After reading last Sunday's feature article, “Fading Glory” (great job Jesse Severson and Yuma Coaches) I sighed and chuckled. The problem of Yuma High's fading glory is not just Yuma High, but all Yuma schools.
Before I offend half my readers, let me tell you I love Yuma, the kids and people. But the truth is Yuma has never really cared about their high school athletics. There are no successful high school programs in the United States that don't start from the elementary and junior high level.
If you travel the country and told people how Yuma runs their public school athletic programs, they might think you came from a different planet. I'm not talking about Texas, where we might be branded as “UN-American” for not starting tackle football in the fifth-grade. I'm not talking about California either. “Dude, the boys play softball for their junior highs?”
Ask your many teachers who flock to Yuma from the Midwest or northern states. Ask people from the South how public school athletics are run. Ask two Linton Lions from North Dakota (Justin Hager and Derek Bosch) at what age they played their first game.
The Linton Factor
I pick on Linton, North Dakota, because I have read their paper, The Emmons County Record, for years. Linton is a town of 1,500 with a high school enrollment of about 200. It's not a rich town, just a small farm community. Cibola girls basketball coach Hager takes his team to play in Linton's annual Christmas tournament. Cibola High School has not been able to defeat the Lions. This is not a story from “Hoosiers.”
I asked Coach Hager, who over the past eight years has had the best girls basketball team in Yuma, why a school of 200 can defeat school of 2,600, not once but twice (2011 by 20 points). “They start organized school basketball in the third grade. Fundamentals are taught until the girls are ready for high school.” Probably, the most important issue Hager addressed was parental involvement. “Linton parents expect and demand the school to provide these programs even in lean times.” Half the town fills their gym every Friday and Saturday night. When was the last time you saw 800 people at a Yuma basketball game?
The Arizona Factor
Maybe it's not fair to compare Yuma to California or Texas. As a matter of fact, it might not be fair to compare Yuma to a little town in the Midwest.
I used to hear a word used in teachers' meetings — ”Paradigm.” I didn't pay much attention to it because I was writing my X's and O's on a legal pad. I think it means “the best example or epitome or model.” Common sense would dictate that you might follow the best “paradigms” in your state, not only academically, but athletically as well. You will find your high performing academic schools are also your high performing athletic schools. Not just little towns, but big districts in Phoenix. You would be amazed by the number of metro schools who provide baseball, basketball, and tackle football at the junior high level.
The Yuma Problem
The excellent article, “Fading Glory,” went to great detail explaining the breakdown of the attendance for the high school district. To be honest, it has little to do with who goes where. If each high schools had fundamentally sound athletes, it wouldn't matter. Yuma has more school districts than I carry golf balls in my bag. Turning back the clock, each section of Yuma had their own district. After Yuma grew it seems no one wanted to give up their “Kingdoms.” The east county alone has four districts for a few hundred kids. Maybe, “too many cooks spoil the pot.” You might have to ask an old timer why Yuma never consolidated.
A great deal of attention has been given to lack of funds. Everybody across the nation is experiencing the crunch. Quite simply, when times were good and money was flush people never thought it important to have sport programs like cities and towns across the nation. More importantly, Yuma parents never told their school boards, “We demand it.” Do you think the construction of a $60 million high school complex in Allen, Texas, was not demanded by the parents? Extreme example, but maybe a sport bond could have been passed in Yuma. By the way the vote was 60 percent to 40 percent in the Texas bond election.
Praise, but Don't Blame
The moms, dads, uncles, aunts, and volunteers who coach Pop Warner, Grasshopper Basketball, Sand sharks, Soccer, Little League and all the sports I left out should be praised. Thanks you for helping our kids. Their coaching and programs are a key factor in Yuma Parks and recreation that lets our youth have a chance to participate in a wide variety of sports.
Many local fans get frustrated with lopsided defeats by Phoenix, Tucson, and California schools. It's easy to point fingers at who is to blame. It's not your high school or junior high coaches. They work under the system they are employed in. Every football coach in town would love to watch a junior high tackle football game. It might mean they could start coaching in the ninth grade rather than show a young man how his thigh pad fits into his pants.
Please don't blame the plethora of administrators in Yuma. They are blocked into a system where there is not extra tax money for kids. Arizona and Mississippi have to do the best they can with what the taxpayers give.
Please don't turn on Arizona Western College and blame the coaches for not recruiting more Yuma athletes. Many of their athletes come from programs where they learned skills at an early age and played until they got good. AWC coaches have to recruit the best players possible.
Yuma is a great town with great people. It is growing despite hard times and I think it's a great place to live. As a coach, I've felt the same frustrations of the fans and players for years. I wanted to give you a little different look As I see it, “it is what it is” and that's the “Yuma Way.”
John Blabe is the former football coach and athletic director and Antelope. He can be reached at email@example.com.