08-22-2015 10:42:28 AM PST

I’m going to put the Panthers’ loss last night in perspective.  I have to.  Everyone’s going to look at the 61-6 loss to Cactus and think the absolute worst.  Coconino lost plenty of lopsided games last year, how can we think 2015 will be any different?Really good crowd on hand to watch the Cats in action

I sat in the stands, and I can tell you, this year IS different.  Let me explain.

I can tell you, these kids hit harder than last year.

I can tell you they tackle better.  They did a much better job of using their shoulders and wrapping up runners, especially in the first half before exhaustion from the heat (over 100 degrees at kickoff) and chasing around one of the more athletic teams in the state got to them.

I can tell you, when they run between the tackles, they can pound out the yardage.  Their two feature backs, Weston Smith and Francisco Garcia, are built to burrow through the line and get 4-7 yards on first down.

I can tell you, special teams are consistent.  Decent punting, nice kickoff returns, no bobbles.

I can tell you, they take care of the football.  The last few years I’ve noticed a lot of fumbles; no fumbles tonight.  Cristo Tabares threw two interceptions, but one of them was on a bomb on the final play of the first half, which I’ll discard.  The offense, therefore, only had one real turnover.

Captains Brentt Randall David Quick Weston Smith and Cristo TabaresI can tell you, they’re not making a ton of dumb mistakes.  They had a few penalties, but I think they had just one big play called back on a holding penalty.  The rest can be chalked up to opening-game jitters.

I can tell you, the kids are better conditioned.  Most of what I saw in terms of injuries last night seemed to be heat exhaustion and cramps.  It’s not like the last couple of years, where it seemed like every game, key players were knocked out for the rest of the night, or taken to the hospital.  That’s a testament to Coach Wes Kirk and his conditioning program everyone’s been raving about.  I’m not saying there weren’t a few kids banged up, but by and large, the Panthers made it through the night unscathed.

These are things that mark improvement over last year.  Every fan in the stands with me, every parent, said basically the same thing.  This team is better than last year.

Then why the score?

Well, they played the Cactus Cobras, one of the top teams in the state, in any division.  MaxPreps had them ranked #6 in their preseason poll, ArizonaVarsity.com (the poll I take part in) ranked them #4 (I put them at #2), #7 on the Arizona Republic.  They’re in perpetual contender mode.

They have one of the top returning quarterbacks in the state in Preston Guerra.  As a junior, he passed for 2,339 yards, 27 TDs versus 10 interceptions, and a rating of 111.5.  He had another great night against the Panthers, from the Tweets I was reading from the Cactus fans he threw four touchdowns.  He’s going to make most secondaries, even good ones, look like chumps.

That’s not excuse making, those are facts.

So you may ask, okay, Mr. Flagcoco, why so lopsided?

I don’t know how it is around the country, but in Arizona, even good teams get their asses kicked by the elites.  Let’s take Bradshaw Mountain as a prime example.  They won the section the last two years, they’re the current juggernaut in Northern Arizona, right?  Remember all the games they were scoring 60 points?  They went 7-4 last year; they swept their six sectional opponents and went 1-4 the rest of the way.  Those four losses were to:

Apollo, 27-6

Saguaro, 63-7

Queen Creek, 49-14

Desert Edge, 63-6 (playoffs)

Bradshaw was the #13 seed in last year’s playoffs.  Look how they fared against the uppermost echelon in D-III.

2013 was the same way.  Won the division, got crushed by the big boys:You never going to know who will show up to watch our kids

Saguaro, 69-21

Prescott, 49-7

Queen Creek, 46-26

Peoria, 50-23 (playoffs)

I’m not making the claim that, using this logic, Coconino can start thinking about sectional titles.  My point is, even good teams lose big.

The only thing that would have made last night a complete negative is if the team gave up.  It would have been easy to look up at the scoreboard and pack it in for the night.  They didn’t.  They played hard until the final gun.

There’s still a lot of season to go, a lot of work to do.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Panthers have arrived at contender status, they’re not there yet.Noah and Dominic had a great time playing soldier and cop

No one likes to lose.  The only way this doesn’t become commonplace is if the Panthers learn from their mistakes and build on their positives.  There’s a few things they did right.  Let’s see how they do against Youngker and Lee Williams before we write the season off prematurely.  If they’re going into sectional play, and they’re 5-1 or 4-2, they’ll have learned from the Cactus game, and at the end of the season, they’ll be able to hold their heads high and say that loss against one of the best teams in the state gave them the kick in the butt they needed.

That’s my hope, at least.


01-28-2015 5:58:30 PM PST

Last week, the saga concerning the AIA in the Arizona Daily Sun was, Are they really going to move Coconino football down to Division IV, and how is realignment going to affect the best high school rivalry in Arizona? 

After that is apparently proving to be much ado about nothing, the new question posed by the AIA’s realignment proposal seems to be, Flag High and Coconino may still be in D-III together, but why did they blow up the rest of the division?

Joshua Clouse gave me a head-up on the AIA’s most recent realignment plan.  Schools have until Monday, February 2nd to appeal, but their four-year proposal is available in PDF form on their website.

For those who fall into either the TL;DR camp or the I’m-not-downloading-anything crowd, let me give you the gist.

Division III will expand from 48 teams last year to 51.  No big whoop.

The four teams that made the D-III semifinals last year will no longer be in D-III.  Saguaro and Williams Field met in the championship game; in 2015 they’ll both be in D-II.  Queen Creek will be in D-1, and Tempe will inexplicably play in D-IV.  That means, eight of the last nine champions (loosely translating divisions) are gone from D-III (Saguaro won seven titles since 2006, Queen Creek one).  The four teams combined for a regular season record of 37-3, the three losses coming when they played each other.

In fact, most of the sixteen teams making the D-III playoffs last year will be gone, either moving up or down a level.  Only Bradshaw Mountain (seeded #13), Buckeye (#15), and Sabino (#16) will be back.  Prescott was ranked #16 after the regular season but didn’t qualify; they’re gone as well, moving onto D-II.

That means Division III is so wide open, you can drive an 18-wheeler through it.

Closer to home, our beloved Section IV (I still hate the sterile names, I so hope the new section will have a real name like Division III North, as I was calling it for a while) is gutted as well.  Flag High, Coconino, and Bradshaw will remain in D-III, but Prescott and Mingus will be in D-II, while Mohave and Kingman are headed to D-IV.

Pending appeals, it looks like a whole new ballgame in 2015.

So who could be in a new Division III North?

Cody Bashore’s article yesterday speculated that a new section could comprise of:

Coconino Panthers

Flagstaff Eagles

Bradshaw Mountain BearsSnowflake lost in the Division IV title game last year

Blue Ridge Yellowjackets

Winslow Bulldogs

Payson Longhorns

Snowflake Lobos

Show Low Cougars

Five of the eight teams come up from D-IV.

Chans Cox not only might have been the greatest player ever to come out of the White Mountains he also has Flagstaff family tiesNow, before anyone starts to think our Panthers and Eagles can now glut on a few smaller schools, let’s look a little harder.  Blue Ridge is just a year out of dynasty mode, their Hall of Fame coach Paul Moro moving onto Poston Butte in 2014 after decades of bringing championships to the White Mountains.  Even without Moro, they still made the playoffs as D-IV’s #15 seed.  The Yellowjackets, Bulldogs, Lobos, and Cougars all made the playoffs last year.  Winslow was the #8 seed and won their first-round game.  Snowflake made it to the title game, losing a very tough one to River Valley (who, by the way, also moved up to D-III).  And though Show Low lost in the first round as a #11 seed, they’ve won four state championships since 1999.  Truly, the Blue Ridge-Show Low rivalry is perhaps the second best high school rivalry in Arizona, the two playing each other in the playoffs six times since ’99, thrice in the championship game.

And if you think Payson is the straggler in the group, bear in mind they won the 3A state title in 1998 and 2008.  Flag High’s last title was in ’84, Coconino’s in ’74.

Bradshaw’s never won a title.  Running up scores last year doesn’t change that fact.

Should this plan stand pat, and should Bashore’s speculation of section placement become a reality, the Panthers and Eagles aren’t going to have it easy at all.  It’s really easy to just point at a team and brush them off for having a smaller student body and playing in Division IV last year, but that would be foolish.  Assuming this becomes reality, I pick Snowflake as the team to beat.

But though the potentially new paradigm is strange in the 21st century, we’ve seen pieces of this in the past.  Snowflake and Winslow are old rivals; they were playing Flag High in the old Northern Conference in the 1930’s and against both the Panthers and Eagles in the AA North of the 1970’s.  Payson was part of the Grand Canyon Region in 2003 and 2004.  Bradshaw is Bradshaw.

Roadies to Show Low will be a new experience for everyoneTo the best of my knowledge, however, neither Flag High nor Coconino have ever played either Blue Ridge or Show Low, so this will be something new for both teams.

The hope in all this is that our Panthers and Eagles are competitive.  Were they playing in Division I against Hamilton and Chandler or Division V against Yuma Catholic and Tempe Prep, the Roman numeral after the letter D shouldn’t matter. 


01-22-2015 9:44:59 AM PST

While I consider Coconino’s athletic director Eric Freas and Flag High’s Jeannine Brandel friends, and while I thank them for welcoming me into their offices and letting me do my Flagcoco thing with their blessings, they certainly don’t ask me for advice.  That’s not Flagcoco’s role.  We’re here to celebrate the best high school rivalry in Arizona, not to determine its course.  I don’t offer ideas to them on how they should run their athletic departments, and they don’t look to me for pearls of wisdom.  As well they shouldn’t.  I’m a fan of Flagstaff high school sports, I’m a wannabe historian-slash-statistician, and I really like being part of a community of Flagstaffites, local and dispersed, who enjoy getting together to watch a great game against great rivals.

So when I read Cody Bashore’s article yesterday on the possibility of Coconino football being moved to Division IV, it’s not like anyone was emailing me for my opinion on the subject.  Freas didn’t call me to pick my brain, and Brandel isn’t going to stop everything to see what I have to say on it.  It was a boring day at work, so I had time to thing about this, knowing it’s going to have an effect on this rivalry we so cherish.  Freas and Brandel are welcome to read it, just as you are, but while we’ll most likely have a nice exchange of ideas on the subject in Facebook banter, I doubt the ADs are going to chime in.  As well they shouldn’t.  They have jobs to do, they have to do what’s in the best interests of their students, and what Mr. Flagcoco has to say shouldn’t sway them.

If it so happens that Coconino moves to Division IV and Flag High remains in D-III, I will embrace and accept it as the birth of a new era in the rivalry’s history, a new chapter to eagerly be written and read.

Lumberjack Stadium circa 1968This isn’t the first time the rivals were set in different divisions.  When Coconino was born in the late 1960’s, it was set in Class AA, taking half of Flagstaff’s talent pool with it.  Flag High, with now half the manpower, continued to take on the AAA Phoenix schools it had competed with and beaten over the previous decade.  The first five games of the Rivalry Series were played in this paradigm, as season openers instead of finales.

And you know something?  The old Lumberjack Stadium was packed every year for each of those five games. 

The Eagles take the field on that soggy Saturday night in 1969The rivalry will be just fine, even if the teams are in different divisions, so long as two things happen:

1.  The teams remain in Flagstaff, and

2.  The teams are relevant.

The first seems silly to say, but it has to be said, because this is a crosstown—and I’ve gone so far as to call it a sibling—rivalry.  These aren’t professional teams who are going to threaten to leave town if they don’t get a stadium deal.  With cuts in education budgets, however, there is always the worry of athletic programs suffering, and we’ve seen the effects of that, having the feeder system (the middle school and freshman teams cut from time to time) weakened.  Heck, wasn’t it just five years ago that Flagstaff had three high schools?  Wasn’t Coconino on the chopping block as well as Sinagua?  So it’s not a complete given that the schools will go on forever as they are now.  So long as they do, however, there will always be a natural rivalry.

As for relevance, neither team has made the playoffs in close to a decade.  Both teams have gone through tough times, each suffering a winless season in that span.  People get on Facebook all the time and remind me of the cruel reality that no one cares about you if you don’t win.  It’s when at least one of these teams can talk about postseason hopes that the Skydome starts to fill.  It’s when there are players with talent and aspirations for scholarships and a few plays under their belts that make us say Wow that people start looking closer.  There’s always going to be a fan base, and Flagcoco has tapped into it, but the harsh truth is, that base isn’t going to grow beyond the level of students, staff, parents, and a few die-hard alumni if the teams are always 2-7 going into the finale.

Coconino lost to Winslow in the first game the Panthers ever played in the Skydome back in 1977That’s not to suggest Coconino will automatically be a contender by moving to D-IV.  Yes, there will be fewer Phoenix teams on the schedule.  But there will be plenty of solid teams to play.  Show Low is a perennial contender.  You can count on Snowflake making the second round of the playoffs, they’ve done so each of the last seven years.  Winslow has always been a thorn in the Panthers’ side, leading the series 14-13-3.  Mingus was in D-IV as recently as two years ago, there’s no reason to think they won’t be back there again.

A move to D-IV is a move back to Coconino’s roots.  They thrived in the old AA North, and many of the teams they competed with, including Snowflake and Winslow, will be there in the new format.

A move to D-IV is a move away from the Phoenix bias.  Anyone who has tried to support a team outside the Phoenix-Tucson axis knows what I’m talking about.  It’s always there.  The major media in this state simply does not care about anything not happening outside the metro areas.  To the Arizona Republic, there is no football played north of Anthem, they apparently consider it a vacuum of nothingness between Black Canyon City and the Utah border.  Flagstaff teams have never gotten a fair shake with Phoenix, and that’s a fact that stretches back decades.  Perhaps a couple of years without direct competition with Phoenix powerhouses will do Coconino some good. 

To add insult to this injury, the Phoenix teams will always have an unfair advantage.  Open enrollment means kids can transfer as they wish, and so long as they fill out the proper paperwork, the AIA to this point has proven itself blind to the fact that the talented kids end up at the few schools that seem to always be in contention for championships, that seem to always be at the top of the standings, and that seem to be portals for big college scholarships.  You can name them along with me.  Hamilton.  Chaparral.  Saguaro.  There’s nothing we outside the metro areas can do about it.  Being in Division IV, however, means not having to deal with it as much.

Injuries and inexperience did not stop the 2014 Rivalry Game from being a classing hardfought defensive warBoth the Panthers and Eagles have had teams decimated by injuries the last few seasons.  It was so bad for Flag High last year that they ended up dissolving their JV team and playing their last varsity games largely with sophomores and even a few freshmen.  It was more or less the same story with Coconino the year before.  While a few gifted athletes can lift a team, it’s always tough to compete when you’re suiting up 30 players, a significant percentage of whom are dealing with injuries, and your opponent is dressing 60.  Perhaps moving down to D-IV, playing against schools with lower enrollment and smaller talent pools, will mean a closing of this gap.

Personally, I don’t care which division our teams play in, I’m going to root for them, and Flagcoco will continue to do its thing.  I want to watch the programs develop and succeed, we all do.  I’ll follow the Panthers and the Eagles, no matter what.  Playing in different divisions will change the dynamic a bit, but we’ve seen changes before, and the rivalry goes on.  We’ve watched them play in the AA North, AAA Skyline, and several incarnations of the Grand Canyon Region, and it’s still here.  We had Sinagua for nineteen years, and though reporters using the Daily Sun as a stepping stone tried to pronounce the rivalry dead under the logic that three’s a crowd, it’s still going.  Whether this realignment is for a single block of two years or permanent, there’s no reason why we can’t fill the Dome to watch the combatants go at it next year and every year.  Competing directly for division and state titles certainly sweetens the pot, but it’s still Flag High vs. Coconino.  I’ll still be giving the New Cromer Awards out, and the winning team will still hoist the City Championship Trophy at the end of the game. 

Panthers vs Eagle AS WELL IT SHOULD BEThe details will always evolve, but at the core, it’s still Panthers vs. Eagles.  East vs. West.  Brother vs. Brother.  Doesn’t matter if one team is D-I and the other is D-VI.  Doesn’t matter if there’s two or three or ten high schools in town.  It’s still Panthers vs. Eagles, and everything else won’t tarnish the unique and precious nature of this rivalry.

As well it shouldn’t.


12-28-2014 8:51:40 PM PST

Thank you all so very much for following Flagcoco for another year.  We did some good stuff together in 2014, you and me.  We used Twitter to communicate with the rest of the Arizona high school sports world, and through it we made friends throughout the state and maybe got on a few people’s nerves.  We did our first Takeover when we did the Red Out in Tempe; it was a great start for what I hope becomes a growing tradition.  The pregame get-together at Granny’s Closet was bigger than the year before.  The mother site is approaching 25,000 visits, and if the population of the Flagcoco Family is determined by Likes on Facebook, it currently sits at 1,239, which, if it were an actual town, would be a hair smaller than Fredonia or Tombstone.  We sat in the bleachers and watched basketball (boys and girls), baseball, and football together, and if I could ever show up at the right time, wrestling would have been on the list as well.  We gave out the second installment of the New Cromer Awards.  And we did it all while having fun.

Our picture vaults are literally bursting.  We’re right at two thousand images dedicated to celebrating the history and legacy of the best high school rivalry in Arizona.  325 of them concern the past twelve months.  Here are Flagcoco’s Top Ten images for 2014.

And he signed the helmet#10:  Wood and Woods.  It was complete serendipity that I ran into recent Coconino grad Mike Wood at the Flagstaff Mall this year.  I’ve made it a point to look for more opportunities to interact with people.  I knew of Mike from his time with the Panthers and the Hitmen, having posted pictures of him, and he knew of Flagcoco before I asked him to design my cap.  To further the small-worldliness of it all, Mike lived in Glendale before he moved to Flagstaff, and he went to Ironwood High with my niece, Haley French, and would have graduated with her.  Hope this isn’t the last we see of Mike.  Picture taken in selfie mode by Russell Woods.

The ladies had the best seats in the house#9:  Flagstaff Friends at Chase Field.  For the second straight year, the Panthers played Boulder Creek at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.  It was a terrific game that ended in a 15-all tie, a splendid time was had by all.  Old friends like the Walters and Alarcon families were there, I made new friends who I had seen through Facebook like Rona and Samantha White, and I finally got to shake Austin Herre’s hand, he won the first Bill Epperson Award.  This picture was taken just before the game, sitting behind Beth Langston and her mother, Barbara Ply, wife of Flagstaff Hall of Fame coach John Ply, both of whom have been very supportive of this project.  Picture taken by Russell Woods.

Semper Fidelis#8:  Private Chavez Comes Home.  One of the true thrills for me going to this year’s Rivalry Game was finally shaking hands with Cory Chavez, inaugural recipient of the John Ply Memorial Award.  He was on leave from the Marine Corps, and though we had chatted a few times on Facebook, we didn’t really know each other until I found him on the field at the Skydome just prior to the game.  I talked him into going up to the press box at halftime to be interviewed by Brady Pond and the Flag High Broadcast Crew, and I think everyone saw it for the special moment that it was.  Picture donated to Flagcoco by Cory Chavez.

Two of the Flagcocos biggest fans#7:  The Johns Boys.  The Johns family has been in Flagstaff for several generations.  It’s a name I came across frequently in my research, especially from the 1970’s as standouts for the Eagles and in the 90’s for the Panthers.  Meeting Carlton and Tauris in Phoenix meant a lot to me.  Carlton has become one of Flagcoco’s most vocal supporters and has donated memorabilia to the project.  Tauris was the more soft-spoken of the two, but both of them spent an evening with me, talking about Coconino’s glory days while our kids played X-Box together.  I hope to see them at more events.  Picture taken by Noah Kempf.

Thats me in the middle#6:  Photo Op at the Rec CenterI approached Danny Neal on Facebook, knowing he was on the board for the Flagstaff Sports Foundation, knowing Flagcoco and the Foundation shared common interests, and wanting to perhaps work together.  The page I started for their Hall of Fame on the mother site is the start of our relationship.  But the true spirit of any potential collaboration began with a conversation at the Rec Center with him, Tyrone Johnson, and me.  One of the best days ever being Mr. Flagcoco, and these two gentlemen really validated this project.  Picture taken by their lovely assistant.

A larger crowd than would have otherwise gone to a high school game in Tempe#5:  Red-Out in TempeThere were many old faces in the visitors’ stands at Tempe High as the Panthers took on the Buffaloes and their First-Team All-Division quarterback, Emmanuel Gant.  The score was lopsided, but what made the night special was seeing quite a few people I hadn’t seen in close to thirty years.  It’s proof that all Flagstaffites need to go to an event like this is an invitation.  It was our first Takeover event, hopefully the first of many.  Picture taken by Russell Woods.

Its not the Bill Epperson Award until Bill Epperson has his hands on it#4:  Breakfast with the Old Ball Coach.  I had shared emails with the venerable Bill Epperson, telling him about the award that bears his name, letting him know about who wins it.  To me, the award didn’t become truly special until I shook the man’s hand and showed him the perpetual plaque for it.  He, Noah and I shared a morning in Camp Verde, talking about coaching and teaching in Flagstaff.  He shared a few stories that may leak out when the time is right, stories about names you know well.  Photo taken by Noah Kempf.

It doesnt get better than this#3:  Playing Catch.  I really try to include my grandson, Noah, when I go on excursions for Flagcoco.  I took him with me to Flagstaff this summer, and among other things on our agenda, we went to the Langston house to sift through memorabilia.  While Beth and I were looking at dusty scrapbooks, her sons Michael and Daniel were treating Noah to a short introduction to the world of baseball, first on the sofa playing video games, then outside for a simple game of catch with a tennis ball.  This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?  My grandson playing catch with a player on Coconino varsity baseball.  There’s no point in doing this project if there aren’t moments of genuine joy, and this was one of them.  Photo taken by Russell Woods.

In case Gant or anyone else ever disputes this the ball is clearly out before the buzzer#2:  He Gets It To Go!  That was the call by KVNA’s Tee Gott as Trevor Johnson beats the buzzer.  With less than a second on the clock, Conner Estes launched his pass the length of the court to Johnson, who turned around and put it in as the horn went off, beating the Tempe Buffaloes, 64-62, and sending them to the Division II state championship game.  I will continue to say it, the only passer in the state better than Emmanuel Gant is Estes, and Gant should know, he was on the court, trying to get the referees to wave the shot off.  While Johnson’s teammates were dogpiling him on the court, I was there at Jobing.com Arena, shaking my grandson in elation, forcing him to drop his Reeses’ Pieces and making him cry.  Lots of Flag High fans in attendance, but the only sad one was Noah.  Picture taken from video by K.C. Hershey.

No description necessary#1:  Farewell to Bulldog.  The Panthers sent the indomitable David “Bulldog” Turner out in style in what would be his final game as a coach for Coconino.  He was honored during the Senior Night festivities, and throughout the evening he got handshakes and hugs from people he taught or coached or mentored.  Let this image be the one we all remember, him hoisting the City Championship Trophy in triumph, his Panthers—coaches and players alike—sharing the moment on behalf of the perhaps thousands of Flagstaff kids he influenced, including me.  Picture taken by Tracy Kuehl.


11-30-2014 1:01:21 AM PST

Sometimes history is a complete buzzkill. 

I know everyone is falling over themselves in congratulating the Chandler Wolves for winning the Division I state championship this year after an emphatic 28-7 beat-down over archrival Hamilton.  And they should.  This is a great team, led by a great quarterback in Bryce Perkins, with talent to spare on every side of the ball.  They beat Hamilton twice this year; prior to 2014, they’d beaten the Huskies just once.  The Wolves deserve any and all praise you have to heave at them.

Just understand the fact that this is their first legitimate state football title in school history.

Yeah, yeah, I know everyone is saying it’s their first since 1949.  Anyone who says that is wrong.  Completely wrong.  I know this because the AIA does not recognize any claim to any football championship prior to 1959.  Before that, there were no playoffs and no championship games.  Any claim to a championship is “mythical”.  You’re welcome to see for yourselves by clicking here, clicking Football Team Champs, and uploading the PDF file.

Eddie Jakle was the superstar for the 35 EaglesThis isn’t the first time I’ve had to burst this kind of bubble.  When the Flagstaff Eagles were jubilant over winning the 1981 state title, the Arizona Daily Sun declared it their first since 1935.  Again, wrong.  There is indeed a trophy the ’35 Eagles won, but it’s for winning the Northern Conference (a loose affiliation of high school teams from Northern Arizona that often included Flag High, Winslow, Prescott, Williams, Jerome, Snowflake, and others).  The Flag High teams of the mid-30’s were perhaps the best in the state; the ’35 team gave up only two touchdowns all year, while the ’34 edition gave up no points at all. 

The 1935 Northern Conference championship trophy is NOT a state title trophyThere was even talk about the Eagles taking on the best of the Phoenix area, possibly Phoenix Union or Mesa.  Such a game didn’t happen, in part because the game would have cut into football season and studying for finals, but mostly because the powers that be in Phoenix insisted Flag High play the game in Phoenix and pay for everything.  Eagle coach Rollin Wheeler and principal J.P. McVey considered it strong-arming by the Phoenix media, and they weren’t going to have it.  It’s a theme we continue to see today; we just roll our eyes and call it a Phoenix bias, we say the “Arizona media” believes nothing exists north of Anthem, but it’s something that goes back a long ways.

So there was no true state champion in 1935.  Flag High was content to be Northern Conference champions, and that was that.

There is a list on Steven Doten’s Arizona High School Index that includes all the “mythical” champions prior to 1959.  Indeed, Chandler is on that list, they did win some sort of title in 1949, but they shared it with Winslow.  While I don’t know the facts, I can assume it’s the same story:  Winslow won the Northern Conference, Chandler won whatever conference they were in, and each school probably will tell you they won the state championship that year, even though no governing body can verify it.

That’s the difference between an historian and a fan.  Fans will grasp onto anything that makes their side sound that much more awesome.  First championship since 1949 sounds more cool than first championship ever, which, in Chandler’s case, is a hundred years.  The historian becomes uncomfortable with the distortion and has to speak up.  The historian listens to a certain mantra being chanted and looks for the reality behind the hoopla; the fan merely chants and doesn’t really get past the groupthink.

I believe it was Voltaire who said, history is the lie we all agree upon.  While I know we’re not talking about wars or the destinies of nations, historical accuracy never loses its relevance.  It’s just a high school championship, why make such a big deal?  So the 1949 championship was “mythical”, so what?  It doesn’t change the fact that the Chandler Wolves won it in 2014, so why make so much fuss, Mr. Flagcoco?

I’m making so much fuss, Mr. Journalist, because it’s your job to get your facts right.  Just going along with the story the folks at Chandler High told you is not doing your job.  I know you’re not Woodward or Bernstein, this isn’t Watergate, but you’re still obligated to get the basic details correct.

I tweeted Richard Obert, who included the year 1949 in his headline.  I told him he was wrong.  His response:

Needless to say he didnt tweet again after I showed him proof





I told him it’s not on the AIA website.  Heck, he works for AZCentral / The Arizona Republic, even THEY don’t list the ’49 Chandler Wolves as champions.  If a journalist can’t even look up information on his own website, how can I not take it upon myself to correct him?

I can forgive Ralph Amsden for pushing the 1949 thing.  He runs C-Town Rivals, sort of like a Flagcoco in Chandler.  I can forgive him for perpetuating the myth, he’s up to his eyeballs in coaches and players and AD’s and principals telling him the legends of their given schools.  He has a relationship with all these schools, he’s not going to fact-check them.  He’s going to go along with the given narrative, neither knowing nor caring that it’s incorrect.  I got on his website and told him he was wrong, but I like the guy, I told him I would research the issue, because it’s one thing for me to make a point and have some pretty solid facts to present; it’s another for me to explore the other side of the argument and find out why the Chandler people believe the myth.

Bob Oberhardt always got it rightOne guy that did get it correct is statistician-extraordinaire Bob Oberhardt.  I have the 2011 edition of his “Eagles on the Mountain”, his Flag High record book.  He lists every season, making the careful distinction between the Northern Conference championships and the state titles.  He never makes the assumption that they’re one and the same.  Many people in Flagstaff were making the mistake of combining the two, they still do.  There is no single person who knows more about Flag High history than Oberhardt, no one bleeds Green and Brown quite like he does.  But there is also no one who genuinely loves the athletes, respects the traditions, and relishes the history like him, either. 

It is the classic tug-of-war between the head and the heart.  Reason versus passion.  The passionate among us want the story we all heard to be true; the reasonable among us sift through the story to find the kernel of truth.  The heart wants to make a link with those Wolves of yesteryear, and indeed, Chandler High invited surviving members of that 1949 team and honored them at a pep rally last week.  The head, however, realizes the intent, while well-meaning, is in error and needs to be corrected.

In no way am I trying to dummy down the accomplishments of the 2014 Chandler Wolves.  I’m just trying to put the event in its correct context.  They won the first state football championship in their school’s history.  That fact, in and of itself, should bring every alum to his feet with a tear in his eye.  There’s no need to alter it, it’s a thrill without embellishment.  Party on, Wolves.  You earned it.

Just know you don’t have to use the phrase “first in 65 years.”  “First ever” has a nice ring to it, too.

It’s also the historically accurate ring.


11-27-2014 5:49:53 PM PST

I think I need to explain something, if for no other reason, to make sure it’s straight in my own head.This is the earliest picture I could find of Bulldog as a pup freshman at Flag High 1961

I’ve followed the instructions on the Flagstaff Sports Foundation’s website (which is in dire need of an update) for nominating someone for their Hall of Fame.  I’ve printed out their forms and filled them out concerning David “Bulldog” Turner, and I mailed them to John Birkett, who, among other distinctions, is the president of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.  In about two weeks I’m going to start calling him and others, making sure they got the letter and they’re giving it the consideration it deserves.

In the meantime, I started an online petition.  I'm asking you to sign it, signifying your agreement with the statement that Turner exemplifies everything the Foundation stands for, and after forty years as a teacher/coach/mentor, he deserves a place in the Hall of Fame.

Turner playing varsity football for the Eagles and developing that 19 inch neckThere’s two reasons for the petition.  The first is simple:  the Foundation should understand that Turner is someone who has touched a great many people, including me, and if we show Birkett and the Board a large demonstration of support, how could they say no?

The other is more personal, and I want to unravel it with you.  The short of it is, I want it to be said that WE, the people of Flagstaff, the many of us who were touched by Turner, got him into the Hall.

This summer I added a page for the Foundation on Flagcoco.com.  It’s a list of all the inductees in the Hall of Fame.  It’s something I discovered when I first started the project.  I didn’t know Flagstaff had a Hall of Fame, and at the time I didn’t know why certain people were in it and some I thought were no-brainers weren’t.  I realized the Foundation and Flagcoco have certain common ground, you can read their mission statement and Flagcoco’s tagline about celebrating the best high school rivalry in Arizona and see there’s certainly overlap.  As such, I started making myself accessible to the Foundation, and they seemed very willing to invite me in.  Promoting their Hall of Fame ceremony and doing the page was the start.  This campaign for Turner’s induction is the next step.

Turner played right field for the Eagles his senior yearFlagcoco is largely about sports, so is the Foundation.  But there’s more to both.  There has to be more, or else both would be hollow.  Flagcoco is about the history of something I believe to be very precious to our hometown’s identity, and I feel it deserves exploration.  The Foundation also uses sports as its focus, but just as important, it’s about the community.  Its Hall of Fame has some of the city’s greatest athletes, but most, if not all, also contributed to the town in terms of personal example.  They gave back to the community.  They shaped out collective culture.  Whether it was pure athletic prowess (James Dugan), a lifetime of devotion to youth sports (Gilbert Corona), or bringing a new aspect to Flagstaff that could have gone elsewhere (Jerry Colangelo), they gave us all something.  They helped define what it is to be a Flagstaffite.

Turner is a prime example of everything the Foundation champions.  He deserves to be inducted.

But then again, so do many other people.  And families and teams, as the Foundation has honored in recent years.  The ’75 Flag High boys’ hoops team that won the Class AA state championship is in the Hall, as is the Zanzucchi family as a whole.

The mature Bulldog as an assistant at East Flag in 1983There are a lot of others who are deserving.  I asked myself, why aren’t they there?  Why isn’t the Gill family there, considering how many of them played football in Flagstaff, mostly at Flag High, and used their gridiron success to get into quality colleges?  Why isn’t David Winsley, at one time the all-time leading rusher in Arizona prep football history?  Why aren’t there similar campaigns like the one I’m doing for Turner, why don’t we see people talking about George Moate or Craig Holland or Eddie Campos, gentlemen who have devoted their adult lives to developing teenagers through athletics and education? 

Turner on the sidelines with Michael Young in 2004Maybe it’s because the Foundation needs people like you and me to go through the process, fill out the forms, and present our cases.  They can name anyone they want into their Hall, but on what merits would the committee have to do so?  It’s different when we set these things into action, it shows there is an organic need for these people to be recognized for their achievements because the genesis came from the community.  Such a thing should not be decided behind closed doors.  It should be more democratic.  Yes, the Foundation has the final say, but why would they honor anyone if no one even cares enough to fill out a form?

The petition puts an exclamation point on this thought.  I’m just the guy who set this in motion.  Someone else could have gotten off his duff and did the paperwork, it just happened to be me.  I want it to be said that WE, all of us who grew up on the East Side and were influenced by Turner on the field and in the classroom, got him into the Hall.  I want people to see his name in the Hall and know he got there, not because a few old men discussed the matter in some suite, but because his students and players were moved enough to make the effort to get him there.  I want Bulldog to know that this wasn’t done because of his resume, but because of his heart.  If this all works out, I hope to go to his induction and hand him a print-out of the petition and say to him, WE did this for you, Coach.  All I did, by way of Flagcoco, is present a means to this end.

Coach Turner in the rain in the summer of 2014 with a few minutes to spare for a former playerWe’re all in on this.  We will get this done.  We will all be there in that banquet hall when he receives his induction plaque, if not in person, then certainly in spirit.  The thousands of us he touched will be in that room.  The petition will be the tangible evidence.

So please, if you haven’t signed the petition, do so now.  Tell everyone you know who grew up in Flagstaff over the last four decades, anyone who went to Killip Elementary, anyone who played youth football in the late ‘70s, for the East Flag T-Birds in the 80’s or the Coconino Panthers from the 90’s up to 2014.  The goal is set for 300 signatures, but we’ve received over a third of that amount in less than a week, so let’s blow right past that as soon as we can and drive the total sky-high.Turner hoists the City Championship Trophy with the Panthers at his side

This year’s Rivalry Game was Bulldog’s last on the sidelines.  The Panthers sent him out in style, giving him a standing ovation during the Senior Night festivities, then beating the Eagles in true Bulldog fashion, with lots of hard-nosed running and tough-as-nails defense.  He was honored again during Coconino’s end-of-season banquet.  What we’re doing, this is from all of us, from all the years.  Let’s make this one count.  


09-15-2014 8:21:01 PM PST

The season starts for real this week.  The Panthers and the Eagles start the sectional part of their schedules this Friday.  Coconino hosts Mohave, Flag High plays in Prescott, and the slate is clean.  Everyone in Section IV is 0-0.

As far as I’m concerned, the section is wide open.

I mean this.  I’m not blowing smoke up your backside on this.  Section IV is up for grabs this year.

Sectional standings and the Division III Top 16 are always updated on Flagcoco’s home page.  After Week Three, only one of the seven teams in the section has a winning record.  That would be Prescott, and quite honestly, they caught Blue Ridge at the right time; had the legendary Paul Moro not decided to leave for Poston Butte, I’m guessing the Badgers wouldn’t have rolled them in Week One, 55-7.  Were it not for that, EVERY team in the section would be sporting losing records.

The story for all seven teams is generally the same.  For this scheduling block (last year and this year), every team took it on themselves to upgrade their Strengths of Schedule.  I think everyone got a good glimpse of Flag High’s dilemma in 2012; with a 6-2 record and ranked #16 going into their Week Nine matchup against Coconino (5-3 at the time), you would have thought their 16-6 win in the Rivalry Game would have solidified their position.  Think again.  Despite beating a sectional rival with a winning record, they slipped to #17.  They whooped up on Page in the finale, but they got little help elsewhere around the state, and they finished one spot out of the playoffs, #17, with an 8-2 record.

Every 7-3 team made the playoffs.

Flagstaff teams cant run through Tuba City as Cory Chavez does here in 2012 and expect kudos from the AIAEveryone blamed it on Flag High’s schedule.  While we’ve all come to believe it does more harm than good to beat up on Tuba City, the powers that be insisted the Flagstaff schools maintain a mostly Northern Arizona schedule for the sake of transportation considerations.  That meant that, as Division III schools, the Eagles and Panthers both played several games against D-IV teams, be they good (Winslow and Mingus) or bad (Chino Valley and Tuba City).  Both teams did well in 2012 (Coconino finished 6-4 and ranked #21), but in terms of state playoffs, the AIA turned their noses up on them.

That’s why every team in the section has scheduled themselves so brutally for this block.

We know about Flag High and Coconino.  Let’s look around the rest of the section. 

Mingus is 0-3.  Lost to D-IV powerhouse Snowflake (37-6), D-III powerhouse Cactus (41-14), and D-II powerhouse Paradise Valley (56-7).  They ought to fare better when they take on North at home this week, but we know Mingus is tougher than their winless start would indicate.  Instead, they’ve lost their three games by a combined score of 134-27. 

Kingman is 0-4.  The only game that’s been competitive has been against D-IV Parker.  They lost to Havasu by 33, to Goldwater by 39, and River Valley by 61.  That would be the same D-IV River Valley Dust Devils who just did lose to Blue Ridge in last year’s state championship game.

What’s up with Mohave?  They’re 1-3, their one win coming against D-III Sierra Linda, currently ranked #43 in a 48-team league.  Lost two games to D-II foes, lost to River Valley handily.

Austin Herre and the Panthers kept up with Bradshaw until the final minutesBradshaw Mountain won this section last year.  They’re 1-2.  Last season kicked off with a surprise win over D-II power Apollo.  This year, Apollo thumped them, 27-6.  They did beat Havasu, but then were destroyed at home against top-ranked Saguaro, 63-7.

And then there’s Prescott at 2-1.  Destroyed a Moro-less Blue Ridge, then got destroyed with equal potency by Desert Edge, 54-7.  They did beat Youngker last week, 56-3, but Youngker is 0-3, ranked 46th in D-III, and have lost their games by a combined score of 97-20.

So there are no world-beaters in Section IV.  None.  The MaxPreps rankings are meaningless, nothing is official until the AIA does their first power rankings on September 30, so seeing Prescott at #11 and Bradshaw at #14 can be taken with a smirk.

I believe the Panthers and Eagles have a fighting chance in this section, because every team in the section is struggling, every team sought to up their Strength of Schedule by playing, and every team’s record reflects this. 

Instead of lamenting on how Coconino and Flag High have fared so far this season, please understand that, despite what you’ve seen so far, it’s par for the course in Section IV.

I hope our Panthers and Eagles realize that, despite how the first three weeks have gone, they’re currently tied for first in the section.  Everyone is undefeated in Section IV, everyone has a fresh start.  Everyone, however, is going to suffer in the power rankings in the long run; sixteen teams make the playoffs, seven will be sectional champions, leaving nine at-large bids, and understanding there will be plenty of juggernauts like Williams Field, Queen Creek, Cactus, and others who will not win their sections and will gobble up those at-large bids, Section IV will be winner-take-all.  Coconino and Flag High have a fighting chance in this section.  I know it’s hard to just forget the first three games, but the season is just now getting interesting, and they have as good a chance of winning the section as any other team.


09-01-2014 8:59:27 PM PST

Here are my thoughts on the first week of the regular season and what’s to come in Week #2.

  • Exactly one year later, and we’re basically in the same place:  Flag High is 1-0 after beating Central in the Skydome, and Coconino is 0-1 after a loss to Havasu.  The journey to this point is more significant than the destination.  Two new coaches.  A Flag High team completely new due to graduation, injuries, and transfers.  A Panther team trying to jumpstart a school spirit renaissance.  This was a busy off-season, but no matter how much things change, they remain the same in the standings.
  • I understand a win is a win is a win, but Flag High showed how different this year will be from last year during the game against Central.  Last year the Eagles annihilated the Bobcats, 61-0.  They were merciless in every facet of the game.  This year, however, in large part due to inexperience, they allowed Central to stay in the game, and the Bobcats actually had a chance to win the game on the final play; they had the ball on about the Flag High 35 with four seconds remaining, their QB rolled left and heaved a Hail Mary to the goal line, and it fell incomplete.  The Eagles won, 21-18, and while they could exhale with a W in their pockets, it has to be understood that the narrow win has much more to do with the Eagles being incredibly green (pun unintended) than anything the Bobcats were doing.  While I wasn’t expecting the West Siders to duplicate the sort of massacre they enjoyed last season, I also wasn’t expecting the game to come down to the final play.  The Eagles were up 21-6 in the first half, were running at will, and sophomore QB Christian Singleton was proving himself competent.  There was no reason for this game to become so interesting at the end.
  • The reason why the Bobcats clawed (pun #2) back into it was because of two successful onside kicks to start the third quarter, both leading to successful drives and scores.  Losing both onside kicks was bad enough for the Eagles, so was giving up touchdowns that slimmed a 15-point lead to three, but by doing this, the Flag High offense remained on the sidelines.  Christian and the offense were off through halftime and a good chunk of the third quarter, which killed their momentum and synchronicity.  Remember in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, when the Niners and Ravens played, and how long Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense remained on the sidelines?  They sat through a long halftime, then Jacoby Jones ran back the third quarter kickoff for a touchdown, then the lights in the Superdome went out for a half hour, then the Niners went on a long drive?  How long was it in real time that Flacco was sitting around doing nothing, an hour or more?  And the Ravens went flat, watched their lead fritter away, and they damn near lost because their offense, after that long delay, was out of sync.  Same with the Eagles last night, and it nearly cost them.
  • A Havasu defender running back an interception for a TDThe Panthers committed three first-quarter turnovers, and Havasu converted them all into touchdowns, including a pick-six.  It was 19-zip before the Cats started to pull themselves out of their funk, and when they did, they had a decent second quarter, narrowing the score to 26-14 at one point.  We can blame first-game-jitters, we can blame the heat and the half-hour delay in the hope of starting the game when the sun went down, but it’s the same story on every level of the game, you can’t give away the ball to a good team and expect to compete. 
  • And yes, Havasu this year is good, having bombarded both Kingman and Coconino by a combined score of 106-33; they have a couple of the best linebackers in the state, and apparently they actually have an offense this year.  I don’t know if they’ll be able to compete with Centennial, Marcos de Niza, and the other big boys of Division II, but they certainly put the wood to their traditional rivals the first two weeks, didn’t they?
  • While Coconino head coach Jeremiah Smith may have temporarily ended the seemingly perpetual quarterback controversy last week by naming Cristo Tabares the starter, it may have been a pause instead of a solution.  Two interceptions and a fumble to start the game, all of them resulting in Havasu touchdowns.  I like Cristo, I want to see Coach Smith stick with him for the same of offensive continuity, and I certainly don’t want this year to be like last year when Coach Moate was going back and forth between him and Jess Kuehl, seemingly by the series.  I’m looking forward to watching the Panthers this season because their offense is supposed to be more open and dynamic.  But for Cristo to remain the starter and for the offense to gel around him, he can’t start another game like he did against Havasu.  I want Smith to stand behind Cristo and tell us all this is his guy.  If Cristo can’t do the job, he can’t do it, but I would at least like Smith to give him the chance to fully prove himself capable.  Neither Cristo nor Jess really got that chance last year, they were both looking over their shoulders, hoping to be effective enough to warrant another series; while I hope Cristo doesn’t feel like he has to constantly worry about mistakes leading to a benching, it’s on him to cut the mistakes and be the leader we all want him to be.
  • This is a screen shot of Singletons TD in the first quarter during the Skalooza broadcastI was impressed with the Skalooza broadcast of the game.  I opted to watch it instead of listen to KVNA, and I wasn’t let down.  My friend Brady Pond wasn’t there, but this year they enlisted a teacher, Mr. Young, to do commentary with the students.  I thank them for responding to my comments throughout the broadcast, and I appreciate seeing more people discovering the Skalooza feed, I think I saw 24 viewers at one time last night (I don’t think I ever saw more than 10 or 12 in any game last year).  Whoever did the camera, he did a terrific job of zeroing in on the action and keeping it in focus; I got several good screenshots, including Christian’s touchdown run.
  • I was on Twitter a good part of the night, and it seemed I was competing a little with my buddy at the Daily Sun, Cody Bashore.  He was at the Dome to do the FHS-Central game, and he was making use of social media, which is the first time I’ve ever seen a Daily Sun writer use Twitter at all.  While he was watching that game and tweeting on it, he was apparently getting news of the Coconino game through MaxPreps.  Me, I had my contributors texting me diligently, I had Skalooza, and I had the several writers I’ve come to know from Prescott and elsewhere tweeting updates.  That’s how I could tweet on not just the two games, but I could give scores from around the section.  A few times, he got his tweets out first, but I showed I could be just as quick on the draw.  This is Year Three for me doing this, I’m getting good at what I do when I’m holed up in my mancave.
  • Rutledge scored all five touchdowns in the win over Agua FriaFlag High plays the fifth-ranked Peoria Panthers this week in Peoria.  Last week they beat up Agua Fria, 34-10.  Last year the Eagles played them in the Skydome and lost, 35-7.  They’ve now won 11 regular season games in a row.  Their big-play guys are QB Anthony Guevara (#2), who was 11-of 16 passing for 197 yards and two touchdown strikes, and RB Akeem Rutledge (#5), who accounted for all five Peoria TDs (three on the ground, two on receptions), gaining 149 yards rushing and another 75 receiving along the way.
  • Coconino plays the #11 Tempe Buffaloes, fresh off their 49-41 shootout win over the Maricopa Rams.  The game will revolve around QB Emmanuel Gant (#10), whose been playing the position as a varsity starter since he was a freshman.  If Twitter is to believed, he was 24-of-33 for 374 yards and four TD throws last week.  Unlike many noteworthy quarterbacks to come through Arizona as of late, he’s not a notable runner, maybe running Gant is talented but the team has weaknessesthe ball just two or three times a game.  They did lose their runningback, Kam’rom Johnson, to Saguaro this year.  For as many points as they can rack up, they give up just as many; they’ve given up 97 points in their last two games (41 vs. Maricopa and 56 against Sabino in last year’s playoffs), and last year they gave up 70 to Washington (yes, that’s one of those stats that make me shake my head as well).  Last year the Buffaloes beat the Panthers at Cromer Stadium, 51-7.
  • The Red Out is still on schedule, and I will do what I can to promote it all this week.  I’ll be there early, my grandson and me, and I hope to see you all there as well.


08-28-2014 11:38:05 AM PST

Let’s do this season preview a little different this time around.  Let’s do this bullet-point style.  Here are nine things I learned on my trip last week to Flagstaff.

1.  I learned 5 & Diner does breakfast better than Galaxy Diner.  This is not a shameless plug for my place of business, but I have to say it.  I went to Galaxy Diner when I first got into town for a quick plate of something simple.  Hash browns, scrambled eggs, sourdough toast.  I have to tell you, I wasn’t terribly impressed.  Yeah, the décor is nice, and the whole reason I went there is because it was a Sambo’s when I was growing up.  Hash browns were old, scrambled eggs were yellow pebbles, the toast was weak, and what would take me about two minutes at my Diner to make took the cooks and wait staff about fifteen.  For as much as I would like to start ritualizing my trips up the mountain and go someplace a little less mundane than Denny’s, my search must continue.

2.  I learned the injury roles will be reversed for the teams this season.  Having survived the tick-borne illness from Camp Colton, the Panthers will be the ones at the starting line in better health.  Last year Coconino suffered a true epidemic of injuries, some nagging, others ending seasons, touching most of the starters and just about all of the seniors.  This year, it’s the Eagles who are suffering, already calling up players from JV to fill holes.  It’s a good thing Flag High starts against Central at the Skydome again this year; not that they would ever overlook an opponent, but the Eagles romped last year, 61-0, and there’s no reason to think the West Siders won’t use this game as a chance to rest up if they get ahead early.

3.  I learned Danny Neal is related to EVERYONE in FlagstaffNo exaggeration on my part.  Almost every name I dropped on him from growing up in Flagstaff, he’s his or her cousin.  Making friends with him and Tyrone Johnson at the Rec Center, in part because I’m hoping Flagcoco and the Flagstaff Sports Foundation can continue to work together, but mostly because Danny’s the sort of person I look for, someone with enthusiasm for the community, someone who has some great stories to tell, someone who loves Flagstaff’s kids and ultimately just wants them to succeed, no matter which high school they attend.  We’re all just kids from Flagstaff, I keep saying, and Danny and Tyrone get it.

4.  I learned mayors make many proclamations during high school sports events.  I had a few minutes before I was to meet with Eric Freas at Coconino, so I perused the trophy cases, as I tend to do when I have idle time at my alma mater.  I found two proclamation certificates in the cases, one from 1983 officially declaring the Panthers city champions after beating the Eagles, and one from 2001, acknowledging the Panthers’ girls volleyball team as Grand Canyon Region and 4A state champions.  This is information I can use.  See, I’ve written to Mayor Nabours about establishing the Rivalry Game Day as Eagle and Panther Day (and vice versa, depending on who won), and he likes the idea.  We just need to put it all together with a proclamation like this and make it happen.  Where does such an idea come from?  From a proclamation made in 1974. (See 1974 Game) 

If Bulldog Turner could stick it out through practice so could I5.  I was reminded that summer rains in Flagstaff are cold after standing in them for an hour.  I went to both practices on Thursday.  Thankfully, Cromer Stadium has a cover, but by the time I caught up with Coach Turner, I was drenched.  Froze my ass off, but that’s what happens when a Flagstaffite lives in Phoenix for twenty years, he can’t take the cold like he used to.  But it didn’t deter me from then moving over to Flag High, where there is no shelter from the elements.  Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Got to talk with my old friend Eric Olson, who seemed rather melancholy.  Was hoping my other old friend, Bob Oberhardt, would have been there as well.  The point is, Panthers and Eagles, I did come to your practice last week, I was the overweight guy in the gray shirt off to the side, freshly shaven head, shaking and freezing.

6.  I learned Cody Bashore is a good guy, but… I know his articles in the Daily Sun last week about the essence of the rivalry has had mixed reviews.  I also know Cody has been working hard to write for both the NAU and Flagstaff newspapers over the last year.  My hope for Cody is that he sticks around for awhile and gets to know our town before he decides to move on.  The rivalry is not about pointing out the subtle differences in demographics between sides of town; it’s about cultural history, understanding how the town grew over the decades, and listening to stories from folks whose families have been here and have made the city what it is.  What Flagstaff sports has needed for three decades is another Paul Sweitzer, an old codger of a columnist you can picture chatting with coaches over a cigar and a highball with an interview style that is more of reminiscent dialogue than strict Q&A; pretty much every other sportswriter since him has used Flagstaff as a stepping stone, using this beat to pad his resume before moving on.  That’s not saying Cody or any other writer shouldn’t maximize his potential and make the most of his career, but it is saying it doesn’t help the city or its high school athletes, and Flagstaff could sure use a writer who sticks around long enough to know the city.

Rusconi outwitted Finley and the Panthers nearly pulled off a huge upset7.  I learned how to stop Ryan Finley.  One of the things I’ve wanted to ask new Flag High head coach Robbie Rusconi is, how did he slow down the best quarterback in the state in 2012?  As the defensive coordinator for Coconino that year, the Panthers had held the third-ranked Paradise Valley Trojans to a single touchdown going into the final minute of play, Coconino was leading 13-7, and the makings of a huge upset were in the works at Cromer Stadium.  Finley pulled out another miracle, just as he had the previous week against Saguaro, but the fourteen points PV scored were by far the lowest they put up all season.  How did Rusconi do it?  Put eight Panthers back into coverage.  Finley went through his read progressions really fast and was getting the ball out of his hands within two seconds, which tells us there’s no point in trying to seriously rush him.  He would eat us alive if we tried to blitz.  If we were to pick our poison, it would be to have Finley throw into double and triple coverage all night instead of trying to rattle him in the backfield.  On the defensive side, the strategy certainly worked, and I give credit to Rusconi for concocting the game plan.  Had to wait in the rain for nearly an hour to ask him that question, but it was worth it.

8.  I was reminded that Coconino kids are class acts.  Last year, because Flag High was so senior heavy in several sports, I knew more kids playing over there than I did at Coconino, and several of those kids wrote to me on Facebook and we had some great conversations.  That’s flipped around, and the Coconino kids are the ones coming up to me this year to talk to me.  I’ve had several online conversations, but this year they’re now coming up to me in person.  When I was looking through the trophy cases at Coconino, Daniel Langston came up to me to say Hi and we visited for a few minutes.  Completely out of the blue.  Called me Mister Woods; no one has called me that since I was teaching years ago.  In the rain later, when I finally caught up to Bulldog Turner for a quick chat, Jess Kuehl did the same thing and introduced himself (I knew who he was already, but it was nice to watch him fight through the slight case of the shies and do it).  None of that should be seen as disparaging Flag High kids, it’s just saying the Coconino kids know me better this time around.  The difference this year is, they’re apparently comfortable enough with me to come up and say Hi in person.

9.  I’m learning Flagcoco matters to people.  Leading up to this season, there’s been more and more people coming up to me and telling me I’m doing something really great with Flagcoco.  While I appreciate the kind words, I don’t quite get it.  It’s hard to, being in Phoenix and doing this in my off-hours, devoting almost all my time to my family and job.  No one has given me a direct answer as to why they like Flagcoco so much.  I know folks like the concept and get where I’m going with it, and the fact that the schools work with me and community leaders swap emails with me and sit down with me for friendly conversations really mean a lot, but I still can’t wrap my head around the notion that they’re so willing to take me in, having not lived in Flagstaff since Ronald Reagan was president.  I want Flagcoco to be part of the community, I like exploring ways to have fun with the rivalry and get Flagstaffites to play along, but the question always popping into my head is, Why?  Why me?  Why this project?  Why hasn’t there been others doing this?  Why is there apparently a need for this?  Why am I welcome, and why do I feel more and more welcome every time I drive up the mountain?  Why does the name Penland still resonate here, even though the Penland clan scattered to the winds over two decades ago?  Why am I so drawn to doing this, to putting this whole thing together, to organizing awards and events, to making such an effort for no financial gain, and to doing it with so little time and money?  Eventually my answer to all those Why’s will be, stop sweating it, Russell, and enjoy it for what it is.  Until then, I’ll just remain bewildered.


08-20-2014 6:01:10 AM PST

The very first person I contacted concerning what would become Flagcoco was Randy Wilson, editor at the Daily Sun.  All I wanted was a results list, like the ones I always saw in the back of the Rivalry Game programs, the ones the Sun would publish every few years to catch everyone up on the series’ history.  For whatever reason, he said the Sun had no such list, but if I wanted to do research and create my own, I could find microfilm at the Arizona State Library. 

I thanked him for the terrific advice, but between that first email in December 2011 and today, I’ve been playing text tag with him and every other editor and writer at the Sun.  I’ve been writing to them and sending Letters to the Editor for years, mostly without response.  I got a hold of Bill Harris last year, but he left the paper before we could work together.  Had anyone asked, I would have been thrilled to cover the Rivalry Game for the Sun.  For free.

The writer who ended up covering the game at the last minute was Cody Bashore.  This week hHaving scoured the Internet this is the biggest picture I could find of Codye’s written a series on the rivalry, about how history and social influences have shaped the competition and animosity between the schools.  I’m generally scheduled to meet with him when I go up the mountain this week, my hope where he’s concerned is to finally cement a relationship between Flagcoco and the Sun.

On a personal level, I hope to meet him, because it seems there’s finally someone at the Sun who will write for the high schools on more than a superficial level.  He’s quickly learning the nuances between the schools, he’s establishing relationships with the administrations, and he seems to be taking a joy in the rivalry.  That’s the kind of writer we’ve needed for a long time, someone willing to dig a little, someone willing to analyze a concern instead of ignoring it.

One of the running themes of his articles is why Coconino is perpetually deemed #2 in town.  It’s something most folks in Pantherland have come to accept, not that the school or its teams actually are second-best in town, but that the local perception, especially through the local media, is that Flag High will always get better coverage, both in quantity and quality.  It’s something Bashore addresses, the notion that the Sun has always had this bias toward Flag High.  Having researched as I have, I can tell you that the Panthers haven’t had a truly fair share in coverage since Paul Sweitzer retired.  Sweitzer was quick to pick up on the very unique and precious nature of the rivalry, not just because it’s a classic crosstown rivalry, but because it was competitive from Day One.  To him, the Panthers were never second-rate.  They were the new kids on the block, they were the challenge to the Flag High establishment, and because of this, they was automatic contrast.  The schools had true sports identities even before they squared off for the first time on the waterlogged turf of the old Lumberjack Stadium in 1969.

And because of that, because they had identities, it wasn’t just a crosstown rivalry.  It was a sibling rivalry.  It was big brother versus kid brother, and damn if the younger didn’t give the older a heaping helping of comeuppance from time to time.  From the 60’s through the 80’s the teams fought for city, division, and state titles with the same verve as two cantankerous boys wrestling in the backyard.

That’s the rivalry I remember.

A lot has changed since I graduated from Coconino in 1987.  One thing that’s apparently changed is the obsession with neighborhoods.  Perhaps it’s always been like that, and maybe I just didn’t care so much about such things as a teenager, but there’s good and not-so-good neighborhoods in every city.  In my day, before Sinagua came along, the kids from Continental and Foxglenn went to Coconino.  People weren’t particularly complaining about one side of town having all the money, or one side of town being more “ghetto” than the other.  Each side of town has its more swank neighborhoods, and each side of town has its “projects”.  The only thing I see is Coconino being wedged between the hill and Sunnyside, which I thought would be counteracted by all the renovations made over the years.  Coconino isn’t a run-down, graffiti-riddled campus, it’s clean and modern, and in terms of sports, its facilities are as good as at any other school in the state.

While I consider the neighborhood discussion superficial, it doesn’t matter what I think, because I’m not raising a kid in Flagstaff.  Should I be fortunate enough to move the family up the mountain someday, I’d be honored to have Noah attend either school. 

And honestly, if you want to play this out, the “hood” in Flagstaff is NOTHING compared to here in Phoenix.  Sunnyside gangbangers wouldn’t last five minutes on the corner of Central and Southern.  People really think Coconino is “ghetto”?  Try walking around some of the campuses in Glendale or Maryvale.  In my visits to both schools in recent years, I haven’t noticed any real difference in terms of “ghetto”-ness between the two, they’re at the same level in terms of cleanliness and student attitude.  For those who really think a Flagstaff school is “ghetto”, it’s only a two-hour drive down here if you want me to show you the real thing.  Truly, there is no neighborhood in Flagstaff that worries me.  Didn’t as a kid, doesn’t now.  

Things that didn’t matter in 1987 apparently matter to people in 2014.  Growing up, we didn’t care what color you were or what neighborhood you came from.  We only cared if your Mom and Dad would let you play ball with us after school and on the weekends.  That’s it.  Didn’t know kids these days were in a position to sweat everything else.

Flagstaff is in a fishbowl.  It is its own universe.  A kid with a heightened level of athletic talent usually can’t just up and leave.  They pick one school or the other.  I know it’s not all that simple, you can go to Northland Prep if you have the grades and the money, or your family can pack up and leave the town altogether.  But by and large, everyone there is fixed.  Complaining about which side of the fishbowl is more “ghetto” seems silly, especially when you step back and notice the bowl is generally pretty clean compared to the bigger ones elsewhere.

But that’s what makes Flagstaff and its rivalry special.  It is its own fishbowl.  It isn’t particularly influenced by outside forces.  It is its own universe.  Everyone knows everyone else.  On given days, it’s brothers wrestling in the backyard.  But for the rest of the year, you pick on one of them, you’ll have to answer to the other as well.

I’ve used the phrase, “We’re all just kids from Flagstaff”, a lot in recent months.  I still see the town with teenage eyes because I was a teenager when I left.  Lots of us leave Flagstaff when we graduate and forge our own lives around the country, I’m one of them.  But we don’t leave because one side of town is more “ghetto” than the other.  We remember the city for what it was, and for me, someone who hasn’t been there for all the changes, it remains what it’s always been.  Aside from driving around and saying, hey, I remember there used to be a field where that store now is, what has really changed, except the brothers getting on in years? 

Maybe the only thing that’s changed is perception.

Flagstaff is regularly listed as one of the best cities in America to live in.  There are reasons for it, and one of them is because people there—unlike much of the country—value public education.  There’s a reason why every elementary school is named after a teacher.  There’s a reason why the high schools still look clean after decades of use.  It’s because people genuinely care.  Ultimately, that’s why the rivalry works, and that’s why Flagcoco has a small but loyal following.  People care about the city they live in and the schools their kids go to.  It’s not just about paying taxes.  It’s about being involved as a community.

The value in Bashore’s series for me, as someone who has lived in Phoenix for two decades, is it reveals some of the prevailing attitudes people hold, attitudes that weren’t there when Reagan was president, or maybe they were and I just didn’t care because I was a kid with my own set of dumb worries.  What was I worried about in the mid-80’s?  Well, my grades could have been better.  Was I playing sports well enough to keep my starting positions?  Did any of the many girls I developed crushes on like me back?  Will Mom and Dad please turn the music down at 2 in the morning?  Hope my car starts.  I certainly wasn’t worried about passing school bonds or property values or whether one school was more “ghetto” than the other.  Truly, even now, these things don’t really matter to me. 

Flagstaff, however, does not mirror the attitudes of a 45-year-old guy sitting in his mancave 130 miles away, loving his family, hating his job, and trying to get on with life as best as he can.  Flagstaff is its own fishbowl, its own band of brothers, and thus its own self.  It knows what it is, what it has become, and why it became that way.  That’s what Bashore’s articles do for me; they remind me that, though I’ve come back to this great community, it’s not the same dim teenage utopia I remember and would like to still be.  It’s similar, but time and circumstance have put creases and wrinkles under its eyes.  It’s still a great place to be, and the rivalry is still a great aspect of Flagstaff culture to behold, and you as a 45-year-old guy sitting in your mancave 130 miles away are more than welcome to find your niche within.  Just understand, Mr. Flagcoco, that Flagstaff didn’t stop growing and aging just because you left.  The city didn’t freeze in time, waiting for your return.  You’ve missed so very many important things over the years.  Catch up.


07-20-2014 7:09:12 PM PST

Lets talk some high school footballToday’s blog is about why you should be watching high school football and why it’s perhaps a better product than college or pro.  I know, we’re all addicted to the sport, many of us played it when we were younger, we all have our favorite teams, and those with the means to do so, we devote our Sundays to sitting in front of the TV, with or without our buddies, eating garbage our wives don’t let us eat the other six days of the week, screaming at the set in joy or anger.  Even better, we go to the stadium with 60,000 of our closest friends, tailgating four hours before the game, drinking overpriced beer.  The NFL and big-time college football are massive billion-dollar industries, and Americans just can’t get enough of it.

However, I’ve come to appreciate high school football and have put the other levels of the sport on the backburner.  I like them, and I pay general attention to them, but in terms of investing my time, my money, my energy, I’m more excited about the prep game, and I’m writing this to give you an idea as to why.

Why should you be watching high school football?

1.  BEST VALUE FOR YOUR SPORTS DOLLAR.  In a city like Phoenix, where you have pro and major collegeWorth every penny sports, going to a single game with the family can easily cost you a couple hundred bucks, more if you plan on buying food, beer, and maybe a T-shirt.  Another ten to park the car.  Shell out more if you don’t want to sit up in the cheap seats.  On the other hand, most high school games in Arizona, regardless of the sport, are usually five to eight bucks to get in, with your kids getting in free, and discounts if your children have Student ID’s.  Concessions are just a few bucks, it doesn’t cost you to park in the school parking lot, it doesn’t cost extra to sit in the front row, and the boosters don’t try to gouge you if you want to buy a megaphone or a ballcap.  Best of all, the money you shell out goes to the school, not to paying for millionaire athletes who really don’t care whether you watch or not.

Aint it the truth2.  LESS MELODRAMA, MORE ACTION.  Speaking of those millionaire athletes, haven’t pro sports become more of a soap opera than the clash of titans?  Tune into ESPN or local sports radio, and they’re talking about contracts and holdouts and arrests and drug testing, not performance on the field.  I realize it’s the age we live in; it’s social media and 24/7 news, so everything becomes overanalyzed and beaten to death.  Not so with high school football.  It’s about the kids, how they’re doing on the field and if their performance can get them a scholarship.  They’ve all been in the gym this summer, they’ve all been working on their grades to remain eligible, they’ve all gone to passing leagues and camps, so for ten to fifteen Friday nights this fall, they can compete at their highest levels.  Isn’t that why you watch sports, to root for kids who work their tails off to make themselves the best they can be?

Theres no place like home3.  CLOSER TO HOME.  Pro athletes don’t care too much about where they play, so long as they get paid.  They hold little allegiance to the cities they play in, knowing it’s a business, they need to make their money and maximize their opportunities.  They’re always on the trading block.  They’re always playing for the next contract.  A high school athlete, however, is playing for himself, for the school and the neighborhood he grew up in.  He’s playing for his teammates, often times the same teammates he’s had since youth league.  You’ve watched them grow up, you know their parents.  They’re products of the community. 

Just an excuse to pluf Doug and Wolf in the mornings on KTAR 6204.  STAYING WITHIN THE LAWS OF PHYSICS.  There are a few players out there with the God-given talent to go to big-time college or even the pros, but for the most part, high school athletes aren’t so big and going so fast that they overwhelm themselves or others.  That’s not to say a runningback won’t try to cut back so hard that he blows out his ACL or that a middle linebacker isn’t going to give him a concussion when he hits him high.  But I am saying a 17-year-old playing high school football is more likely to stay within the realm of physical common sense than a 24-year-old playing the game, as Ron Wolfley puts it, at the highest level our species can produce.  Professional athletes on that level simply aren’t realistic.  They play at a level their bodies can’t handle, which is why they’re more prone to serious injuries.  A player who gets a couple of concussions playing football at the age of 18 may or may not later suffer the sort of dementia and brain damage we’re now seeing from NFL players who played four years of high school ball, four years in college, and anywhere from one to twenty years pro, but it seems less likely that two or three as a teenager would have the same effect as dozens over the course of a decade or two.  I have several reasons for not enjoying NFL football on Sundays, but the concussion issue is one of the biggest, knowing the players we enjoy watching may be cutting years off their lives for our amusement, knowing they’re gambling with their brains and their minds for the sake of a few bucks and momentary glory.  Human anatomy simply was not created for this kind of abuse, and yet we all love the sport because it’s a physical, strategic game.  As such, at this point in my life, I’d rather watch high school kids—most of whom are playing their last years of organized ball and will go on to be productive adults without serious lingering injuries—than gladiators/mercenaries playing for avarice and fame today in exchange for pain, misery, and perhaps worse tomorrow.

I’m not asking you to agree or disagree with the statement that the guy who does Flagcoco prefers watching high school football to that of big-time college or pro.  I’m just offering some food for thought.  I’d be delighted if you all came out to the bleachers with me to root for the Eagles and the Panthers.  I just wanted you to know a few reasons why you’ll see me there.


06-29-2014 12:04:35 AM PST

I’m convinced, having watched prep sports in the Phoenix area for a few years now, that if the Flagstaff Phoenicians were organized and motivated, we could fill a high school football stadium.

This year, I want to find out if they can be organized and motivated to do such a thing, at least once or twice a year.

Concerning Arizona high school football, I’ll be honest.  Unless your team is always in the playoffs and competing for the state title year in and year out, your bleachers aren’t going to be full.  For all the things you can be doing on a Friday night, watching middle-of-the-road prep football may not be on the top of most people’s lists.  It’s not like that everywhere in the country, but in Phoenix, it is.

It sure wasn’t like that in Flagstaff in the 1970s and 1980s.  Anyone who went to a Rivalry Game at that time knows what I mean.

There are a lot of reasons for this, and we could discuss them if we were to dissect the issue and analyze it in detail.  Part of the problem is, when a student graduates from high school, he moves on with his life to college, the military, the work force, what have you.  They don’t stay around their neighborhood their whole lives.  They move across town or across the country.  They associate with their college alma maters, especially if they went to large universities with football programs always on ESPN, because they’re easier to keep track of, they’re on TV, and most people who know sports can discuss them.  If not, they pick an NFL team to root for and leave it at that.

But in a way, this actually works to the advantage of the Eagles and Panthers, or at least it could.  Where do many Flag High and Coconino graduates end up by the time they’ve got their degrees and launched their careers?  That’s right.  Phoenix and vicinity. 

Checking Flagcoco’s Facebook stats quickly, as of June 28, we’re sitting at just under a thousand Likes (990 to be exact).  No surprise, 600 of those Likes are from people currently living in Flagstaff.  But the next city on that list is Phoenix with 78.  Then it’s Scottsdale with 13.  Gilbert, 13.  Skipping over Tucson, next is Chandler with 11.  Tempe, 10.  To add up everyone in the Phoenix metropolitan area, we’re sitting at 169 Likes for Flagcoco.  And that’s just a sliver of the actual amount of Flagstaff Phoenicians out there to tap into.

That’s why I believe, just one or two nights a year, if we were to schedule an event for each school to attend here in the Phoenix area, and we got the word out and made it something Flagstaff Phoenicians would want to go to, we could pack the visitors’ stands at any high school stadium or any gymnasium during basketball season.

Why do I believe people who haven’t watched a high school football game since they were teenagers would want to do this?  Every person is different, but here are a few reasons:

--Because they still have school spirit and haven’t had a chance to exercise it.  All they need is an invitation.

--Because, if events like this are successful, they may run into someone they haven’t seen in years.  If you don’t go to reunions but still want to perhaps get together with an old friend, this might be a cheaper, less formal way to do it.

--For the most basic of reasons, because they can.  I think the spectacle of taking over a stadium, for just one night a year, might be something of interest.  Understanding that, when the Panthers and Eagles play down here, the visitors stands are either sparsely populated by parents who made the trip down the mountain or completely empty, they might enjoy such an attempt to surprise a local team by packing it with Flagstaff folk and seizing their home court advantage from them.

--Because the current generation of Eagles and Panthers, just once in a great while, could use a boost.  I think it would do the kids a great deal of good, when they come down here to play, to look up in the visitors’ stands, see them packed, and know there’s a lot of people in Phoenix who care about them.  It may inspire them to play harder and better. 

Senior Emmanuel Gant will go into this season as one of the top QB prospects in the stateI’m waiting for the AIA to post the official schedule, but I’m tentatively planning the first such event for September 5, 2014.  That’s when the Panthers come down here to play the Tempe Buffaloes.  It’s the Friday after Labor Day, so everyone is in town, at work and at school.  Tempe High is semi-centrally located in the Valley, so unless you live out in Avondale or Surprise, making the trip shouldn’t be too difficult.  Tempe is also a contender; they finished last year ranked #10 and lost to Sabino in the first round of the playoffs, and they have a once-in-a-generation quarterback in Emmanuel Gant. Its been four months and Im STILL not tired of watching this shot The last time Flagcoco saw Gant was at Jobing.com Arena, trying to get the officials to wave off the miracle buzzer beater Trevor Johnson hit to send Flag High to the championship game.

Tempe also beat Coconino last year at Cromer Stadium, 51-7.  Something tells me Gant and the Buffaloes will be looking past the Panthers, which means this will be a great game for us to attend.  With a healthy Panther team with a new coach and a new attitude, perhaps if they see the bleachers behind them packed with Coconino red, rooting for them and perhaps even outnumbering the home crowd, they’ll have an occasion to rise to.  This is a game, win or lose, that could positively propel the Panthers for the rest of the season.

If nothing else, fellow Panthers, Bulldog Turner will be on the sidelines at least one more season.  It’s got to be worth six bucks a head to go to Tempe to watch him strut along the sidelines one more time and remember when he was your coach.

Maybe it’s just fantasy on my part, but I’m telling you, there are enough Flagstaff folks here in the Valley of the Sun to lead me to believe that, were we to get together and meet at such a venue to root for the Eagles or Panthers, we would take over.

When you see this panther youll knowAs soon as the AIA finalizes the schedule, Flagcoco will launch its GET THE RED OUT campaign to get as many Flagstaff Phoenicians—no matter what high school they went to—to come.  On my part, I’ll try to make it worth your time to come.  On Coconino’s part, whether you come or not, they’re going to play their hearts out against a contender.

Something to think about when you’re considering what to do on a Friday night.


06-16-2014 8:01:58 PM PST

Est 1969TO:                     The Flagstaff Sports Foundation

FROM:                Russell Woods, c/o Flagcoco

RE:                     Greetings and 2014 Agenda

June 16, 2014

To the board members of the Flagstaff Sports Foundation, Greetings.

Audie McKee passes over Ray Short in the Battle of the Unbeatens in 1983My name is Russell Woods, and I started the Flagcoco project to celebrate the best high school rivalry in Arizona.  I started this in the days following the 2011 Rivalry Game, simply asking the editors of the Arizona Daily Sun for a list of scores for the whole series, going back to its start.  They said they had no such list, but if I wanted to create my own list, I could go to the Arizona State Library here in Phoenix and do my own research.  Truly, if they had emailed me the list, I would have said Thank You, and Flagcoco wouldn’t have taken off as it has.

From the research came a list, and from the list came a website, Flagcoco.com, and its accompanying Facebook page (as of this writing, it is approaching a thousand Likes).  The project has the blessing of both Flagstaff and Coconino High School administrations; Flag High Principal Tony Cullen has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project, while Stacie Zanzucchi and Eric Freas have both lent their support to this from the Coconino side.  I talk with them several times a year to discuss ways Flagcoco can be of service to them to celebrate the rivalry.  Last year, before the school year, I brought up the idea of reviving the Cromer Awards, which we were able to give to the Outstanding Panther and Eagle of the Rivalry Game before the teams left the field.  I plan to have similar discussions with them in August for what we can do this year to make the Rivalry Game special.

Cory Chavez and Austin Herre won the first Cromer Awards given out since 1976I grew up in Flagstaff in the 1970’s and 80’s.  I vividly remember the big football games in the Skydome, how packed it was for the Rivalry Game.  As a senior at Coconino, I played varsity football and remember the feeling of being on the field while a good portion of the city showed to watch the game.  While I realize Flagstaff has changed over the years, the Eagles and Panthers continued to play, even when journalists pronounced the rivalry dead and the city football championship became a three-week ordeal instead of a winner-take-all affair.  It has endured.  Through the championship years and the winless seasons, they still play the game.

Flagcoco.com is primarily a football website, and the central event of the Flagcoco year is the Rivalry Game.  I believe, if you treat a game as if it were the Super Bowl, it will be the Super Bowl.  When I was growing up, to a large extent, the Rivalry Game was indeed treated this way.  The Daily Sun would write articles and interview players and coaches all week before the game.  The Skydome seated 14,000, and it was always packed.  The bands were playing their hearts out, the cheerleaders were cheering in full force, and all of Flagstaff was involved. 

I know you can’t turn back time, but you can rediscover something that’s precious and unique.  We may never again see the day when the Skydome is filled again for the Rivalry Game, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cherish it for what it was and what it is.

Its been forty years since the Coconino Kid ran the show for the PanthersThere are several items I wish to do this year through Flagcoco to celebrate the rivalry.  The New Cromer Awards will be an annual event, they were established last year and will continue as long as the schools are interested in it.  Aside from that, I have the following list:

You may as well have called in Winsley High in the mid 1980s1.  Celebrating Past Champions.  2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the last Coconino varsity football team to win the state championship.  It’s also the 30th anniversary for Flag High.  I was hoping to use the Rivalry Game in a way that honors these teams.  I suggested this to Cullen and Freas, they seemed to like the concept, but we hadn’t had a real brainstorming session for it.  The best idea I have for this is to have honorary captains, players from the championship teams, to be with the current teams on the sidelines and out for the coin toss.  The first names that jumped into my mind are probably the first names that jumped into yours:  Ray Smith and David Winsley.  I’ve written to both gentlemen on this matter to gauge their interest, and I am awaiting their replies.

Flagcoco has been a hub for many transplants around the country especially in Phoenix2.  Engaging Flagstaff Phoenicians.  I live in Phoenix, and so long as work will allow, I try to attend Flag High and Coconino games in the Phoenix metro area as often as I can.  Since so many Flagstaffites moved here since graduation, there are plenty who follow the Eagles and Panthers through Flagcoco.  I went to the state basketball tournament this year and sat with the Flagstaff faithful, and it seemed to me that Flagcoco could be an instrument for sparking interest among Flagstaff transplants.  I make announcements on the Facebook page as to when the teams of various sports will be in the Valley, and as I said, I attend when I can.  I hope to encourage others to do the same.  I’ve seen enough high school sports in Phoenix to know that, were the Flagstaff Phoenicians motivated to do so, we would be able to draw sizable crowds to these events.  There will always be parents and others traveling down the mountain to watch, but I believe it possible, for a few games a year, to get those living down here to go to them as well.  Should that ever happen, it would be a sight to behold.  It would be a rooting force unmatched anywhere in Arizona.

This is how important the Rivalry Game was to Flagstaff in the 1970s3.  Eagle and Panther Day.  In 1974, Mayor William Erwin declared Saturday, November 16, 1974, to be Eagle and Panther Day, to celebrate the Rivalry Game and that the two teams were competing for the AA North title.  I’ve written to Mayor Jerry Nabours about reviving that sentiment, permanently making the day of the big game Eagle and Panther Day.  He liked the idea and is on board to write a proclamation, we just need to work out the details, including the stipulation that the winner of the game gets its name first for the next year, i.e. if the Panthers win this year, next year it will be named Panther and Eagle Day.

There are other smaller items I will be working on.  Flagcoco is a never-ending project, and I enjoy doing research and writing and inventing new little things to do.  I’ll continue adding pages to Flagcoco.com and putting up pictures as they come to me, either through the media or through donations.  The afternoon of the Rivalry Game, I plan to have a small get-together at Granny’s Closet, we had it there last year and I’m hoping to make it a tradition.  Next year I’ll put together another agenda. 

I approached Danny Neal the other day concerning the Flagstaff Sports Foundation because I feel your organization and Flagcoco share common ground.  Under his encouragement, I’m writing this for your benefit.  Usually, about this time of year, I’m looking for anything concerning your annual induction ceremony for your Hall of Fame, eagerly awaiting an announcement on who is being inducted.  In this way, I’m somewhat familiar with your work.  I’m hoping I can get the board to take a look at Flagcoco, see what it’s about, and offer me direction on where to go from here.  I also look forward to meeting you all sometime in the near future and possibly working with you on some venture.  Mind you, Flagcoco has no budget, but I’ve learned money takes care of itself when you have people motivated to get something accomplished.

Last month I showed Bill Epperson the plaque for the award that bears his nameWhat started as a football hobby has become a year-round project.  What began with just one person in his mancave doing research has gained recognition from both schools, their administrations and their alumni.  I hope it continues to grow, but more than that, I hope to see this through to its ultimate goal:  to see the Dome filled again for the Rivalry Game.  At the end of the day, this project is about getting Flagstaff to rediscover this event. 

I look forward to hearing back from you and potentially working with you.  Until then, may God Bless you and those you love.


Russell Woods

c/o Flagcoco

Coconino High School, Class of 1987

URL:  http://flagcoco.com

FACEBOOK:  http://facebook.com/flagcoco

TWITTER:  @flagcoco

EMAIL:  flagcoco69@gmail.com


06-06-2014 8:07:35 PM PST

The Cromer Awards are now a permanent part of the Rivalry Game and hopefully always will beThe plaques for the New Cromer Awards are at the schools.  The awards are now, hopefully, a permanent fixture in the Rivalry Game scheme.  Now we don’t have to talk anymore about how we’re going to get this thing up and running, it’s there; we just have to decide how we’re going to celebrate them on a year-to-year basis.

One thing you’ll notice right off the bat when you look at the plaques is, there were no winners between 1976 (Danny Cox and Willard Reaves won them that year) and 2013 (Cory Chavez and Austin Herre).  That’s because, to the best of my knowledge, the original set were given between ’71 and ’76, and no one has said anything to prove it false.  Even Bill Epperson himself, when I met him last week and showed him the plaque that bears his name, didn’t note any errors on my part.Chavez and Herre battle in Rivalry Game XLV

There is a desire to speculate as to who would have won the awards in the years in between.  There were so many great games and great performances, it’s a shame these awards weren’t around.  Of the 45 games in the series, only seven have honored the Outstanding Panther and Eagle. 

Of course, some performances may seem to be no-brainers.  Is there any way Ceaser Polk could have run for 260 yards and six touchdowns in 1991 and NOT won the Flag High half of the award?  You know some of the names; David Winsley, Stan Gill, Audie McKee, Corrin Johns, they had such superlative games that the awards would have been handed to them with little question.

Polk ran amok against the Panthers and amassed 466 yards in two Rivalry GamesFor me, there are three reasons to vote for a given player:

1.  Outstanding athletic performance throughout the game

2.  Making the singular play that determined the outcome

3.  Outstanding sportsmanship

UsiDiaz damn near pulled off the miracle all by himselfng those three criteria, here are a few players I would have voted for over the years.  Some of them might not seem so obvious, but you’re more than welcome to come up with a list of your own.

CARLOS DIAZ (Flag High, 1970):  The Panthers were leading 13-0 with about six minutes left in the game when Diaz took over and nearly pulled out a miracle.  With his arm and his legs, he led the Eagles to two quick scores to suddenly cut the lead to 13-12.  His Hills was dominant on both sides of the ballapparent game-winning touchdown was called back on a penalty, which led to a winner-take-all field goal attempt on the final play of the game.  His kick sailed wide as the gun went off, but it was clear, Diaz almost single-handedly willed the Eagles to victory.

LOREN HILLS (Coconino, 1978):  The Panthers built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and then held on for dear life to win.  Hills contributed with two TD receptions and two interceptions.

Shorty gets credit for making huge plays on defense and blocking for a 2000 yard runningbackMICOLE SHORTY (Flag High, 1981):  The Eagles ran for 211 yards behind his blocking, and his second-quarter interception set up Flag High’s first touchdown in a 14-3 win.

PHILLIP MILLER (Coconino, 1983):  McKee passed for 354 yards in this game, but 230 of it went to Miller.  Over the course of the season, Miller developed into a true deep threat and won All-Miller emerged from the Rivalry Game as a bona fide deep threatConference honors.  I am, of course, a little biased on this, as he was a sort of big brother to me growing up, but in a series without many breakaway wide receivers, you tend to notice them when they come.

DAWSON GOFOURTH (Flag High, 1985):  It’s hard to vote for anyone other than Winsley when Winsley’s on the field.  This time around, the Panthers had Arizona’s all-time leading rusher bottled up, allowing just 96 yards and one score.  GGofourth had ice in his veins as he drilled the game winner in 1985oing into the final half-minute, with the score tied at 7-7 and playoff positioning on the line, Gofourth stepped up for a 33-yard field goal and nailed it, ripping the heart out of every Panther fan.

Jenkins made huge plays in all three phases of the game in 86BRAD JENKINS (Coconino, 1986):  Eric Olson ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns, but it was Jenkins who had the best all-around game for the Panthers.  He took a Jon Shereck pass 54 yards for the game’s first score.  On defense, his interception in the third quarter killed Flag High’s momentum as the Eagles were trying to get back in the game.  And on special teams, he put the nail in the coffin as he returned a punt 43 yards to the Eagles 6, setting up Olson’s third score with about five minutes left.

Pup Gill takes a well deserved breatherPUP GILL (Flag High, 1987):  Pup was the fifth Gill brother in fourteen years to play tailback for the Eagles, and while the others gave us many great memories against Coconino, perhaps none was better than the last.  In 1987, Pup ran for 210 yards.  Robert Allsup finished two drives with short touchdowns, but it was Gill who set everything up.

CARLETON JOHNS (Coconino, 1996):  The Johns family has had more than its share of great Rivalry Game moments.  Tauris scored the winning touchdown for the Carleton Johns takes a knee after his electrifying 71 yard runPanthers in ’93 with less than two minutes left.  Corrin had two of the most breathtaking performances in the series in 1999 and 2000, rushing for over 350 yards in those two games and taking an opening kickoff 95 yards for a score.  But Carleton would have had my vote for Coconino in ’96 for his 144 yards, 71 coming on one run off right tackle that ended in a TD.

McCain made the most of his four receptionsERIC MCCAIN (Coconino, 2003):  McCain only caught four passes tonight, but it was what he did with the ball that mattered, as he amassed 134 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns as the Panthers held off the Eagles, 28-21. His efforts secured a playoff berth for Coconino.

KAINE KENNEDY (Flag High, 2011):  Luke Daulton had run all over the Eagles’ defense to the tune of 203 yards, but with just a minute left, Coconino had the ball and was nursing a 14-7 lead; the Panthers ultimately committed six turnovers, and the Flag High D bent but didn’t break.  As if the finger of Fate touched the Skydome turf, the Panthers fumbled again, the ball ended up in Kennedy’s hands, and he ran like a bat out of hell, finally getting caught at the Coconino 2.  The offense converted the play into a touchdown and two-Kennedy rumbles down the field with a bevy of Panthers in hot pursuitpoint conversion, and the Eagles completed the miracle, but it was Kennedy being Johnny-on-the-Spot that made it happen.

This was by no means a list of the greatest performances in Rivalry history.  It’s just ten players I would have voted for, were we doing these awards all along.  I invite and encourage you to do the same.  Had the Cromer Awards been given out all along, who would you have voted for?


04-11-2014 3:51:23 PM PST

Good evening, Flagstaffites.  It’s April, and I’ve got good reason to talk some high school football with you.  2014 will be a little different, we’re not going to have Eddie Campos and George Moate leading our teams.  New coaches and new attitudes, that’s what we’re watching for this coming season.

Smith guided the Hitmen to a 4 and 6 record in Arizona Football League action and the North Division title but ended ninth in the power rankings and out of the playoffsWe’ve known for sometime that Jeremiah Smith is going to take the helm at Coconino.  We’ve known that since right after the Rivalry Game, when Coach Moate stepped down and Smith was quickly inserted.  It was a great move for the Panthers; Smith lives and breathes coaching football, has worked in both the Flag High and Coconino systems for years (he was the Eagles’ head coach in ’08 and ’09), and has coached the Flagstaff Hitmen in the spring.  A little more offensive-minded, we should see more creativity on that side of the ball than we’ve seen in recent years.

What we haven’t known, however, is who’s taking over at Flag High.  After Campos’ sudden departure, rumors filled the void all winter.  The primary name in this was Rudy Baca, he had been coaching various sports at FHS for years and was well-liked by the players.  From what I understand, he considered the possibility for a short time, but ultimately turned it down; he’s retiring at the end of this year and has family—including grandchildren—in the Prescott area with whom he’d like to spend some time.

So who’s it going to be?

It’s Rob Rusconi.

The first question I asked is the same first question you asked.  Who’s Rob Rusconi?

I met Rusconi once, just a quick handshake at the ’12 Rivalry Game.  He was on Moate’s staff, their defensive coordinator.

Why does that sentence matter?  It matters on two key levels.

Rusconi wore red in 2012 and will wear green in 14One, it matters because Rusconi is a Flagstaff guy.  Another of those rumors was that coaches outside the community were being considered.  Flag High tried that last decade with Erik Affholter and failed miserably.  Unless a coach with a great resume just plopped into their laps, it behooves the Eagles and the Panthers to find coaches from the area, to keep it “in the family” as it were.  To land an up-and-coming coach from, say, Phoenix, would end the same way the Affholter debacle did, because he would see our town as nothing but a stepping stone, stay a year or two to pad his resume, do little to create his own persona and his team’s identity, get to know the community on a superficial level only, and suddenly he’d be gone, the program returned to a state of mediocrity, and the athletes the worst off for the experience.

Rusconi graduated from Sinagua in 2003.  He played under Campos and was a standout on offense and especially defense.  He said this about Campos when he retired from Sinagua:  “Coach Campos was a great coach and taught us all a lot about football, which led us to the success we had on the field… He helped us to become better people, a lot more than he did better football players… I wouldn't take back the years that I played for him for anything."  Not that it means any of Campos’s coaching philosophies have rubbed off on Rusconi and this is a natural continuation of what Campos installed at Flag High over the last three seasons (four if you include 2010, where he was “co-coaching” with Kevin Kortsen), but hopefully it means Rusconi brings to the job a sense of respect for what Campos put together, a sense of humility for ultimately replacing his former coach and mentor.

And two, Rusconi is a defensive guy.  I believe he made the All-City team in ’02 as a linebacker or defensive back, someone will correct me if I’m wrong.  He coached Moate’s defense in ’12.  This is what he does.

Not only is it what he is, it’s that which he excels.   Let me tell you something about that 2012 Panther defense.  In ten games, they gave up just 121 points; in an era where spread offenses dominate and more and more quarterbacks are taking over and leaving the running game behind, the ’12 Panthers lived and died by their D, ending the year with a 6-4 record and talk of the playoffs for most of the season.  Take away the nightmare in Winslow, a cold night everyone would like to forget in which the Bulldogs took advantage of every Coconino miscue to the tune of a 42-14 pasting, and they only gave up 79 points in nine games.  They were competitive in every game except at Winslow.

Four of those were shutouts.

Finley was first team QB on the Arizona Republic All Arizona Team The defensive highlight for that season was in Week Two, when the great Ryan Finley and the Paradise Valley Trojans came to Cromer Stadium.  The year before, PV trounced the Panthers in Phoenix, 55-15.  In the ’12 opener, Finley stunned the defending-champion Saguaro Sabercats as he threw a fade pattern to Jordan Brown to put the Trojans up, 32-29, with a single second left on the clock.  Between that game and the Coconino game, the Trojans were ranked #3 in Division III, and Finley was crowned the best quarterback in the state.

So what did Coconino do?

Damian Alarcon sets the offense against Paradise Valley in 2012They held the Trojans to a single touchdown going into the final seconds of the game.  I was at the Saguaro game, I wasn’t at the Coconino game, but I’m guessing the magical play was the same, a fade from Finley to Brown, this time on fourth down, but with about the same amount of time left on the clock.  Coconino lost, 14-13.  That fourteen points, though, was the Trojans’ lowest total of the season.  Including the playoffs, they scored 412 points in eleven games, over 37 points a game.

Yes, that game will always impress me.  That’s what Coconino football has traditionally been.  Some of the best defense in Arizona.

In my opinion, you have to give Rusconi the credit as defensive coordinator for that sort of effort.

So what does this mean for Flagstaff football?

If the teams immediately begin to reflect the personalities of their coaches, Coconino should be more open offensively, and Flag High should be much more defense-oriented.

The impact Campos had on the Eagles program was far greater than his 16 and 14 record would indicateOn a personal note, I’m sad to see Moate and Campos move on, but it’s time.  They had already been coaching for years by the time they were my coaches in the early 80’s.  I was fortunate to start Flagcoco when I did, with two coaches I knew and respected.  I wish both men nothing but the best.  There are literally thousands of men, from 17 to 50, who grew up in Flagstaff during their days on the sidelines and were influenced by them.  I was blessed to call them both Coach as a teenager and as a middle-aged man.

I’ve met both Smith and Rusconi briefly, in passing.  I respect both men as coaches who get what Flagstaff is about.  They’ll get the job done.  For Smith, after last year’s 1-9 record, there’s nowhere to go but up, but he’s been working on this since the end of last year, he’s going to have the Panthers ready for battle.  As for Rusconi, he’s succeeding his mentor, and he will have the Eagles playing tough defense.

Moate was not only the most affable man in Flagstaff he was one of the first to appreciate FlagcocoPeople keep telling me how Flagcoco has already grown, how they appreciate the effort made to talk up high school sports in Flagstaff, and how they like where this project is going.  The first two years were relatively easy, having Moate and Campos at the helm.  Now, Flagcoco is working without a safety net.  Instead of relying on past relationships, I have to forge new ones with new coaches.  It’s something I should become accustomed with if I want Flagcoco to endure.  It’s a challenge I look forward to, and I hope Smith and Rusconi are as receptive with me as their predecessors were.  I have no reason to believe they won’t be, so long as I am professional and fair in what I do.  I do think the Panthers and Eagles are in capable hands, and I’m already excited for next season to arrive.

I mean, it’s April, and I’m already talking high school football!


01-04-2014 11:26:23 PM PST

Back to football.

Pictures of Campos and Moate in the 1980s and todayFlagcoco was fortunate to be born at a time when two long-time coaches, Eddie Campos and George Moate, were leading the Eagles and Panthers, respectively.  They made it very easy for me to become comfortable and get the project really going.  They were both coaching when I was a kid, and I had the good fortune of being coached by both men in the 1980’s.  I was surprised to see both men come back to the sidelines when they did.

And while I was just as surprised to learn both men resigning their posts a few weeks apart after this year’s Rivalry Game, it wasn’t a shock.  They can’t coach forever.

Coach Moate had a tough year, and the Panthers’ 1-9 record reflected this.  It’s hard to do much when most of your senior leadership is out with injuries, and those who do gut it out are limping as well.  Typically, a Moate-coached team would be tough as nails on defense, meaning the offense wouldn’t be overly pressured to score; just keep the ball moving, don’t make a whole lot of mistakes, and the defense will take care of the rest.  None of that was possible this year, and we saw the results. 

Moate will not make excuses, and I’m not going to make any for him.  He has my respect, not my pity. 

So it’s not particularly strange to see Moate step down and hand the reins to Jeremiah Smith.  Moate has had a terrific run, he leaves the sidelines as Coconino’s winningest coach, having won 90 regular season games.  He’s as affable as ever, and it was an honor to talk with him the last two years.  I’m sure this last year just broke his heart, the Panthers were 5-5 and 6-4 the last two years, expectations have been rising, and truly, last year, they looked like a playoff-caliber team at times.  This year, it all fell apart, and there’s not much you can do when you’re calling up players from JV to play in place of seniors.

Jeremiah Smith will hold the distinction of being the only man to have been head coach at both Flag High and CoconinoThe Panthers will be in good hands with Jeremiah Smith.  He’s young and he’s got coaching running through his veins.  He coached the Flag High JV and Varsity for a few years, taking over varsity when the whole Erik Affholter/Pat Harlow debacle unfolded, leading the Eagles to a 7-13 record in his two years in charge (including beating the Panthers twice).  He’s also been coaching the Flagstaff Hitmen for years, and this last year he was coaching the Coconino freshmen and assisting varsity.  I met him last year when he was still at Flag High, Principal Tony Cullen had nothing but very complimentary things to say about him. 

As we start 2014, knowing it will be a year with new faces on the sidelines, my feeling is that Coconino will be a little ahead of Flag High for two reasons.  First, because the Panthers had a horrible epidemic of injuries last year, they were reliant on underclassmen, lots of sophomores and juniors played.  At this level of football, experience matters, and they have experience.  What was a curse last year may be a blessing this year.  Conversely, the 2013 Eagles were very senior-heavy, they’re losing an excellent class to graduation that went through the tough times (Varsity went winless when they were freshmen and went 2-8 as sophomores) and better times (8-2 last year and were an inch from the playoffs, and then this year’s 6-4 mark).  And second, Jeremiah Smith is a known quantity in Flagstaff, we know he has head coaching experience on the varsity level and beyond.  We don’t know about Flag High.

All I know about Eagles’ coaching vacancy is that, a few weeks ago, Coach Campos walked into the weight room and told everyone there, students and adults, that he was resigning; he personally felt things at Flag High hadn’t worked out according to his own expectations.  Several assistants quit as well.

That’s all I can verify, which means there’s a lot of speculation and rumor going around.  At this point, no one can confirm who will replace Campos or what triggered the mass-resignation.  No rumor deserves too much credence at this point.

I will say this on the speculation, though:

It may not be as simple as hiring Rudy Baca because he is the players favorite1.  Rudy Baca may be a popular choice among players, but he resigned along with the others.  He retires at the end of this school year and has daughters and grand-daughters in the Prescott area.  He may end up being head coach, he’s apparently talked to players about staying around if they remain motivated.  I’m not saying Baca leading the Eagles would be a bad thing, I don’t know much about the man, so I’m in no position to comment on him or his resume, but I am saying the administration and Baca need to sit down and really go through this, see if he’s committed enough to stick around.  Flag High needs a permanent solution, a coach who’s in it for the long haul.  Not a quick fix.

Eddie and Jay Campos have shared many sidelines and may again down the road2.  Family is very important to Campos, he resigned from Sinagua because of his daughter’s health, and at times he assisted his son Jay at Sabino when his head coaching career was on hold.  I doubt he quit just so he could be Jay’s assistant, especially now, seeing as how Flag High will be playing Sabino next year in Tucson, which may be the last time the two Camposes would get to square off.  That’s not saying Eddie won’t be assisting Jay sometime down the road, I’m just saying I doubt it’s his primary motivation.

Eric Olson plans to be back for Zachs senior season3.  It’s not as if Campos decided to organize a mutiny at Flag High.  Not every assistant coach followed him out the door.  For one, depending on who takes the program over, I can name two assistants right now who will be back for 2014.  Eric Olson will be back, his son Zach will be a senior, and his son is more important to him than loyalty to any head coach.  Bob Oberhardt will be back, but I will say this for my venerable friend, this kind of thing breaks his heart.  Since the coaching carousel began after the 2006 season, he’s watched several coaches take the program over, make promises to the administration and the kids, and in the end they didn’t pan out.  He’s been doing stats and other things for Flag High and Flag Junior High for 42 years, he dates back to the days of Hadley Hicks, before the championship years in the early ‘80’s, as far as I’m concerned he’s the heart For Bob Oberhardt its first and foremost about the kidsand soul of that program, he’s a treasure trove of information and stories, whoever takes over would be a fool to not have him around to pick his brain.  Then again, after going through four head coaches in seven years (five if you count Greg Lees as an interim during Jeremiah Smith’s hiatus in 2009), he may have just had enough.  This is Bob, this is what he does, and much like Bulldog Turner over at Coconino, they’re going to bury him on the sidelines somewhere, because that’s where he’s always been.  The point is, the story that ALL of Campos’s assistants walking out with him is false.  If Baca takes over, and if Olson and Oberhardt remain, there’s three right there who will be back for 2014.

I’m disappointed that Flagcoco will be moving on without Moate and Campos.  It was inevitable, I knew they both had their fill and were ready to retire.  I was just hoping to have them around a little longer.  This project benefited greatly from having those two men where they were, and for me, I was much more comfortable in trying things with them at their respective helms.  We’re a lot further along than I thought we’d be, and it’s because of them.  They were both pillars of stability and respectability, each with their positives and flaws.  They’re part of Flagstaff’s history, not just as coaches (although each have left their indelible marks on the city’s high school football legacy), but as teachers and as men.  I’ll still go to Flagstaff in August to talk with the coaches during summer practice, and I’ll still be all over the Dome for the Rivalry Game, but it’s never going to be the same.

The rivalry, however, goes on.  And so will Flagcoco.


12-29-2013 2:03:08 AM PST

2013 was a terrific year for Flagcoco.  I have a whole lot of people to thank for this project coming of age much sooner than expected, and I hope I’ve told you all how much I appreciate your donations and messages and handshakes and wellwishes along the way.  If I haven’t lately, let me tell you now that I thank you for being part of the Flagcoco Family, and I hope you stay part of it for 2014 and beyond.  The best is yet to be.

I now have over 1,200 pictures in my files, 160 pertinent to 2013.  Here are this year’s ten favorites (NONE from the Daily Sun):

The Philpotts as the Flag High seniors are honored before the Rivalry Game#10:  The Philpott Family.  I’ve known Steve Philpott since the seventh grade, and for him to be Flagcoco’s first Flag High correspondent is truly a blessing.  His texts on late Friday nights allowed Flagcoco to consistently be the first media outlet with Eagles’ scores and summaries.  No matter where in the state Flag High and his son Cody were playing, he was there, and through him, so were the rest of us.  Thanks to Karl F. Mullings for his donation.

Moate was an assistant under Holland in the 1980s and returned the favor 25 years later#9:  Two Old Coaches.  George Moate has been a friend of Flagcoco since its inception, and it was a surprise to learn his old friend, Craig Holland, would be sharing the sidelines with him.  In terms of wins, they are the winningest coaches in Flagstaff history, Moate with 90 wins at Coconino, Holland with 119 in 19 years at the helm at Flag High.  To have them both in Panther Red was an honor to behold.  Picture taken by Russell Woods.

A splendid time was had by everyone along the third base line at Chase Field#8:  Panthers Play at Chase Field.  A chance to see the Panthers play at Chase Field for free was something I just couldn’t pass up.  Watching Coconino skunk Boulder Creek was a pleasure unto itself, but spending time with old friends like Richard Walters and his family and making new friends like Beth Langston made the event something very special for Flagcoco.  And it’s proof positive, all I have to do is tell everyone Charlie will be there, and someone new will come up to me and say Hi.  Picture taken by Russell Woods.

Nick Ondrejech Austin Herre and Kyle Wilson#7:  Three Flagstaff Kids.  At the end of the day, no matter how much we loathe the other side for the Rivalry Games, we’re all just kids from Flagstaff.  Here’s three of them who played with and against each other since grade school:  Nick Ondrejech, Austin Herre, and Kyle Wilson.  Very special thanks to Mark Wilson for donating this.

Martinez speaks for everyone who ever wore the black jersey#6:  Football and Poetry.  We can talk all we want about stats and standings and heights and weights, but football is essential about heart.  Marcus Baca Martinez gets it and writes about bearing his soul for Coconino.  As I say, he bleeds black.  The whole Panther Nation will be rooting for him next year, his senior year.  Picture from KFM Designs Photography, poem from Mr. Martinez.

On the left is the leader of the FHS Broadcast Crew Brady Pond#5:  Skalooza Kids.  I love what Brady Pond and the rest of the FHS Broadcast Crew is trying to do with Skalooza.com, and I was honored to help them out with stats and information.  They broadcasted three football games this last year, despite all the glitches that come from working at the Skydome with its inconsistent WiFi signal.  Let’s hope they deliver more for us, and when they do, Flagcoco will help.  Picture by Russell Woods.

Eric and Zach Olson#4:  The Olson Family.  Flagcoco is special to me on many levels, most especially being reacquainted with old friends.  One of them is Eric Olson, and while I knew he was now an assistant with Flag High and he knew about this project, it never quite worked out that our paths would cross until Rivalry Game Day.  To have him and his wife Tracy come to Granny’s Closet before the game and chat it up with a lot of us Old School Panthers meant a lot to me, and getting a minute to chat with him at the Dome, just him and me, is something I’ll always treasure.  Pictured here is Eric with his son Zach.  Donated by Tracy Mahan Olson.

Austin Herre knows who his biggest fan is#3:  The Herre Family.  Austin Herre emerged this year and became the heart and soul of a very banged-up Panther football team.  He fought through his own nagging injuries and had several big games.  He is the first Panther since the great Willard Reaves to win the Cromer Award (something Flagcoco takes great pride in putting together with the schools, the Coconino award named to honor Bill Epperson).  Having said all that, no matter how tough he thinks he is, he’s no match for his mother.  Donated to Flagcoco by Robyn Herre.

Cory Chavez was a triple threat on the gridiron and still marched with the band at halftime#2:  Cory Blows His Horn.  I absolutely love this picture.  After a first half of returning kicks and blowing past defenders during the opener against Central, Cory Chavez comes out at halftime and marches with the band.  For his exploits during the Rivalry Game, he won the Flag High Cromer Award, the John Ply Memorial Award.  Picture taken by Karl F. Mullings.

Victor Lobato Sondra Romero Patterson and Bubba Ganter#1:  Three Old Panthers.  There were a lot of pictures I was thinking of for this list; there’s the one of my granddaughter and me on the floor of the Dome during the game, the one of Mike Alarcon when we found each other at Cesar Chavez High watching his son Damian play, the one of Stacie Zanzucchi and Eric Freas when I met them for the first time this summer, but THIS was going to be Number One, no matter what.  Picture taken by Russell Woods.  I love you guys.


12-25-2013 8:29:19 PM PST

Not only will this be the last Flagcoco mentions about the incident in Prescott fifty years ago that marred the life of Flagstaff’s favorite son, James Dugan, I will most likely be amending the Pre-Rivalry page so it doesn’t have so much of an emphasis on that event.While the moment needed to be remembered its time to move on for Dugan and everyone else

I say that because Steve Stockmar of the Prescott Daily Courier wrote an article which I hope becomes the definitive statement on the drama that kept Prescott and Flagstaff on edge that whole winter and continues to elicit reaction five decades on.  Because I feel he did a very professional and fair job, I can now let Flagcoco step back from it a little, and instead of having to tell the entire tale, it can point to Stockmar’s article with a link.

Please read the article and give it some feedback.  Stockmar’s piece is not only deserving of your attention, it got a little help from your friend at Flagcoco.  I get an assist on this for offering pictures, stats, and anecdotes.  It’s the first opportunity I’ve had to work with legitimate print media, hopefully the first of many.

A couple of thoughts I have on the article and the anniversary before we move on…

I will be changing the Pre-Rivalry page because I do plan on contacting Dugan in the near future, and I don’t want him to see my work and read everything I had on the event in question.  For fifty years he’s had to live with the consequences of his impulsive actions, and there’s no question it altered the course of his life.  He’s very apologetic on the matter.  He’s also incredibly exhausted concerning this.  He has to be.  It’s over and done with, he’s lived a full and varied life, he needs not continue to be answerable to something he did as a teenager.  Indeed, I was going to call him, tell him who I was, tell him I come from the Penland family, tell him about Flagcoco, ask him to read the story and to tell me if I got it right.  Realizing I wouldn’t be the only person to contact him about this, I backed down.  I don’t want Dugan to think I’m just another media hound looking to make a name for himself by writing about his big mistake; I want him to think of me as a guy who heard the stories about his incredible athletic talents, his gregarious personality, his reign as Mister Everything at Flag High in the early 60’s, and who finally made the effort to get to know him for his own value.

The same things hold true for Norm Killip.  I’ve had Killip’s contact information for months now, but I’ve chosen to contact him after the fact for the same reasons, because he’s always had to be the one talking to writers about the event as well.  He was Dugan’s teammate on that Eagles basketball team, so he not only remembers that fateful night, he also remembers the 54 points against Winslow and the 32 rebounds against I think Cortez.  He’s a great source, and from what I read in Stockmar’s article and the Arizona Republic article from 2007, he’s always been very affable.  While I’m sure he’s okay with it on the whole, I’m sure it does bother him at some point to be thought of by so many as Dugan’s sidekick, his go-between.  I don’t want to be just another Flagstaff kid who uses Killip to get to Dugan.  Of course, both gentlemen graduated from Flag High in 1964, as did my mother, Rusty Penland, so it’s not like I wouldn’t have anything at all to say to Killip.  I just have to make it clear I’m not calling him just to find Dugan.

Mom adored Dugan and would have appreciated Flagcoco in no small part for finding a way to include himIn my heart, I know my Mom would have loved Flagcoco on several levels, but mostly because it’s a way of bringing the Flagstaff she remembered back to life.  For me to even consider contacting people she grew up with like Killip and Dugan would have meant a great deal to her.  Many of my friends growing up, she knew their parents, most notably Leon Ganter and Bulldog Turner, so there’s always been this continuity she and I shared.  To talk to Dugan, however, would be something very special and personal, not because it’s James Freaking Dugan, but because she talked so glowingly about him when she’d pull out her yearbooks.  She always spoke of him with deep and genuine affection, and I get the impression she had a true crush on the man.  That’s why I use Flagcoco to talk so much about him, because Mom championed him so often.

The Arizona Daily Sun used to champion Dugan as well, and it breaks my heart thatFifty years ago the Daily Sun was all over Dugan the newspaper that wrote about his athletic exploits so frequently and defended him so ardently fifty years ago didn’t write anything at all to mark the anniversary.  I wrote to two of their editors and offered a Letter to the Editor, to which there was no response.  A lot of people I know criticize the Sun for its often half-assed coverage of the two high schools. 

Me, I have two grand criticisms. 

First, while Randy Wilson gave me some grand advice when I hadn’t even come up with the name Flagcoco, to go to the State Library and go through microfilm and do my own research, he hasn’t returned my emails since, which is a shame, because Flagcoco is now at a point where it can assist the Sun, where I can write articles for them with some degree of legitimacy, where the Sun and Flagcoco can work together to promote items like the New Cromer Awards.  Bill Harris was the same way before he left, he’d return my email and tell me Flagcoco’s a great idea, let’s work together, but nothing ever came of it.

And second, I occasionally read through the Sun’s online publication, and while I understand they’re writing for an average-sized city with only so much going on, they still write a whole lot of fluff pieces.  They couldn’t spare a single article, a few hundred words, marking the time concerning Dugan?  If nothing else, they couldn’t just publish my Letter to the Editor and be done with it?  It’s a truly crying shame that the Prescott writers put in the time and effort to put together a sturdy piece, and the Sun couldn’t lift a finger.  While I started this blog saying Stockmar’s piece should be considered the definitive word on the vent, it bothers me that Stockmar works for Prescott, not Flagstaff.

Where is Paul Sweitzer when we need him?

The event is something that continues to be controversial.  It’s amazing how such a thing can be viewed in two completely different ways.  Flagstaff will always see Dugan as a kid who lashed out against the goons who were hacking and insulting him all game, and Prescott will always see him as a thug who couldn’t handle playing a very physical contest.  There’s nothing apologetic in either side, nothing defensive. 

At the end of the day, however, no one questions Dugan’s athletic prowess.  He deserves all the accolades he’s received over the last decade from local and state powers who give out such honors.  He accomplished his feats before the era of videotape, so unless there’s a roll of film in someone’s attic that’s been decaying from age and neglect, the most we’ll get of his talents will be a few great pictures and even greater stories.

Dugan lived a full, rich, accomplished life, and continues to do so in New York State.  His high school days were just part of that life, the showy part, the part that gets conversations started.  As it stands now, Flagcoco makes it sound like hitting Randy Emmett was his singular defining moment.  It wasn’t.  And it should be edited accordingly.  Stockmar’s article should be the last word on the subject, for better or for worse.


12-16-2013 10:47:14 PM PST

It was fifty years ago this week that James Dugan, nearly unanimously recognized as the greatest athletic prospect Flagstaff ever produced, gave into the weakness of being a teenager in a tough position during a tense moment, not just on the basketball court, but across America.

On December 20, 1963, just days after he lit up Winslow for 54 points (someone will tell me if that’s still the Flag High record), he and the Eagles were leading the Badgers, 62-59, with five seconds left in the game.  The crowd in Prescott was unruly, to put it delicately, as they rained insults on the Eagles and especially Dugan.  The Badgers were hacking him relentlessly, and though he complained to the hometown referees, their response was a blasé Don’t sweat it, Jimmy, you’ll get your points.

Upon getting his fifth foul, he had had enough.  As he walked off theDugan was a man among boys in every sport he played his senior year court, he threw the ball angrily at one Badger and hit another, Randy Emmett, not his intended target, hard enough to require corrective surgeries (plural) and to knock him out as he hit the floor.  The Prescott crowd, already seething with antipathy, poured out onto the court and wanted Dugan’s head.

The court was cleared, the final five seconds were played in an empty gym, and the Flagstaff entourage hit Highway 89 with a police escort because Badger fans pelted Tuffy Rice’s bus with rocks; the escort continued all the way up to Ash Fork.

Arrests were threatened, apologies were made and accepted, but there’s two sides to what happened after that.  Dugan continued to play and rack up monstrous stats (including 32 rebounds in a game), the Eagles kept on winning, and the Prescott School Board, deciding to forfeit all games with Flag High involving Dugan for the rest of the school year, waited patiently for the powers that were in Flagstaff to take some initiative on disciplining their superstar.  The Flagstaff board did nothing, awaiting the AIA to complete their investigation.  In an unprecedented move, the AIA suspended Dugan for the remainder of the basketball season.

The Prescott reply was, thankfully justice was done, but why didn’t Flagstaff take the high road and do something about Dugan before the AIA gave their decision, a full month after the incident?

The Flagstaff reply:  we didn’t do anything because Dugan was lashing out against insults, racial slurs, obvious hometown refs, and unnecessary hacking.  We don’t condone what he did, but we can certainly understand why things happened.

Prescott:  What racism?  This is the first we’ve heard about this.  No one ever brought up race as an element in the event until Neil Christensen’s rant in the Daily Sun.  Did anyone hear any slurs in the stands?  It was a hard-fought game, it always is when the Badgers and Eagles play, Dugan should have said something to the refs about it if he was insulted.

Flagstaff:  Dugan did speak up, and the refs didn’t seem to care.  So we’re going to appeal the AIA’s decision, and we’re not going to retract what we said about the very nasty way Dugan was treated by the people of Prescott.  We don’t mean to paint the whole city as racist, we feel bad about Emmett, and Dugan and the Flagstaff School Board have issued apologies, apologies which you all publicly accepted.  I know you want Dugan held responsible for his action, and the AIA, against our wishes, has done so, but this is more than just one kid punching out another, and you damn well know it.The suspension was appealed but not before Neil Christensen used the Daily Sun to vent


Once the NAACP heard about the case and appeal, they got involved in the matter, and the story became national news.  Of course, it didn’t reach the level of attention that the burning of black churches and Martin Luther King speeches were getting, but it’s something that was mentioned in Ebony and Jet magazines, and I’m sure it had an effect on Dugan’s recruitment and ultimate decision to go to Ohio State instead of Arizona State.

I wrote about the incident elsewhere on Flagcoco.com.  You can read about Dugan's senior year and his legacy on the Pre-Rivalry page in the section, "The Legend of the Flagstaff Flyer"

There are a few reasons why I’m writing about this, and why I wrote to the Prescott Courier and the Arizona Daily Sun in the hope that they would publish a little something concerning this infamous event upon its fiftieth anniversary. 

For one, Dugan is still a hero in Flagstaff.  I can speak for myself, I’m sure other kids from Flagstaff approximately my age have similar experiences, but my mother would occasionally pull out her Kinlani yearbooks, show me pictures of Dugan, and tell me stories about him.  Truth be told, I think she had a true crush on him, just by the way she talked about him it seems so.  If you talk to people who lived in Flagstaff at the time, who went to school with him, they’ll all tell you the same, that he was the second coming of Jim Brown, that he was pure chiseled muscle by the time he graduated, that he was the stuff of legend in any sport he played.

For another, Flagcoco is about Flagstaff prep sports, and it’s about Flagstaff history.  I would not be doing my job as a thoughtful writer if I did not return to this subject when we came to a big anniversary of it.  On Flagcoco, we talk about games, but we also talk about events.  I’ve posted pictures of Mt. Elden and discussed the fire in the late-1970’s that left its summit bare to this day.  I also talk about my family, the Penlands, and many people fondly remember my grandmother, Wanda; there are family stories about how the chief of police, Elmo Maxwell, my grandparents’ neighbors, would sit at their kitchen table with my grandfather, Russell, and bullshit about politics all night, every night, for years on end.  I take walks when I go up there, and I take pictures of what is at a certain street corner and reminisce about what was there when I was growing up.  Flagcoco is that kind of project, it’s about remembering Flagstaff before it got too big for its own good, before the strip malls started gobbling up the forest, a time when, truly, the biggest event on the annual sports calendar was a high school football game between crosstown rivals.

And for a third, I want to get this story right.  This is one of those events where no one is innocent.  Flagcoco is all about Flagstaff, but it’s also about remembering events like this with the sobriety of hindsight.  I’ve done this with other aspects of Flagstaff life.  One example:  most Flagstaffites will tell you the state championship in 1981 was Flag High’s first in 45 years; that’s a myth, and it is incorrect, because the AIA does not recognize any claim to any state title going back that far.  The ’81 championship was Flag High’s first undisputed title.  The point is, I don’t have a problem with dissecting the accepted history and rewriting it, so long as I remain faithful to all parties.  I want the people of Prescott to read the article and say it’s fair, even if it’s not what they remember or how they want their city portrayed.  I want my fellow Flagstaffites to read it and remember Dugan for who he was: an over-the-top gifted athlete who made a mistake.  I want people who have no idea what I’m talking about to read the page, put themselves in the minds of people of northern Arizona in December 1963, not just to wear Dugan’s hightops for the night, but to also see themselves as a spectator, a referee, a Badger and an Eagle, to see the event from all sides.

I know I’m making it sound like I’m analyzing the Kennedy assassination, which happened just a few weeks prior, but this event was something more than a stands-emptying brawl.  It was a sign of the times.  It revealed some very ugly things about the racist attitudes in this part of the world.  Both cities can take pride in that they were ahead of the national curve when it came to integrating their school systems; Prescott boasts having African-Americans playing on their football teams decades before the event, and Flagstaff patriarch Sturgeon Cromer can be given credit for integrating the city schools two years before Brown v. Board.  There’s a difference, however, between institutionalized racism (which was being dismantled at the time) and the traditional, under-the-radar, deep-seeded racism that takes generations to dissipate.  Talking to my friends nowadays, the latter is still very much there, and considering the political climate in Arizona concerning immigration, it may never completely die in this state.

This coming week, I hope to talk to people in both Flagstaff and Prescott about the event, perhaps even Dugan and Emmett themselves.  I have a whole contact list of people from Flagstaff, and I’m hoping to have one for Prescott. 

Aside from a blurb here and there, you will not find a single authoritative history on the event anywhere but Flagcoco.

History is not written by the winners.  The cliché is a fallacy.  History is written by the ones who take the time to sit down, pen in hand, and write it.  Accept it as you wish, make your own informed decisions on matters that interest you.  Me, I know I have my own biases, I admit to them, but I hope they don’t color my work to the point to where they’re obvious.  I’m sure Dugan has always had to answer questions from knuckleheads like me who want to know what happened that strange night in Prescott fifty years ago.  All I can hope for, at the end of the day, is that he reads it and says, that Flagcoco guy at least tried to get it right.


11-07-2013 8:24:52 PM PST

The beautiful chaos that was the 2013 football season is over way too soon.  I saw a lot of players, both Eagles and Panthers, in tears in the immediate minutes following the game as I roamed the turf of the Skydome, and they came from the same place; for the seniors, it’s over, their high school football careers.  They’ve been playing with and against the same set of kids since they were in kindergarten.  For them, this season is also over way too soon.


Trying to explain just how big a day yesterday was for Flagcoco would be cumbersome for the reader.  Flagcoco is my baby, the Rivalry Game is its Christmas, and at the end of the day, I am always a good kind of exhausted.  Things that matter to me might seem geeky to others.


Instead, let me show gratitude to the many people who made yesterday so special for my baby and me.  I’m going to try to get them ALL in, so if you don’t feel like reading this whole blog, just skim through and find a few names of your own choosing.  If I missed your name, please do me a favor.  Write to me and give me holy hell.  Flagcoco is about the city of Flagstaff and the precious gift the rivalry is to it, not about a wannabe writer/historian in Phoenix trying to come back home again.  I’m going to try to get everyone in on this.


Thank you…

 Brady Pond and the FHS Broadcast Team working the Skalooza feed

Tony Cullen

Eric Freas

Jeannine Brandel

Annie & Richard Walters

Steve Philpott

Tracy & Tracy Kuehl

Martin & Stacie Zanzucchi

Bill Epperson

Mark & Beth Langston

Eddie Campos

Bob Oberhardt

Eric & Tracy Olson

George Moate

Craig Holland

Jannie & Bulldog Turner

Jeremiah Smith

Ben Schorr

Jimmy & Robyn HerreOld School Panthers Victor Lobato Sondra Romero and Bubba Ganter

Tee Gott

Brady Pond

Bubba Ganter

Bennie Randall

Victor Lobato

Sondra Romero Patterson

Karl F. Mullings

Mark Wilson

Catlyn Wilson

Brian White

Bill Harris

Mike Hartman

The cab driver who drove me to my Grandma’s old house

The 52 fans who voted for the New Cromer Awards

The girl sitting at the booth at Denny’s who knew my name because it was plastered all over the Dome during the game


And while I hail every Panther and Eagle who strapped on the pads this year, a few got to know Flagcoco and me.  I thank them dearly…


Travis Walters

Cory Chavez

Austin Herre

Billy Randall

Trace Anderson

Marcus Baca Martinez

Cody Philpott

Darian Scott


I’ll be making mentions about the other sports, and in the years to come, Flagcoco will be developed to feature those sports more fully, boys and girls alike.  Flagcoco is a project, it’s only two years old.  It’s going to mature.  We’re going to do more and more things every year, every season. 


I’m working on the 2013 Game Page, it ought to be up in a couple of days.  I’m going to keep you posted on the Division III playoffs, and then we’ll move on with the rest of the athletic year and slowly set ourselves up for football in 2014.


Until then…






10-29-2013 12:23:42 AM PST



October 29, 2013


Dear Panthers and Eagles,

 Thats me in the city championship trophys reflection

Some of you know me already.  My name is Russell, I created Flagcoco, and I look forward to watching the Rivalry Game this Friday, to being at the Dome, to presenting the New Cromer Awards to the outstanding players of the game, and if I’m fortunate, to shaking some of your hands.  Odds are you’ll figure out who I am, I’ll be the shaven-bald husky individual going from sideline to sideline.


The Rivalry Game is the central event for the Flagcoco project.  I call it Flagcoco’s Christmas.  It’s the day I go to Flagstaff, go to the schools to talk to the principals, get together with friends, and watch the best rivalry game in Arizona.  It’s a very busy day, but I like this kind of busy.  It reminds that, despite all the changes over the last thirty years, Flagstaff is, at its core, the same beautiful town I grew up in.


I want to tell you guys a few things.


First, I tend to not push myself onto players.  You have enough going on in your lives, you don’t need me hounding you on top of everything else.  This year, however, many of you have discovered Flagcoco and become part of it by exploring the mother site, giving it a Like on Facebook, posting a few quick notes, and even engaging in chat conversation with me.  I deeply appreciate the contact and the effort, and I hope to return the favor by posting pictures of you all as I find them, promoting your recruiting videos when I stumble upon them, and always talking up both teams in a way that is always upbeat.  I want you to not just enjoy this project as players today, but as alumni tomorrow, as there are many Panthers and Eagles, going back decades, who keep an eye on the project.


Second, I know this wasn’t the season you all had planned.  It’s been much tougher this time around.  Your schedules were much more difficult; while it would have been easy to play Page and Tuba City and Chino Valley and chalk up a few easy wins, your athletic directors decided you were ready to play tougher competition.  Of course, no one knew back when the schedules were put together that you’d be playing so many Top Ten teams, but from what I’ve seen, for every challenge you faced, you met it with dignity and class.


On top of the brutal schedules, both teams have suffered their own sets of injuries.  Many of you played through the bruises and sprains for the sake of your teams, and you’ve come out the better for the effort.  It’s tough enough to play Peoria and Prescott and Bradshaw Mountain with a healthy and loaded roster, but both teams, each in their own degree, have had to play with key figures out.  It would have been very easy to give up, but you didn’t, and there’s a lot of people, in Flagstaff and elsewhere, who are proud of you for not throwing in the towel.


Third, it’s in this spirit of dignity, class, and fortitude that we’ve put together the New Cromer Awards.  You can read about them elsewhere on Flagcoco.  What I want you to know about them is, we wouldn’t consider reviving these awards if we thought you weren’t up to the standard for them already.  Having a good game is one thing, but we seek to also reward sportsmanship as well.  Whoever wins these awards will represent the best their teams and schools have to offer.


And fourth, don’t think for a minute the result of the game is a foregone conclusion.  I know what people are thinking.  Flag High has a slim chance at the playoffs and they’re going to beat down a Panther team so depleted that they’ve been calling up JV players just to fill every position.  The Eagles are 5-4, Coconino’s 1-8.  This is a no-brainer.

 Kaine Kennedy made a play for the ages

I don’t care which team you play for; if that’s your way of thinking, I’ve got news for you.  This rivalry series is FULL of upsets.  Not just one or two, but FULL.  Just go back two years.  Wasn’t this situation in reverse in 2011?  Wasn’t it Coconino who was looking to solidify a winning season, Flag High with just one win going into the Rivalry Game, and everyone completely convinced the Panthers would win in a cakewalk?  You seniors, you were sophomores that year, you remember.  What happened?  The Panthers ran the ball up and down the field, but they made a lot of mistakes, turning the ball over six times, keeping the Eagles in the game until the very end, and when lightning struck, they took advantage.  Read the 2011 Game page to learn how the Eagles pulled off the miracle.

 Coach Moate knows all about upsetting the Eagles

That wasn’t just one isolated incident.  Part of what makes this rivalry so great is the amount of upsets like this.  So many times, the underdog has risen up and taken advantage of opportunities when they’ve come.  I mentioned the Eagle win in 2011, let me go the other way for a minute.  Panthers, make sure you ask Coach Moate about the 1992 game.  The previous year, Flag High runningback Ceaser Polk ran amok through the Panther defense to the tune of 260 yards and six touchdowns.  It was the greatest performance in the history of the series.  That was Polk’s junior year.  His senior year, 1992, the Eagles were poised for a regional championship and a serious playoff run when they got to the Rivalry Game.  Polk was his usual stellar self, rushing for another 206 yards, but despite it all, the Panthers bent, but didn’t break, and Coconino won, 13-12.


There is a cliché for great rivalries like this one:  You can throw out the history books.  Well, Flagcoco is a history book of sorts, and it will tell you that nothing is guaranteed. The future is not written.  Destiny is yours for the taking, and history is yours for the making.


Cousins Adam and Nick Lozano after the gameI’m not saying any of this as bulletin board material.  I’m not giving the Eagles a warning or the Panthers a pep talk.  What I am saying is, play your hardest, play your best, and make Friday Night’s game your finest hour.  Let the chips fall where they may.  For some of you, it might be the last organized football game you ever play.  Enjoy it.  Savor the moment.  Look along the sideline, at your teammates, your friends you’ve grown up with.  Look across the field to the other sideline, at your opponents, your friends you’ve grown up with.  Look up at the stands at everyone who came to watch.  Listen to the bands.  Watch the cheerleaders out of the corner of your eye.  Feel the turf on the floor of the Skydome as you get into your stances.  Leave everything on the field.  And at the end of the night, shake the opponent’s hand gladly, because he’s just like you.  He’s from Flagstaff, Arizona.


Win or lose, you will be champions.  That's what the Coconino Panthers and Flagstaff Eagles have always been.


I’ll see you Friday night.



Russell at Flagcoco



09-17-2013 9:04:08 PM PST

Sectional play starts this week.  Unfortunately for our Eagles and Panthers, they have no margin for error.  The Eagles are 1-2, having lost a game they should have won last week at Verrado, 33-30.  Coconino is 0-3 after losing to Peoria, 34-0.

 George Moate and Craig Holland on the sidelines before the Peoria game

Did I not say to start the season that this year’s schedule would be brutal?  Neither team will make excuses for their records, the kids are all playing their tails off, but it’s something to discuss.  Coconino started against D-II Havasu, a team they traditionally own, but came up just short this time around; then they ran into buzzsaws against Tempe and Peoria, both Top Ten teams.  Flag High knows about Peoria, they didn’t do much better against Darius Aguirre (probably the best kept secret in D-III), either. 


Sectional play will be just as tough, if not tougher.  The Panthers travel to Bullhead City to take on the Mohave Thunderbirds (1-2), they’re another team Coconino typically dominates, so hopefully they’ll get a much-needed win on this one.  Flag High, however, takes on the always tough Prescott Badgers (2-1), currently ranked #7 in the Maxpreps rankings after beating D-IV powerhouse Blue Ridge in the opener, losing a heartbreaker to the current #1 team in D-III, Desert Edge, in Week #2, and then throttling Youngker last week.


I try to go to the games when the Eagles and Panthers make it to the Phoenix area.  I got to watch Coconino play at Peoria, but because of work and transportation, I couldn’t watch the Flag High-Verrado game.  It was tough sitting through a losing effort that was decided before halftime, but I enjoyed my time, as I always do.  I got a chance to talk to Coach Moate before the game, and we got caught up on a few things.  I got to sit with Richard Walters, who I’ve known since the fourth grade; I’ve sat with him three years in a row now, his son Travis has been playing for the Panthers Cristo Tabaras and Jess Kuehl are still splitting time at QBsince his sophomore year, and now as a senior, he is a captain.  I met Tracy and Tracy Kuehl, parents of junior quarterback Jess Kuehl, that was terrific on several levels.  And as always, I brought my grandson Charlie to the game, which he sat and watched about thirty seconds of, after which I spent more time chasing him than watching the game.  I took notes and pictures, the ones worth remembering are uploaded onto Facebook for your viewing pleasure.


More and more, I’m preferring high school football over college and pro for several reasons.  One of the biggest is because these kids aren’t going so hard and fast that they’re overwhelming their physical limits.  There’s a few physical specimens on the field at any given moment, a few big kids, a few fast kids, a few who take their football serious and have put in the time in the weight room, but for the most part, they’re just regular kids playing the game, not for multimillion-dollar contracts or endorsement deals, but for the competition, the fun, the school pride, and if they’re lucky, a college somewhere on some level will consider giving a few of them scholarships.

 Travis Walters during pregame drills

The Eagles and Panthers matter to me, not just in the general, abstract sense, not just as collectives with a historical connection I share with them, but as people.  As friends.  As athletes and parents of athletes.  From principals to players.  I look forward to chatting with Tony Cullen when I visit him at Flag High.  I love sitting in the stands with Richard and Robyn Herre.  I like looking at my Facebook page and seeing all the Eagles and Panthers, past and present, liking what I do.  I cheer them on when they do well, and I ache when they have a tough time of it.  And I absolutely cringe when I see them on the field, down, injured, and I wonder how their parents handle it, if I would be able to handle it if it were Charlie on the field, down, injured.


I will always root for the teams and wish them well, but honestly, win or lose, I just want the kids to have as full a high school experience as they can.  That includes athletics, and it includes this rivalry.  If they’re having fun, everything else—success within the programs, student and community interest, a full Skydome—will fall into place.



09-11-2013 7:44:25 AM PST

Flagcoco is a fanzine in some ways.  It’s usually positive and upbeat, and I hope my enthusiasm for Flagstaff and their high school football legacy is evident in my writing.

 Flag High QB Kyle Wilson tucks the ball and runs

Once in a while, though, it’s hard to hang my hat on something positive.  Last week’s double-demolition—Coconino got crushed at Cromer Stadium by Tempe, 51-7, while Flag High got pounded by Peoria in the Dome, 35-7—is one of those events.


The talk about the Flag High game is, they played hard, they were just as strong and maybe a half a step slower than Peoria, a team ranked in the Arizona Republic’s preseason top ten.  That’s what the guys kept saying on the KVNA broadcast, and that’s what our Eagles correspondents said, that if they weren’t making so many mistakes (bad penalties at the wrong time, turnovers), they’d have been more competitive.


That’s often the difference between average and good teams, limiting mistakes.  I have no doubt that the Eagles of 2013 are stronger than they’ve been in years, they’re faster, and they’re certainly hungrier.  But they’re not going to win many games, especially with this year’s tougher schedule, if they continue to sabotage themselves.  They probably got away with some of the same mistakes against Central in the opener because Central is at the bottom of the D-III rankings, and for good reason.  Peoria is a contender. 


Coach Campos said in the Daily Sun about the game, “Sometimes a loss early in the season can be a wakeup call and this might be the wakeup call we need.”  Now that the Eagles have seen what a playoff-caliber team looks like, and now that they know not every game is going to be a cakewalk as was the Central game, hopefully they’ve woken up, and they’ll prove it against Verrado Friday night.

This week it was Cristo Tabaras who came in to relieve Jess Kuehl 

I knew Coconino would have a tough time with Tempe, Tempe in some ways is like Flag High in that they just barely missed the playoffs last year, they won some big games in ’12, they’re building on their success, and they have something to prove.  They barely got past Maricopa the week before, and I thought they would be vulnerable.  Just as Ryan Finley and the third-ranked Paradise Valley Trojans came to Cromer Stadium last year in Week #2 and the Panther defense gave them more than they could handle, I honestly thought they’d do the same when Emmanuel Gant and the Buffaloes came to town.


Quite the contrary.  Gant carved up the Panthers for 348 yards and four touchdowns.


This is the big concern with Coconino this year.  Yes, we can talk about their need to put points on the board.  But the Panthers will live and die by their defense.  It was that way last year, and most great Panther teams over the years exhibited a strangling defense that allowed their offense to develop over the season.  They’ll improve on both sides of the ball, and like Flag High, the Tempe game will be Coconino’s wakeup call, a reminder that they’re going to have to bring their A-game each and every week if they want to be competitive.  They’ve now seen for themselves what a fast, strong, and hungry team looks like, hopefully they can rise to the challenge.


It’s going to be a challenge, indeed.  D-III North is going to be tough.  I say it every week, but every week there’s a new reason to say it. 

 Travis Walters eludes a Buffalo defender

The Prescott Badgers are playing inspired ball these days; after beating Blue Ridge in Week #1, they damn near beat Desert Edge in Week #2.  The Scorpions lost a hearbreaker in the state championship game last year on a fluke play in the final minute of the game, 9-7.  They were the #1 team on Maxprep’s D-III rankings last week (#2 this week).  Like Coconino and Flag High, mistakes cost them dearly, and they lost, 21-19.  After scoring on an amazing 70-yard run by Kaine Bayze to pull within two with 3:05 left in the game, the misfired on the two-point conversion, and Desert Edge ran out the clock.  Prescott is inching up the rankings and is now #11.


Bradshaw Mountain is 2-0 and ranked #9 after dismantling Lake Havasu, 33-14.  A real test of their mettle comes next week when they take on the Saguaro Sabercats in Scottsdale.  Saguaro is 1-1, lost bad to Chaparral, won big against South Mountain, and as always are ranked in the top five.  This game is a heat check for the Bears.  A win or a hard-fought loss will legitimize them as a playoff contender going into sectional play.  When the schedule came out, I was just hoping Saguaro wouldn’t run them out of the stadium by halftime.  Now, I’m encouraged that the Bears will at least make a showing and maybe even give the Cats a few shots of their own.


Mohave and Kingman are both 1-1.


Surprisingly, Mingus is out of the gate with an 0-2 mark.  While there’s no shame in losing to #6 Cactus as they did, 34-14, they’ve been exposed, losing in much the same way as they did to Snowflake.  Their offense starts slow, and their run defense struggles.  They’ve got Paradise Valley this week.


D-III North is getting more respect than we’d expect, as those who live north of Black Canyon City expect very little.  Coconino and Flag High both need to step up if they’re going to keep pace.  My belief is they certainly can, but they can’t wait for sectional play to prove themselves.  They have to chalk up a few marquee wins now.  It’s all about power rankings in Arizona, all about beating quality teams.  Every game this year is against a quality team.  Surely Coconino’s playing one in Peoria Thursday night, we watched Peoria take advantage of Flag High’s mistakes last week.  But don’t Mike Salazar fights for yardagethink for a second Flag High will have an easy time with Verrado.  The Vipers don’t have much of a football tradition in their young history, never winning more than three games in any given season, but they’re 1-1 right now, having lost to D-II Tolleson in a squeaker, 13-10.  They beat Dysart last week, 28-6, which doesn’t say much, Dysart is near the bottom of the D-III rankings.  They’re ranked #29, which, at least in the mind of the Maxpreps computer, puts them right there with Flag High (#25) and Coconino (#30).  It’s the first time the Varsity Eagles have ever met the Vipers on the gridiron, which in and of itself will make the game interesting.  If Flag High doesn’t shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly as they did in the first half against Peoria, they’ll be fine.


As for Coconino, they now know the speed and strength of a quality team, now they have to go out there and match it.  While the offense comes around, the defense HAS to carry the team for now.  They’ll stay in the game if they can limit Peoria to 21 points and not give the ball away.  It may be a tall order, but that’s Coconino football:  stingy defense and careful offense.  It’s their identity, going back decades.  They can do it, and I really hope Flagcoco isn’t the only media outlet that thinks so.  The players have to believe they can do it, and the coaches have to put them in position to do it.


While Flagcoco will always provide scores and analysis, it’s going to always be positive and enthusiastic.  This is not about ripping kids for poor performances, I’ll leave that to others.  It’s not about asking for a coach’s head.  It’s about celebrating the best high school rivalry in Arizona.  That may make Flagcoco little more than a glorified cheerleader, but that’s fine by me.  I’d rather shake my pom-poms for these teams than kill them with criticism.  I don’t care if the teams go 10-0 or 0-10, I want Panthers and Eagles alike, past and present, to be able to say that, when everyone else was ripping them apart, Flagcoco was supporting them, even at their worst.  Hopefully, the teams will end the season closer to 10-0 than 0-10, but you never know, it’s a new season and a tougher schedule.  One thing that will never be tough is this blog.  I just hope we don’t have many more weekends like last weekend.  



09-03-2013 10:30:57 AM PST

Eagle captains Kyle Wilson Mike Salazar Lucas Neff and Nick Ondrejech meet the Bobcats before kickoffDivision III, Section IV—which I prefer to call D-III North—put the rest of Arizona on notice in Week One.  Because the section consists of teams outside the Phoenix and Tuscon metro areas, it inherently will not an ounce of respect from the Arizona Republic, Maxpreps, or any other state or national media outlet.  Conversely, because Flagcoco is dedicated to covering Panther and Eagle football, I admit a bias.  Whether it comes from my keyboard or someone else’s, it must be said that the North must be reckoned with, and any team looking for an easy win here has got another thing coming.


Of course I’m talking about Flag High’s 61-0 pasting of Central last Friday at the Dome.  It’s one thing when they were doing that to Page and Tuba City last year, but to do that to a Phoenix team, with one of the largest student bodies in the state, is another.  While I realize these aren’t my daddy’s Central Bobcats (they moved down from D-I to D-III to be more competitive), it’s still a point of note.  The Eagles have a huge chip on their Cory Clavez slices up the Central defensecollective shoulder this year, they’re not screwing around.  They’ll have a tougher test this week against they Peoria Panthers, the Republic ranked them #10 in their preseason poll, coming off a tough 15-7 win over Agua Fria.  There are no cakewalks this year for anyone.


I’m also talking about Prescott beating up on perennial D-IV powerhouse Blue Ridge in the fourth quarter and coming away with a 30-14 win.  I think most people have slotted the Badgers as the team to beat in the North, but wins like this work your way up the power rankings.  Maxpreps has moved them up from #18 to #10, just like that. 


Bradshaw Mountain’s win over D-II’s Apollo was even bigger.  Apollo made it to the D-II semifinals last year and comes into ’13 ranked #5 by the Republic.  The Bears beat them, 32-21.  I had Bradshaw Mountain dead last in the North in my own preseason predictions.  The win moved them way up in the Maxpreps rankings, they’re now sitting at #12.


Pity the Eagles couldn’t get that same kind of love, they remain at #21.


The North’s going to be tougher than the rest of the world expected.  That means trouble for the rest of the state, but it also means trouble within the section.  There are no lightweights this year, no easy wins.  Every game will require our Panthers and Eagles to bring their A-game. 


Jess Kuehl got the Panther offense moving in the second halfThe Panthers aren’t yet too worried about their 20-12 loss to Lake Havasu.  Chalk it up to first-game jitters if you want, it took a half of football and a quarterback change to get the offense on track.  Sophomore Cristo Tabaras got the starting nod last week, and while one cannot just sweep a 70-yard pick-six under the rug, the Panthers did move the ball a little, even if they didn’t score; junior Jess Kuehl had more success once he got on the field.  What ought to concern Panther fans is the defense; while giving up twenty points is no great tragedy, it’s definitely something they’re going to have to work on this week in practice.  They gave up 371 yards, 298 on the ground.  When the secondary is making all the tackles, it means the D-line isn’t getting penetration, and the linebackers aren’t wrapping up.  Like I said, it’s the first game, it wasn’t a sectional game, no need to sound the alarm, but it needs to be understood that Coach Moate brought back classic Panther football last year, which includes ferocity on defense.  With new quarterbacks trying to make the offense go, the defense will be counted on even more to keep the scores low while the offense catches up.

 Emmanuel Gant is good but he is no Ryan Finley

No rest for the weary, however.  This week, the Tempe Buffaloes come to town, ranked #7 on Maxpreps and armed with one of the best quarterbacks in the state, junior Emmanuel Gant.  The Panthers were in this position last year, a premier QB from the Valley came to Cromer Stadium in Week Two, and the Cats put the wood to him; Ryan Finley and Paradise Valley eked out a miraculous 14-13 win, but the Coconino defense suffocated the then-third-ranked Trojans all night long.  They’ll need to repeat the performance, but they’re going to have to be at their best.  Gant threw for over 300 yards against Maricopa last week.  But if the secondary is the Panthers’ defensive strength, as it may have proven to be against Havasu, they stand a good chance of keeping the Buffaloes in line.


Torin Palmer fights for yardage against HavasuIt’s not as if Tempe is a worldbeater.  They won a game they should have lost, beating Maricopa 16-14, with the Rams having a chance to win the game in the end but blew a field goal try.  They’re completely reliant on Gant, who did throw for 322 yards and a touchdown, but completed less than 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions.  Their running game was nonexistent, gaining 51 yards on 18 carries.  This is a game Coconino can win, and if their defense can rise to the challenge and their offense can put a few points on the board, it will go down to the wire.


While it’s only a game into the season, I understand rankings don’t matter much right now, especially when the AIA won’t post their first power rankings until October 3.  Wins over top-ten teams, however, mean something as the season progresses.  A Flag High win over Peoria and a Coconino win over Tempe will get the rest of the state talking.  It’s better to be jockeying for position here at the start than to have to rally at the end and rely on a string of wins down the stretch for playoff consideration.  The Flagstaff teams aren’t going to get much recognition from Maxpreps, the Republic, or anyone else outside their section, we all know it to be true.  It is what it is.  But if the Panthers and the Eagles take care of what they can take care off, both teams will be just fine.



08-30-2013 8:42:29 AM PST

Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic made a big to-do a few weeks ago about his field trip through Northern Arizona, doing a few quickie interviews, taking a few snapshots, and moving on.  Concerning Flagstaff, he stated in his pre-trip article that the reason—the way he talked, seemingly the ONLY reason—the Flag High and Coconino football teams had winning seasons in 2012 was the closing of Sinagua, bringing more athletes to the two other schools who would have otherwise been wearing Mustang Blue the last few seasons.  I’m not saying there’s no merit to saying that’s A reason for their success, but I never believed it was THE reason.  It would insinuate the Eagles and Panthers improved over the last few years only because of an administrative decision, not because the coaches and players have worked their tails off.


Bordow went to Flagstaff to more or less confirm his preconceived notion, and his article (http://www.azcentral.com/insiders/scottbordow/2013/08/16/three-was-a-crowd-for-flagstaff-schools/) bears this out.  The singular line, “Their doors opened when Sinagua’s doors closed”, is so canned, it sounds like he conceived it before he drove up the mountain.


Thus, when I made my trek to Flagstaff a couple of weeks before the season started, Bordow’s article was stuck in my craw, and I had to at least mention my disdain to Coaches Eddie Campos and George Moate.  They’ve  been coaching in Flagstaff for three decades each, most of that time as varsity head coaches.  Ultimately, who are you going to believe, a cat who came up to Flagstaff to humor readers north of Maricopa Country with an article based on preconception and skewed his questions accordingly, or two guys who are so Flagstaff they bleed pine sap?

 Meeting Stacie Zanzucchi and Eric Freas at Coconino means Flagcoco and me are officially home in Flagstaff

It was a great trip.  I finally met the Coconino administration, it’s always been important to me to get the principals from both schools, along with their athletic directors and staff, to have an idea of what Flagcoco is about, acknowledge it exists, and get us all on the same page on what we can do together.  I had the good fortune of doing this with Flag High last October, but I made the mistake of thinking I could literally waltz into Coconino and ask for Coach Moate, not knowing the coaches didn’t actually work in the building.  Hopefully, I made up for it this last time, meeting Stacie Zanzucchi and Eric Freas.  They were great with me.  My only disappointment was my braindead stuttering when I first sat down with them, I was very tired from my bus ride up the mountain and my usual long morning walk around town.  But we got a lot accomplished, some of which I’ll tell you about later in the season.


And as always, Tony Cullen and Jeannine Brandel welcomed me at Flag High, and it was great to discuss the things they and I want to get done this season.  Chatting with long-time statistician Bob Oberhardt before practice was a pleasure, as always, and sitting down on the bench at the Flag High field and chatting about old Flagstaff with him while the players were warming up and going through their drills was heartwarming, if not a little surreal.  The awe of actually being in Flagstaff will eventually calm for me, I’ve now been up there twice in the last year and am planning to be up there for Rivalry Game XLV (this rivalry deserves Roman numerals), but it’s still the feeling of homecoming, and while I know the excitement will fade into cool calmness in time, I’m enjoying seeing the city as if I were an awakening Rip Van Winkle.


Campos has instilled a new winning culture at Flag HighThen Campos walked over to me and shook my hand, and we talked about the Eagles the last few years, how far they’ve come under his tutelage.  He’s not the same person who was my coach at Coconino in the mid-1980’s.  I remember him as certainly a strong personality who was straight with his players, but back then, he was prone to the occasional wisecrack.  He was a buddy as well as a coach.  Time and experience changed him, now he’s all business on the field.  He’s a charming, intelligent person with a wealth of football and life knowledge to talk about, but when he’s got his coaching cap on, he's all about the culture of football.  Example:  one of his players was sitting on the bench, coming to practice late, and his buddy in street clothes accompanied him; Campos told the kid to leave the field, not just for insurance reasons, but because he had to earn the right to be on this field, with these players. Campos is all about creating a true serious football culture at Flag High, and his players have bought into it.


So when I ask him about Bordow, he certainly does say the closing of Sinagua means more players on the field, and it’s very important.  He’s detailed about how the third school opened under the premise that Flagstaff was going through a large growth spurt in the late-1980’s, everyone thought the good times would never end, and there were plenty of kids to fill the campuses and athletes to field teams.  With the economy tanking last decade, city growth slowed, and between that and more kids going to charter and alternative schools, attendance dwindled, and all three schools felt the effect.  Closing Sinagua was a very big deal to Flag High and Coconino, and Campos confirmed Bordow’s premise.


To a point.


The Sinagua kids certainly make it easier to fill a roster.  It wouldn’t have mattered, though, if Campos didn’t change the culture at Flag High from top to bottom.  After “sharing” coaching duties with Kevin Kortsen in a winless 2010 season, he took the Eagles to 2-8 in ’11, but not letting the season end without that miracle win against Coconino in the Rivalry Game (See 2011 Game).  That game really did turn the program around, and win a six-game winning streak to end the year, they posted an 8-2 record and were looking forward to postseason play.  The AIA, however, didn’t agree, and in their final power rankings they had Flag High at #17.  Campos addressed his team; yeah, they may have felt robbed, and they could whine about out, but what were they going to do about it as men?  That was a rallying point, and this offseason meant a whole lot of now-seniors who have been through a lot in their high school experience were hitting the weight room with aggression.


The Flagstaff Eagles are a senior-heavy team with a chip on their shoulder.  They’re stronger, faster, and more experienced than they were just a year ago.  This would have been the case, whether or not Sinagua closed.


Then I made the mad dash to Coconino to catch the back half of their Friday practice.  I sat with a couple of parents in the stands at Cromer Stadium and shot the breeze with them, and it was great talking to old friends like Richard Walters and Robin Herre.


When I made my way down to the field, Coach Moate was his usually affable self, very generous with his time and let me chew the fat with him for a good while.  Up to this point in my Flagcoco experience, I’ve been more concerned with talking to principals and head coaches than anything, and in time I hope to work my way through the strata and become better acquainted with the assistants and players.  I say that because who should shake my hand but the old venerable Bulldog Turner himself.  When that man dies, he will be buried on the sidelines, he simply will never be removed from the football field, forcibly or otherwise.


I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that Craig Holland will be on the Coconino sidelines this year.  Yes, THAT Craig Holland.  After assisting under Rick Smith while Flag High was in championship form in the early-80’s, he took the reins in 1985 and didn’t let them go until after the 2006 season.  The last few years has seen Coach Holland at Agua Fria, but this year he’s back in Flagstaff and will be wearing black and red.  It’s certainly a role reversal, as Moate was Holland’s defensive assistant in the late-80’s.


Moate and I talked about statistics and replacing Damian Alarcon as quarterback, but he also pointed over to the other field, where the freshmen were practicing, led by former Flag High varsity head coach Jeremiah Smith.  It occurred to me, Moate is doing the same thing Campos is doing across town.  He’s changing the culture.  While I only shook hands with Tadd Ragan once and am in no position to critique his reign as the lead man for Coconino, I will say he did a good job in a tough position, being the head coach while Moate was Coconino’s athletic director, at a time when the economy was tanking and the Sinagua saga was playing out.  The Panthers bottomed out in 2007, just as the Eagles did in 2010, with a winless season.  Moate reassumed his place on the sidelines last year and returned to playing old Coconino football:  suffocating defense, conservative offense, not making a whole lot of mistakes, and making the opponents pay for the mistakes they make.  It got them to 6-4, and it could have been better if not for a few breaks that didn’t go their way (See 2012 Game). 


But if Campos has changed the football culture at Flag High through tough love, Moate has done it with an overwhelming wealth of coaching experience.  Think about it.  In terms of regular season wins, you have the winningest coaches in both Coconino’s and Flag High’s history on the same sidelines in Moate and Holland.  Throw in Smith and Turner, and you have well over a century of coaching experience, a large chunk of that as varsity head coaches.  This would have been the case, whether or not Sinagua closed.


Of course, these things didn’t make it into Bordow’s article.


That’s not to say these things are mutually exclusive.  The Panthers have hit the weights as well, and they have some big kids playing line this year.  It’s a Phoenix high school conceit that you can only consider yourself a contender if you have an offensive line that averages 250 pounds; Coconino’s right there with linemen at 240, 240, and 300 pounds.  Conversely, Flag High’s got Campos and Oberhardt on their sidelines, and just the two of them together have over six decades of football experience.  It’s sort of like thinking about Beatles songs; it’s easy to think of John Lennon being a words guy and Paul McCartney being a music person, but in truth, John wrote some beautiful music, and Paul could write terrific lyrics.  It’s the same here.  You might think in general terms that Flag High defines itself with discipline and Coconino with coaching experience, but they certainly don’t lack going vice versa.


You can see the standings for Division III, Section IV—or as I will call it from this point until the next realignment, Division III North (merely numbering the sections is just so generic)—on the home page at Flagcoco.com as the season progresses.  In this writer’s opinion, Prescott is the team to beat.  They were a playoff team last year in D-II and lost to the eventual state champion, Ironwood Ridge.  After them, there’s three teams vying for #2:  Flag High, Coconino, and the always tough Mingus Marauders.  With seven sections meaning seven automatic playoff bids for the champions, that means nine at-large bids in a 48-team division; it’s going to be tough for the North to get even one of those at-large positions.  For the Panthers and Eagles, Mingus is the stickler.  If they can both get past the Marauders (Mingus beat both teams last year en route to their own D-IV playoff appearance, only to lose to eventual state champion, Seton Catholic), Rivalry Game XLV on November 1 may be a de facto playoff game.


That’s Flagcoco’s spin on things as the season starts today.  Pretty different from Bordow’s, isn’t it?  Let’s never forget, while my heart is on the mountain, I live in Phoenix and have developed this project in Phoenix, which, by definition, makes me as much Phoenix media as Bordow and the Republic.     


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