There have been highs and lows from the 2012-2013 athletic year.
There were several impressive individual and team accomplishments, as well as the usual hand-wringing when changes came about from the Arizona Interscholastic Association. The year ended on a tragic note when Higley district athletic director Art Wagner was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound a week ago.
With seniors readying for high school graduation, here is our 2012-13 Year in Review:
Art Wagner dies
A “Celebration of Life” ceremony on Monday confirmed just how much impact Wagner had on students, teachers and administrators throughout his career in the East Valley. After beginning as a security guard at McClintock, Wagner worked his way up to become Higley district AD and the AIA executive board president. Wagner played football at Permian High School in Odessa, Texas, the famed program which earned national acclaim in the book and movie, "Friday Night Lights." He went on to play college football at Abilene Christian. Wagner also won three consecutive junior skeet shooting titles in high school. He was always willing to help others in need and was rarely seen without a smile on his face. His abrupt loss still has many searching for answers.
Transfer rule voted down
The AIA proposed a transfer rule which would dramatically curb transfers by forcing athletes to sit for a year if they moved within a 50-mile boundary. The legislation would have evened the playing field and prohibited the rampant movement seen now in the high school landscape. Even though most coaches and administrators spoke positively of the idea, there was a different tune when it actually came to voting. The transfer rule received 11 ‘no’ votes and three abstentions out of the 39 present council members, which narrowly caused it to fail. While different transfer legislation can be brought up in the future, for now the same toothless rules remain in place.
The AIA vs. AzFCA
It’s been a bumpy year for the already-tenuous relationship between the AIA and the Arizona Football Coaches Association. It began in August, when a few local coaches went to an AIA meeting to air their grievances, which included a lack of voice in matters which affected them. It worsened in the winter, when the annual football All-Star game was moved up to January. The switch from the summer to the school year was made with good intentions — the coaches wanted players to get one final look for a possible scholarship before Signing Day — but the coaches didn’t ask for previous permission from the AIA, which is required since the game would overlap with the winter sports season. As a result, the local coaches could not participate. Then, in April, the AzFCA sent out a letter detailing its concerns with the AIA’s financial operations without contacting the AIA beforehand, leading to more bad blood. The tension continues to build between these two groups, and it doesn’t seem to be subsiding any time soon.
East Valley football programs win titles
There were three football titles for East Valley teams this year, with three very different stories. Hamilton started the season 0-2 for the first time in history but bounced back behind a tremendous defense to beat Mountain Pointe for another Division I crown. Queen Creek quietly gained momentum and rode star running back Matt Guida and a tough defense to the championship. The Bulldogs seem destined for overtime in the Division III championship against Goodyear Desert Edge but scored a late safety for the 9-7 win. Seton Catholic was an underdog in its final two games but defeated White Mountain powers Show Low and Blue Ridge to claim the hardware.
Corona del Sol boys hoops repeats
The big, imposing front line was gone and so, too, was Arizona State-bound shooting guard Calaen Robinson. Outside expectations dropped after last year’s state title, but the Corona del Sol boys basketball team never wavered in its focus. The Aztecs picked up some impressive wins early to thrust themselves into contention. Point guard Casey Benson was magnificent all year, and big plays by Cassius Peat, Bryan Siefker and Adam Gleave helped Corona del Sol repeat with a rally over Pinnacle in the championship game. It’s officially a dynasty now at Corona, as the talent flowing in should keep the program among the contenders for the next several years.
Tempe-Saguaro football forfeit
It was anything but a normal Friday night when Tempe and Saguaro met on Sept. 7. The Buffaloes came in undefeated through the first two weeks, but were quickly overmatched by the star-studded Sabercats. However, the scoreboard had nothing to do with the resulting controversy. Three Tempe players were injured in the game, and by the time the third one happened, the Buffaloes had had enough. A coach was ejected, and the team boarded the buses and went home, refusing to play the second half. Tempe principal Mark Yslas then further ignited the flames by sending out a letter disparaging the Saguaro football program. Video of the incidents showed some egregious hits, but overall, Saguaro wasn’t as out-of-control as Tempe claimed. Apologies were made and the incident is not expected to carry over into next season.
Leland Rodgers fired at Gilbert
The Gilbert football team wasn’t very good in Leland Rodgers’ one year at the helm, finishing the 2012 season just 3-7, but that wasn’t the reason he was fired. Rodgers claimed he was let go because an anonymous Gilbert parent accused him of verbal and physical mistreatment of players. He vehemently denied the claims, and many players and parents stood up for him after the news broke. However, the administration held firm and hired new coach Tim Rutt in February.
Aria Ottmueller vaults past blindness
Valley Christian junior Aria Ottmueller was born blind, and, while she’s since regained some vision, can still only see at 20-400 because of optic nerve hypoplasia. That didn’t stop her from an incredible feat in the spring. Ottmueller can’t see the box while sprinting down the runway, but still participated in the pole vault for the Trojans. Even more impressively, she qualified for the Division IV state meet and then cleared a height of 7 feet, 6 inches at the event, good for sixth place. She’ll be back as a senior aiming even higher.
Several girls sports had familiar faces hoisting the championship trophy in Division I. The Chandler girls track and field team entered the state meet without any conceivable challenger and cruised to an eighth consecutive state title. Junior Ky Westbrook led the way for the Wolves, who show no signs of slowing down. The St. Mary’s girls basketball team actually trailed at halftime in the title game against Pinnacle, but used a big third quarter to take control, capturing the program’s third consecutive state championship. Red Mountain softball wasn’t as dominant as those two in the regular season, but rolled to another title, dispatching Chaparral in the finals for a fourth straight championship.
New Power Rankings formula
Who knows math? Even if you do, it probably doesn’t matter. The AIA and MaxPreps.com joined together and created a new power rankings formula used to determine state tournament qualification and seedings for team sports. Its inability to be deciphered beyond a series of numbers and decimal points (based on win-loss record and “schedule strength”) led to a backlash, and not even a presentation by the AIA/MaxPreps seemed helpful for schools and coaches. The mystery numbers will continue, however, as will the sometimes-wild fluctuations on a weekly basis within these rankings. While state tournament seeding has remained relatively reasonable in its accuracy based on the final power rankings each season for each sport, a lack of communication and understanding of the numbers continues to frustrate.
New division and section alignments were released for the two-year block beginning in 2013-2014, and, for the first time, an appeals process was approved for schools to move down a division or appeal out of a section (schools could always appeal up a division in the past). With an appeals committee for each sport being formed, schools had to show cause for a downward divisional appeal based on a variety of criteria (enrollment trends, competitiveness the past few years, relative affluence of school and student population, etc.), and the committee would approve or reject those appeals for the two-year scheduling block. The hope being it creates a more equitable competition for both “have” and “have not” schools for all sports.
A season which began with enormous expectations (internally and externally) ended with those expectations met on the field, but not without controversy. After winning the Arizona Soccer Showcase tournament in late December and nearly winning the prestigious Montverde (Fla.), Brophy earned the No. 1 seed in the Division I state tournament. After the Broncos moved past Tucson and Hamilton in the first two rounds, respectively, Tolleson awaited in the semifinals. The Broncos scored two goals in the overtime periods for the win, but excessive celebration after those goals led to turmoil in the program and with administration. Coach Marc Kelly decided to suspend four starters for the first half of the state championship match against Desert Vista, but the Broncos scored twice in the second half and won a second state title in three years with a 2-0 victory. Two weeks ago, however, Kelly resigned, citing family and stress among the reasons, but speculation surrounding his departure continues. A Brophy alum, Kelly compiled a record of 242-21-5 in 12 seasons as coach, including three state championships (2008, 2011 and 2013), as well as one runner-up finish (2012) and six (former) Desert Valley Region championships.
Highland girls basketball coach Miner Webster secures win No. 700
Pinnacle’s wheelchair-bound team manager, Brandon Wechsler, gets to play in a game
Chandler’s Dalton Brady wins fourth straight state wrestling title
Successful Scottsdale coaches get teaching jobs cut
Xavier freshman girls golfer Hannah O’Sullivan sets one- and two-day records with an 8-under 64 to finish at 12-under for the Division I title.