The holidays are a wonderful time to be with family - even if it is your second family.
Several area high school teams have taken to the road this Christmas break. Most coaches cite the importance of team bonding time during out-of-state trips along with facing different, and often better, competition as the reasons for heading to California, Nevada or Kentucky this month.
For the athletes, the best part just might be that time away from the competition especially for seniors who can see there are only a few months left in being able to put on their school uniform.
“I can’t believe it has gone this fast,” Desert Vista senior wrestler Cooper Gardner said. “I love the California trip. It’s a great tournament, but we spend a lot of time in the hotel playing cards, talking wrestling and just hanging out.
“Those are things that I won’t be around for next year.”
The Thunder wrestling program is one of three teams from Desert Vista taking a road trip, while Mountain Pointe’s boys basketball team is the only Pride program logging travel miles in December.
The process to get a trip approved, insured and paid for is not an easy thing and often is put in place months long before the trip comes together and even then not all expenses are covered as the Thunder boys soccer team has to come up with $225 per player.
“We had to get approval for it in the spring by the board,” Pride boys basketball coach Aaron Windler said. “There is a lot involved. I did it for a couple years (at Chaparral) and the tournament officials we are going to are great. They having been doing it for 30 years and they do it right.”
The Pride is heading to Kentucky for the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Classic in Louisville, Ky., from Dec. 19 through Dec. 23. Mountain Pointe, which has two meals a day and housing paid for by the tournament, opens up with Trinity Catholic, a state power, and will play at least three games with a possibility of a fourth depending on how well they do.
In years past, Windler said he was able to take teams to watch a Louisville men’s basketball practice and hopes to do it again. If nothing else, the time away for a team that has lost its first four games under a new coach can only be a good thing.
“It’s a great atmosphere and great team bonding,” Windler said. “It’s a chance to see basketball at a much higher level in terms of fan support and community. The games are jam packed and the crowd is into it.
“It’s going to make us better and more confident in how good we can potentially be. Having those guys around each other can only be a good thing. It will be good to get away from everything else.”
The Thunder boys soccer team is heading to the 18th annual Southern California Classic in Oceanside, Calif., while Desert Vista boys basketball team is playing in the newly created Tarkanian Classic from Dec. 19-22 at Bishop Gorman against a field that includes teams from Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada and New York.
The Thunder wrestling team will head to the North Torrance Tournament of Champions at Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif., Dec. 28-29. Desert Vista won the team title two years ago and if the Thunder puts its top lineup out there they should be in contention again.
Head coach David Gonzalez would like that, of course, but he is just as happy to have the opportunity to enter a ‘B’ team in the tournament in order to expose some of the younger teams a shot at getting mat time against quality competition.
“It gives them a chance to see what it is all about and set them up for when it is their time,” said Gonzalez, whose program held two offseason freestyle tournaments to raise the money. “It is a great opportunity for us.”
There is also a lot of down time for the athletes and it can lead to some mischievous moments. Chaperones are in place, but the kids can always find away if given an opportunity.
“You are dealing with 16 and 17 year olds and even the bright ones find away to be mischievous kids,” Gonzalez said with a chuckle. “As long as they know what the consequences are and you hold them responsible it is usually enough.
“On a daily basis we talk about every action has a consequence and this is no different.”
With that said the negatives are far outweighed by the positives that come with spending the holidays on the road.
“Other than state the trips to California are some of my best memories I’ll take away from my career,” Thunder two-time state wrestling champion Alex Bambic said. “We work hard most of the time during the season and this is a chance to have some fun.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.