most dominant track and field athlete in school history, Dannie Jackson, who graduated a year earlier as the most feared prep decathlete in America. Jackson high-jumped 6 feet 11 inches and long-jumped 25-11 at Santa Rita - he was also a 100 and 220 runner on a national scale - but he never knew the joy of winning a state title.

Santa Rita football coach Jeff Scurran coached Sabino to state titles in 1990, 1992 and 1998, undefeated in the first two. He has also lost in the state title game three times. If there is a ranking expert on the Big Day, he's the man.

"Every team I've ever coached has a 'we're ready to be done' date, sort of an expiration date," he says. "Some teams are euphoric just to make it to the championship game, and I've had teams, and coached against teams, that you could see they weren't good enough to win. But the catch is: You usually don't know until game day how they feel."

CDO is the oldest of Saturday's Tucson finalists. It opened in 1965 and has a reputation as a baseball factory (seven state titles and seven major-leaguers) and a softball empire (six state titles).

But the Dorados are actually a tennis school: They've won 13 state team tennis championships behind champions such as Casey Esparza and Bobby Woods. By comparison, Texas Rangers All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler played on one CDO state champion, in 2000.

The most dominant team in CDO history was probably Dan Huff's 28-0 girls basketball juggernaut of 1987. The Dorados didn't win another girls hoops title until this year, finishing 32-1. Could it be another 22 years, 2031, before the next arrives?

Because of Scurran's success, and that of current coach Jay Campos, who is making his third state championship appearance in five years, Sabino is known as a football school.

But historically, the Sabercats have won more soccer titles (four). The most celebrated team in Sabino history could be pitcher Valerie George's 33-1 state softball champion of 2005.

Santa Rita opened its doors in 1969 and was anything but a football power. Its first game, coached by ex-UA running back Larry Williams, was a 32-0 loss to Indian Oasis. Best team in school history might have been Dave Lynch's 28-0 girls basketball team of 1984, led by Paula Pyers, who went to USC and remains, some say, the top girls basketball player in city history.

Santa Rita hasn't won a state title, girls or boys, in anything this decade. By comparison, CDO won 2009 state titles in baseball, girls basketball, softball and boys soccer. Sabino's most recent state title was boys cross country, 2007.

Much is being made of Saturday's 4A-I and 4A-II championship games at Arizona Stadium, because three of the four combatants are Tucson teams, and two of them, CDO and Sabino, will play for the 4A-I title. It's not rare.

There has been an all-Tucson state championship showdown 42 times in history, including 10 in softball, seven in girls volleyball and six in boys basketball. The most epic of the 42? How about Dwight Rees' 28-0 Sunnyside boys basketball team, breaking the hearts of Demarchi's 25-4 Sabino team in overtime in 1993?

"This is a very good team; we hadn't lost since Dec. 15," Demarchi said that day. "If we played again, we could beat them."

But judgment day in high school sports, the state championship, is one-and-done. The winners will always remember it. The losers will never forget it.

We are blessed to have two of those games Saturday at the UA. As Scurran suggests, one team's championship day will be another's expiration day.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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