Salpointe Tipoff Classic

Salpointe head coach Brian Holstrom makes a point to his bench players during the Salpointe vs. Sahuaro boys high school basketball game at the MLK Basketball Classic on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz. Salpointe won 63-49. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

On Friday, the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted to permit the state’s high school coaches to operate unlimited year-round practices.

Tucson high school coaches can now fight back when for-profit AAU clubs poach elite players in attempt to turn them into off-campus, one-sport specialists.

But the good old days of “Hoosiers” ended long ago.

Most varsity high school coaches are paid yearly stipends of about $4,000. Many have second jobs, on campus and off, and don’t have the time for year-round practices. Open enrollment has eroded the Beach Boys’ classic anthem, “Be True to Your School.”

Parents whose intent it is to see their child play more often against better competition, and ultimately attract college scholarship offers, are unlikely to choose school sports over club sports and personal instruction.

But now high school coaches carry a bigger stick of influence. Sort of a “miss our practices and you might lose your spot” thing.

If any Tucson coach could feel betrayed by the 21st century system of high school sports, it would be Salpointe Catholic basketball coach Brian Holstrom, whose team was belted 81-48 in the Class 4A state championship game by Mike Bibby’s gathering of all-stars at Phoenix Shadow Mountain High School.

Ideally, Bibby’s team, which went 27-0, should’ve been playing in Class 6A. It had the son of an ex-NBA player who lives in California, a star senior who transferred from Texas and on and on. The same was true in the 4A football championship game, when Jeff Scurran’s Catalina Foothills club was overwhelmed by Scottsdale Saguaro, which has Class 6A resources and played out-of-state games televised by ESPN last year.

Anyone who follows high school sports in Tucson can see the trend. There is a Shadow Mountain and Scottsdale Saguaro in every corner.

It’s no longer Catalina vs. Pueblo or neighborhood teams coming together for one magical season. Tucson teams will have unusual difficulty winning any state basketball of football championship in the foreseeable future.

Holstrom, who is 126-58 record at Salpointe, has a strong and realistic perspective about what he terms the “free market mentality” of high school sports.

“I struggle with watching students get bounced from school to school or to have their athletic goals be higher priorities than a fundamental education and healthy relationships at their age,” he said. “And while I don’t blame parents for wanting what is best for their child, I feel that ‘team’ and ‘school’ and other important values have a diminished value in this evolution of youth sports.

“Today, middle-schoolers go to high school games with their club teams and discuss which high school they’re going to attend.”

The kids aren’t just kids playing sports. They are viewed as assets.

Meanwhile, Tucson coaches and teachers like Holstrom do the best they can within the system.

“My philosophy has been to spend my effort coaching my current student-athletes rather than tracking down the next batch of new ones,” said Holstrom. “For me, they are people, not business assets, and it has been the ultimate success to see freshmen spend four years in our program, develop lifetime relationships, and to represent a school identity.”

Well said.


Greg graduated from Utah State, worked at two Utah newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times, the Albany Democrat-Herald in Oregon and moved to Tucson to cover UA football and baseball. He became the Star's sports columnist in 1984.