Top 10 prep sports stories of the decade - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Top 10 prep sports stories of the decade

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Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 9:06 pm | Updated: 12:55 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

We break down the top 10 high school sports stories of the decade, from Hamilton taking over as the dominant football team in the state to the controversy surrounding conference and region realignment.

Prep athletes of the decade

1. Rise of Hamilton football

Right city. Right people in charge. Right time. Few areas reaped rewards of the East Valley's unprecedented population boom of the 1990s more than Chandler Hamilton, which opened in response to the flood of new arrivals in 1998. Beginning with coach John Wrenn and continuing through to Steve Belles, the Huskies won five state championships since 2003 - including the last two - and were runner-up in 2001. Hamilton has taken advantage of open enrollment (its roster numbers around 80 annually), but it also reached the state semifinals in its first year of varsity competition. Simply put, it's the most successful varsity football program in the state, and its dominance doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

2. Bernie Busken

Mesa Mountain View football coach Bernie Busken won three state championships in seven years, but his world came crashing down in 2002 when five assistant coaches resigned over what they termed "philosophical differences concerning treatment of players." Their resignation launched a Tribune investigation that detailed several incidents of physical and mental abuse of players. Less than a month after the coaches came forward, the Mesa Unified School District removed Busken as coach. Busken cast blame on the media, saying, "They're just casting a negative light on everything. ... I'm a pretty humble person despite what all you write. I'm not this big, bad monster that you put out there."

3. Transfer/open enrollment issue

It's the debate that doesn't die. In the past decade, transfers and open enrollment have dramatically changed the sports landscape. Freshmen are allowed to enroll at the school of their choosing, and plenty take advantage to switch to powerhouse programs in his or her respective sport. Transfers must sit out a year if they don't move into the school boundaries, but parents are becoming increasingly willing to change locations. The philosophical change has forced a divide between the haves and have-nots. Many critics would like to see a rule implemented in which transfers have to sit for a year, no matter what the reason is for the school switch. Others fear that would hurt athletes who are not switching for athletic purposes. Only one thing is for sure: This remains a hot-button issue every year.

4. Playoffs get a face-lift

In 2005, Arizona went from having five conferences to seven when the 4A and 5A conferences decided to split into two divisions (I and II) each. The split helped the conferences handle the growing number of schools in the state. From 2000-2009, there were 33 new schools added to either 4A or 5A. Critics say the split also watered down the state tournaments, with nearly half of the teams making the playoffs in 4A and 5A. Also in 2005, the Arizona Interscholastic Association adopted a more uniform policy on determining the state tournament fields by using power points. For the first two years, the AIA used the CalPreps power point system before developing its own power point formula that has been in use since the 2007-2008 school year. The power point system took much of the emphasis away from region tournaments (although the region champion in each sport gets a tournament berth) and put it on power points and building a strong schedule to help bolster the number of power points.

5. Legendary coaches

Several of the state's most successful and renowned coaches concluded the decade without head coach positions but plenty of bounty for their 30 to 40 years of coaching experience. Karl Kiefer, who won three state titles at Tempe McClintock in his tenure there from 1963-1990 and coached from 1991 to 2005 at Mountain Pointe, was the first coach to reach 300 wins and ended his career with 308.

Jesse Parker, author of five state titles (one at Phoenix Camelback and four at Mountain View), passed Kiefer when he won his 309th game in October 2008 in his last head coaching job at Gilbert High. Pat Farrell, who coached Phoenix St. Mary's from 1979-2000 and 2004-2007, won 234 games and four state titles (1984, 1985, 1991 and 1995). Red Mountain's Jim Jones and Corona del Sol's Gary Venturo stepped aside at their respective programs. Jones was the only coach Red Mountain football had since the school opened in 1988, and the Mountain Lions won two state titles (2000, 2001). Venturo coached Corona from 1987-2009, with the Aztecs reaching the semifinals twice (1989 and 1991).

6. Xavier dominance

No getting around numbers with this program. The Gators had a long-standing tradition of athletic excellence in golf, swimming and tennis, but even they reached new peaks with 40 team state championships and 17 second-place finishes in the 2000s. The golf team hasn't lost its trophy since 1997, swimming since 1998 and volleyball since 2006. The school managed to save the best for fall 2009, when it became the first Arizona school to sweep the girls sports (volleyball, golf, swimming, cross country, badminton) in one season.

7. Mountain View 3-peats in boys basketball

A three-peat in boys basketball in the state's largest classification? Hard to come by. But it was accomplished by Mountain View and coach Gary Ernst in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In 2005 and 2006 it was the trio of Stephen Rogers, Harper Kamp and Kendall Wallace that led the way. With Rogers graduated after 2006, Kamp and Wallace took up the slack with help from junior Brendon Lavender. The result were titles over Phoenix St. Mary's and standout Jerryd Bayless (2005 and 2007) and Tempe Corona del Sol (2006). None of the title games were close. The Toros won by an average of 21 points.

8. Saguaro football 3-peat

The magical run started under Mike Reardon, who guided a 2006 team that went 6-5 the year before to a 14-1 record and the first 4A-I title. Numerous key pieces returned the next year, and Tim Ruben led a last-minute drive to set up a game-winning field goal by Steven Chiapetti for the second title. The Sabercats finished it off in style in 2008, shutting out rival Scottsdale Chaparral in the 4A-I championship game for three titles in as many years. Saguaro had some of the lowest enrollment numbers in 4A-I during the reign, but that didn't stop its dominance. Ruben and running back Beau Burton were both named Tribune players of the year in the Sabercats' time on top.

9. Mountain View vs. Hamilton 2003 state championship classic

One of the best games ever at Sun Devil Stadium at any level featured a triple-overtime state title game between the state's pre-eminent program at the time, Mountain View, and the new rich kid on the block, Hamilton. Hamilton eventually prevailed, 35-28, thanks to a fourth-and-1 stop at the 1 for its first state title. The Huskies have been on top of the 5A prep football world ever since.

10. Realignment raises a stink

Class 5A schools tired of being flattened by the powerhouses got their wish: A super region known as the Fiesta. The so-called "athletic elite" - Chandler Hamilton, Chandler, Phoenix Brophy, Phoenix Desert Vista, Mesa and Mesa Red Mountain - were thrown into one pot. Not everyone was pleased. After losing to Mesa in the first round of the playoffs and then losing his job, Red Mountain coach Jim Jones said he was the first victim of the Fiesta Region.

Scott Bordow, Les Willsey,Mark Heller, Kyle Odegard and Steve Burks contributed to this report.

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