Zone Read: What I’m Thankful For

Arizona Sports News online

Perspective can be a powerful thing.

In the often routine, sometimes unexpected, and occasional chaos of every day life, time tends to move quickly. Days morph into weeks, which quickly shift to months, and next we realize, here we are – in late November.

In this “Zone Read,” I just wanted to share what’s most important to me, off the field, in our high school football and athletic community.

I’m thankful for: my family and Sports360AZ work family. I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to chase my dreams, as well as pick me up, dust me off, and offer support when either those dreams got sidetracked or I fell short of the expectations I set for myself. As for my work family, CEO, Brad Cesmat, has been a mentor, friend, advisor, believer, and major impact in my life for 25 years. Every member of his (our) staff does incredible work unearthing and exploring stories of deserving players, coaches, and teams in our state.

I’m thankful for: the opportunity to cover high school athletics in Arizona. While not every angle I script in this column, or you hear about on our platform, is a happy one, there is nothing more pure and rewarding than our Arizona preps. Over the last two decades of, in some capacity, being in this space, I’ve seen the growth and evolution of our state at the high school level over the past decade plus. We have former AZHS players and coaches finding ground-breaking success at the next level and, with that, comes an immense amount of pride.

I’m thankful for: the players and coaches. For many, including myself, the high school platform is uniquely built on trust and relationships. Going to a school to cover an “under the radar” player, promising young talent, or third-string linebacker whose value to their team goes well beyond anything you see in a box score, is the reason why I enjoy this aspect of the profession. Much of the access is granted by their coaches, who have always treated me with the utmost respect, as I have with them, even if they don’t always agree with what I write or say.

I’m thankful for: trainers and equipment managers. Ask any high school head coach in Arizona and they’ll tell you, a key ingredient to their success comes from the tireless efforts and endless hours of staff members working when few, if any, notice or even aware. Like the players and coaching staff, their commitment is year round. Before those early morning workouts, the trainers and equipment managers are making sure there are no hiccups or delays when the first whistle blows at practice, and are often still at the field or facility, long after the scheduled events conclude.

I’m thankful for: the AIA. The Arizona Interscholastic Association is the governing body overseeing nearly 300 member high schools around our state. Their job is ever-evolving and filled with tough tasks, and often even tougher questions to answer, in our high school landscape. From the creation of  the Open Division Playoff format, navigating the 2020 COVID-shortened season, to working through transfer concerns and logistics, the AIA is scrutinized as often as they are applauded. AIA Executive Director David Hines cares deeply about our state, schools, players, coaches, and everyone else who is, in any way, associated with high school athletics.   

I’m thankful for: the referees. Quite simply, this is a thankless job. Referee crews travel all over the state, at all hours of the day and night, to ensure we can participate in, watch, and cover these incredible Friday (and Thursday) night showcases. These individuals aren’t handsomely paid and are, fair or not, at times under the wrath of coaches, players, even parents caught up in the intensity of the contest. However, if you ever watch an Arizona high school game at field level, you’ll quickly recognize the incredible teamwork and diligence displayed in their craft.

I’m thankful for: the bands. There is just something about walking through a high school parking lot on the way to the stadium before a big game and hearing a perfectly in-sync high school band echoing off the adjacent campus buildings at dusk. To say “it’s just part of the experience” doesn’t seem to do it justice. I catch myself listening not only before games and at halftime, but in-between plays, after big touchdowns, and in victory formations. School fight songs just sound better on fall nights in the desert.

I’m thankful for: the game night staffs: A high school football game is a production. It takes strategy, meetings, execution, and hours. From the public address announcers, the concession stand staff, janitors, volunteer parents, the chain gain, the list goes on and on. All service a vital role to ensure those three hours are enjoyable for everyone playing and attending. The process, at times out of their control, isn’t perfect but it’s easy to tell they are enjoying themselves and making the game experience the best it can possibly be for everyone in attendance.

I’m thankful for: our weather. Sure, those early September nights are still steamy but we are blessed with an incredible fall climate, mostly clear (not necessarily this football season!) nights, and arguably the most beautiful sunset backdrops you’ll see. Our year-round weather allows programs the opportunity to train outside, at their own facilities, for most of a year – a luxury many other states can’t afford.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all and enjoy your Arizona high school football playoff weekend.