Story by Brandon Bonaparte
In 2007, Arizona College Prep (formerly known as Hamilton Prep) – Erie Campus opened its doors to 80 students as part of the Chandler Unified School District.
The school was offered as a secondary school-of-choice, the first of its kind in CUSD. While the school is still relatively young, ACP students and athletes had to thrive off of limited resources.
“We have a weight room right now that’s quite literally two benches and two squat racks,” said head football coach Myron Blueford. “I think we’ve really flourished a lot with the lack of resources that we have here currently.”
The students of the school are in need of a new home, and in fall 2021, they will get exactly that.
Next school year, ACP will be moving to a new high school. Currently approaching 900 kids and anticipating 1,200 next year, the new ACP campus is planning to hold 2,000 students.
While the new campus will likely positively affect the academics of the school, the athletic programs look to benefit from the vast improvement of athletic facilities and fields as well.
“Our athletic programs been very successful with the students that we currently have,” said Rob Bickes, the principal of ACP. “We’re just looking forward to having a larger student body to contribute to that success. Offering a program to the students in a new high school with new facilities…obviously, we want our athletes to have the best. And that includes facilities and coaches.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit that ACP athletics will enjoy is simply having a place to call home. Four years ago, the football program came into existence. During those four years, the Knights never played a true home game. They played all of their games either on the road or at other CUSD fields.
In their first year, the Knights’ Friday night ‘home’ games were not even played at a high school field.
“Year one, our first year of existence, we played our home games at Andersen Junior High, which is right around the corner from our current location,” Blueford said. “We had portable lights because it’s a junior high. It was it was an experience to say the least. With the stands, maybe four or five rows high, the fans really couldn’t even see over the players. So it wasn’t a great experience.”
For the next three years, ACP played their home games at the likes of Hamilton, Chandler, and other schools in the surrounding area. But in fall 2021, that will all change when the Knights finally have a stadium to themselves. Friday night home games will finally be – home.
“To end school, and walk a few paces to your locker room, and then when the game starts, walk a few paces to get on your own field,” said Blueford, “I’m excited that this group that’s going to be seniors was here during the struggle of starting this program. They’ll see the fruits of their labor next year.”
“We wanted to get t shirts that said ‘ACP: The Football World Tour 2020’ because of all the stadiums we were going to,” Bickes said. “Seeing the football team’s success but being able to celebrate it the next morning at our same site. Having a homecoming game on Friday night, and then having that dance on the Saturday, and being able to look out and say, ‘we just beat whoever in our own stadium, and now we’re here on our campus.’ I just think you can’t beat that type of experience. You can’t beat having a true home.”
Blueford and Bickes anticipate football Fridays being as electrifying as ever next fall, a feeling that Blueford believes will not only benefit athletes, but the student body as a whole.
“Developing athletes in general. Getting them excited about participating in athletics, and that spills over as a school culture,” he said. “The more they’re excited about that, the more they’re excited about joining clubs, and the better they do in classrooms. It all kind of goes hand-in-hand.”
Arizona College Preparatory expects rapid growth in coming years. With more numbers comes change and adjustments.
ACP will likely make the jump to 4A soon, and the once small high school is going to have to adapt to the likings of a bigger community. However, despite the change, ACP parent Michael Kintner believes the small town feeling of Arizona College Prep will stay intact.
“The culture is driven by the leaders at ACP,” he said. “It’s driven by the teachers, the administrators, and the coaches. All the coaches are fantastic. They all seem to have really good cultures around their programs…I don’t know how much it’s going to matter whether it’s 700 kids or 1800 kids…the principal, the coaches, the teachers, and administrators are going to work hard to keep that culture strong and alive.”
The new ACP campus will be larger, the athletic facilities will be nicer, and the school will provide more opportunities for students. However, through all of this, Bickes is confident that the core values of ACP will not change.
“I have three goals for them. The first goal is I want them to graduate. I want to handle that diploma when they’re a senior,” he said. “The second goal is that when I hand them their diploma, I want them to know that we have done everything we can possible to give them the academic and executive skills to be successful. But the third goal that I have for them, and I tell them it’s just as important in my opinion as getting that diploma in some aspects, is that I want them to have fun.”
Whether you are a part of the ACP community or not, the opening of the new campus is going to make headlines come fall 2021.
“To have a place where it really is built for ACP is going to be phenomenal,” Bickes said.