Author Archives: Brittney Walker

Supporting swimmers

Let’s be honest about this, sports parents. It’s kind of a relief when the season ends.

Yes, the athletes are the ones diving into the water. The coaches, of course, show up before the kids get there and stay until the last one leaves.

But behind the scenes, there are parents — and often grandparents and siblings — making it possible for the contests to take place.

So it will be this weekend, for the 5A high school swim and dive championships at Kino Pool, 848 N. Horne, in Mesa. The action starts at 10 a.m. today (Friday), with girls diving, followed by swimming preliminaries at noon.  Tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) finals start at noon. You can watch it live online, thanks to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

While plenty of friends and family members will be in the bleachers cheering for their kids and their team in the last of this season’s high school swim and dive contests, a small army of folks will make it happen.

It takes about 25 volunteers to pull off a typical high school swim meet, and that doesn’t count those who bake, buy and serve food for the coaches, officials, timers and spectators. Each of eight lanes requires two timers, another five or six work the computer, announce the meet and ensure proper scoring, and a half dozen or more are officiating, watching every stroke and turn to make sure they’re done correctly.

The parents who help put on the meets don’t do it for the recognition. And it’s not about keeping an eye on their kid, because — as any swim parent knows — these student athletes don’t really have time to get into much trouble.

Mostly, I think, it’s selfish. With two swimmers on the Chaparral High School team, it just feels good to be around these teenagers and their dedicated coaches, and so I look for opportunities to be there. There is great joy in watching my children have fun and compete and be part of something that is much more than just strokes and turns.

Chaparral is a remarkable program and we have a great opportunity to take state in our first season in 5A Division II. This is a competitive crowd and they want to win. But when I asked Chaparral parents for their thoughts about the season, they didn’t focus much on that.

“I have been moved by the Chaparral coaching staff and their commitment in developing our kids as athletes, but more importantly developing them as people,” says Sydney Mouer, parent of junior freestyler Alexis.

Chris Wallace, whose daughter Tessa will be swimming the 50 free, talked about “belonging to a team of great kids and athletes who work hard to achieve their goals.”

Sure, it feels good to win. And yes, there will be a sense of relief when the meet ends Saturday.

But no matter what happens, there is reason to celebrate. All too soon, those reasons will be heading off to college.

Mary K. Reinhart


What most of us don’t know about badminton

xavier-badminton-teamThe Duke of Beaufort would have been pleased that so many people were playing and watching his game in Scottsdale today. In 1836, the Duke invented the modern version of a game that dates back to ancient Greece and China, and that the British had run across in their then-colony of India. He named the game after his English country home — the House of Badminton.

Today’s scene at the Firebird Invitational badminton tournament at Chaparral High School was far removed from an English country home. Sixty-five girls from nine Valley high schools filled nine badminton courts in the Chaparral gym, which had five state title badminton banners hanging on the wall.

danielle-and-carissaTwo of the players, the doubles team of Danielle Mark (at left in photo) and Carissa Pappas, from the currently top ranked team in the state, the Xavier College Prep Gators, shared with me some things about badminton that most people don’t know.

Despite its elegance, badminton is a lot of work, they said. The Xavier team practices three hours a day, five days a week. They start the day at school at 6:30 a.m. for an hour of conditioning work, which includes sprints, footwork agility drills and core/abdominal exercises such as the plank, bicycle crunches and working with medicine balls. After school, they have two hours of practice on badminton.

Both Danielle and Carissa first played badminton in freshman P.E. class. Danielle started playing competitively as a sophomore and Carissa as a junior.

“It is not a common sport and not something that people would expect to be competitive,” Danielle said. Carissa likes the mental side of the game. “You can have all the physical skills, but if you have a bad mental game, you can’t win anything.”

“I don’t know what I would do without badminton,” Carissa said, noting that there are no college scholarships available in the sport. “I would love to play in college.”

“So what don’t people appreciate about badminton?” I asked them.

“That it’s actually hard,” Danielle said. “It uses a lot of physicality and balance. You are constantly moving.”

Carissa compared badminton to tennis, which she once played competitively. “Badminton has more quickness and little spurts of energy,” Carissa said. “Tennis is more fluid.”

So what advice do the two Xavier girls have for those of us who play badminton once or twice a year at a picnic? “Hit through the bird. Don’t tap it,” Carissa said.

Danielle had more general advice, which extends well beyond badminton and other sports. “Our coach always says, ‘You’ve got to show up.’ Show up both mentally and physically.”

The 5A high state badminton championship will be played this year at Dobson High School in Mesa. The team competition will be Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 and 4. The individual singles and doubles championships will be Nov. 6 and 7. Admission is $5 and kids under 5 are free. If you or your daughter is interested in learning more about badminton, you should go. I have a pretty good feeling that Danielle, Carissa and the rest of their Xavier teammates (below) will show up. — Dan Barr


Those of us with children in the ocean

If you need more evidence that swimming is a lifetime sport, the La Jolla Rough Water Swim is proof positive.

Our family recently followed the Chaparral High Swim and Dive team for its annual trek to the lovely seaside town just north of San Diego to compete in the 1-mile ocean swim off La Jolla Cove. Son John, a junior, and daughter Emily, a freshman, are longtime club swimmers and teammates.

La Jolla Rough Water Swim

La Jolla Rough Water Swim

For the high school athletes, it’s an early-season bonding event, a quick two-day turnaround that leaves the team slightly bleary-eyed and sore on Monday morning, but brimming with a sense of accomplishment, wonderful memories and a newfound appreciation for each other and their sport.

For those of us with children in the ocean, the Rough Water conjures up a mix of excitement, fear and extraordinary pride.

For this year’s 2,038 finishers — ranging in age from a 6-year-old to Virginia Flagg, 83, of La Jolla — it is testament to hard work, endurance and the joy of swimming.

The event itself — now in its 93rd year — is so well run that there’s really no need to worry (still, that’s what I do best). Lifeguards on surfboards are placed along the triangular course to keep swimmers from going too far off track and aid those who are struggling. The dry land scene is well organized, too, and includes food booths and plenty of room in grassy Scripps Park above the cove to spread out and relax while awaiting your swim. Teams and families come from up and down the West Coast, Arizona and Colorado to compete in America’s oldest and largest open water swim competition.

The Rough Water is no mean feat, and the Sept. 13 event — John’s fourth, Emily’s second — absolutely lived up to its name, with 10- to 12-foot swells and much slower times to prove it. In all the years we’ve been hanging around La Jolla, I can’t remember seeing waves this big.

Younger swimmers, up to age 12, swim a 250-yard loop within the cove. The amateurs (all but three of the Chaparral crew), ages 13-18, swim the mile in separate boys’ and girls’ heats, following a course that takes them out to sea for 800 yards, above the La Jolla Underwater Ecological Reserve, banks left for 460 yards, then around a second buoy for the 500-yard leg back to shore.

A men’s and women’s masters event follows the same course as the amateurs, in several waves to accommodate nearly 1,000 swimmers, ages 19 to 83-year-old Virginia. The 3-mile Gatorman course is basically a roundtrip from the cove to just short of Scripps pier. Among the 491 finishers were Chaparral swimmers Sam Morgan, Tanner Roe and Cody Vitez. Sam took fourth overall, with a time of 1:01:38.

The camaraderie with fellow parents and former strangers is a comfort and a hoot — all of us lining the boardwalk three and four deep. Peering through binoculars to get a glimpse of our kids as they gather on the beach for the start. Getting out of each other’s way so we can snap a photo. Hollering their names though we know they can’t hear us. Looking out for each other’s children as they come back into view after they round the second buoy and head for shore. Congratulating each other before rushing off to embrace our wet, salty, exhilarated swimmers.

As proud as we are of these teenagers, the Rough Water also has something to offer their parents, and grandparents. Most of the top finishers were in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

In the men’s masters, you have to get to 14th place before you find a 19 year old. The third-place finisher, 42-year-old Patrick Brundage of Scottsdale, a dad with our club team whose daughters swam the 250 and the mile, came in just after 53-year-old Scott Bonney of Burton, Wash. Ben Weston, 28, of La Jolla took first. Tanner’s dad, Peter, 49, one of the Chaparral chaperones, also swam the mile.

The women are equally inspiring. Connie Falcon, 30, of La Jolla, took first; Amy Dantzler, 45, of Los Angeles, came in second; and 50-year-old Robynn Masters of Salt Lake City took third.

I don’t know if most kids took notice of the “old folks,” although my daughter and her friend chatted up Virginia after her swim. But as a runner nearing my sixth decade and wondering how long my knees will hold out, swimming holds the possibility of lifetime fitness. How many other sports can several generations enjoy together? How many are prescribed as rehab for injuries, at the same time offering a cardiovascular workout while building endurance and muscle strength? How many offer a head-clearing mental workout at the same time? Just swimming.

We’ll be back next year to cheer on the Chaparral High team, and our youngest will try his first 250. Interested? Check out the La Jolla Rough Water Swim home page to learn more. — Mary K. Reinhart

It takes more than spirit

Seven members of the Mountain View High School Spiritline.

Seven members of the Mountain View High School spiritline.

“It’s not Marcia Brady’s cheerleading anymore.”

That’s what Dannis Zazueta, head coach for the Mountain View High School spiritline told me at Friday night’s football game. The Mountain View cheer and pom squads are the current Arizona 5A state champions and have had an excellent cheer program for years. “A lot of these girls have wanted to be Toro cheerleaders since they were little girls,” Zazueta said.

Nearly 400,000 boys and girls currently participate in high school cheering nationwide, according to a recent survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations. That works out to about 21 cheerleaders at every high school that participated in the survey.

Cheerleading is far more demanding, both athletically and in time commitment required, than it was a generation ago. The Mountain View cheerleaders practice from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, followed by weight training during the school’s second hour.

“These girls are all top athletes,” Zazueta said. Most, if not all, of the Mountain View cheerleaders are accomplished gymnasts or dancers. The girls are also tough. Cheerleading has the highest rate of injuries of any high school sport. Higher than football, basketball, soccer or anything else you could think of.

Providing a spiritline at football games is only part of what these girls do.  At state and national competitions they perform routines that are far more intricate and physically demanding than anything they do on the sidelines of a football field. This year’s Arizona Spiritline State Championship will be on January 30, 2010 at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. The national championship will take place at Disneyland in March.

“What else should people know about cheerleading?” I asked Zazueta.

“Most of our girls are on honor roll and at the top of their class,” the coach said proudly. — Dan Barr

Herding cats

“They look like a herd of cats.”

That’s what I thought as I ran around the track at Chaparral High School this morning while the freshman football team was practicing. Thirteen-year-old boys have notoriously short attention spans, and that is on full display at freshman football practices.

Many of boys still have baby fat on their faces, arms and legs — and almost all of them will grow several more inches and put on 20 to 40 pounds during the next two or three years. As the boys scrimmaged, the coaches did all the things that football coaches do to focus the attention of their players. They yelled, cajoled, encouraged and yelled some more.

As I ran around the track, I had two flashbacks. One was to 10 years ago, when my older son Andy and about 60 other boys were going through their first days of freshman football practice. They, too, wandered around like cats while the coaches strained to focus their attention on football and operating as a cohesive unit.

I then thought of a comment that a reporter friend made to me three years later, in December 2002. Andy and his teammates were seniors and the baby fat was long gone. They had just upset the defending state champions in the state semifinal football game in Tucson. They scored the winning points after a lengthy drive that ate up much of the clock in the fourth quarter.

“That drive began more than three years ago,” my friend said. He was referring to the thousands of hours of work the boys had put in together on the practice field and in the weight room since their freshman year. He was also referring to the fact that, during their lengthy game-winning drive, Chaparral had returned to plays from their freshman playbook.

With nerves, emotions and crowd noise running high, the coaches called the plays these kids had run hundreds of times during practice and games. These plays, which were now hardwired into Andy and his teammates, were the same ones they had stumbled through at the beginning of their freshman year. But they no longer looked like a herd of cats. They had become a team — and a week later they would win the state championship.

As I ran around the track, one of the freshman coaches starting yelling at a player for not paying attention to something. The coach got in the player’s face and told him to get off the field and stand on the sideline. I ran a few more laps around the track, and as I finished I walked past and caught the eye of the boy on the sideline, who was still a little chastened.

“Hi, Coach…I mean, Sir, how are you?” the boy said.

I was tempted to share what I been thinking about as I ran around the track, but thought better of it for two reasons. One, I didn’t want the coach to yell at him again for not paying attention. Two, there are just some things you have to find out for yourself. Adults often want to tell kids about the “big picture,” and I am often guilty of that myself.

Instead, I told him that both of my sons and many of their friends had played football at Chaparral and that it had been a great experience for them.

“When do you play your first game?” I asked.

The boy’s face brightened. “This Wednesday!”

I was tempted to expound on the fact that his first freshman game was the first step in a long journey toward becoming part of a real team, but feared I’d sound like a pompous blowhard.

Instead, I told him the only thing that most high school athletes want to hear, from their friends, family, teachers — or just some guy running around the track.

“I’ll come watch the game.”

Saw a spirited, if predictably sloppy, first game of the freshman football season Wednesday night between Boulder Creek and Chaparral. Boulder Creek won 27-26 after both teams scored touchdowns in the last 100 seconds of the game. There were some exceptional plays and lots of what let’s call “learning experiences” or “teaching moments” by both teams.

I watched the game with my friend, Dr. Steven Pitt, one of the country’s leading forensic psychiatrists. Steve’s son, Beau, plays left tackle for Chaparral, and Steve was trying to master the art of watching his son through binoculars while watching the rest of the players and talking with me and others as well.

From what I saw last night, Beau, who is already 6 feet and 170 pounds, has a far greater upside as an offensive lineman over the next four seasons than his dad has in manipulating binoculars. I look forward to watching the two Pitts develop their respective football skills. — Dan Barr

Running into the absurd

I try to go run each weekend on the local high school football field. It is a new, artificial-turf field that offers plenty of cushioning for my creaky joints. Almost every time I go, I find I am not alone on the field. I often run into private football coaching sessions for boys in their tweens.

Over the past two years, I have noticed an increasing trend: parents hiring private coaches to work on football skills with their 10- to 15-year-old sons. There are quarterback coaches, punting and kicking coaches and long-snapping coaches. Some of these sessions are private lessons; others are two or three boys working with one coach. Occasionally, a parent or two is sitting on the sidelines, eager to talk with the coach about their son’s progress after the coaching session ends.

Last New Year’s Day, I decided to go run before plopping myself on the couch to watch the Rose Bowl. When I went over to the field, I encountered a mom and dad watching their 9th-grade son get a private lesson from a quarterback coach. The boy was throwing the ball well and the coach had a lot of good advice for him, but I was still taken aback by the timing. The high school football passing league season was more than four months away and it was more than seven months before anyone would put on football pads. Plus, it was New Year’s Day, for crying out loud.

Yesterday, I came across a dad sitting on the sidelines watching his 6th- or 7th-grade son get private coaching on how to run agility and conditioning drills to prepare him for the upcoming Pop Warner season (which is still more than two months away). I’m sorry, but a middle-aged man showing a well coordinated pre-teen boy how to run agility and conditioning drills is simply absurd. It is a waste of both money and time. Plus, let’s face it–middle-aged guys really are not all that agile.

I love that kids are involved in sports and many of the private coaches do a great job with the kids, especially those in their later teens who can get a real benefit out of the coaching. It bothers me, however, to see more and more private football coaching sessions with boys in their tweens.

“Private coaching at that age is pretty much useless,” says my friend, Ron Estabrook, who coached both of my sons at Chaparral High School. “Puberty reshuffles the deck anyway. A boy changes so much between 8th grade and his junior year in high school.”

Ron knows what he is talking about. He retired two years ago as one of the more successful football coaches in the history of Arizona high school football. He won more than 120 games and three state championships at Chaparral. He also won two Nevada high school championship before coming to Arizona.

I had lunch with Ron recently and shared with him what I was seeing when I went running over at the high school. Ron said that he thought that the private coaching of tweens was not only useless, but also built up unwarranted expectations with the kids and the parents who had spent the money on such coaching. “Parents who spend all this money on private quarterback coaching can’t understand how their kid got beat out once he is on the varsity squad by the natural athlete or the kid whose athleticism has improved greatly since middle school,” Ron said.

Ron’s advice for dads who want to help develop their young sons’ football skills is pretty simple. “Go out to the back yard or the park and throw the ball with your son. It is supposed to be fun.” And it is something that a dad can provide to his young son that no coach can. — Dan Barr

Passing leagues in full swing

Through June, high school football passing league games will be played on most week nights throughout the Valley. Passing league games are low-contact, no-pads games with seven players on a side. There is no blocking or tackling and no running plays. There are no offensive or defensive linemen. These are controlled scrimmages in which each team gets to run 15 or 20 passing plays at a time. It is the time of year when high school teams work on their passing offense and defense schemes.

Almost all games start at 6 p.m. on weeknights at local high school football fields. There are also three big tournaments, hosted by the three state university football programs, that draw teams from all over the state. The ASU passing league tournament is Wednesday, June 3, at 6 p.m. at the ASU football practice fields at Sixth Street and Rural Road. The UofA passing league tournament in Tucson is Saturday, June 6. It starts at 9 a.m. and features games in the morning and early evening. Finally, the NAU passing league tournament in Flagstaff is Saturday, June 20. This is an all-day tournament as well and starts at 8 a.m. The NAU tournament also features a fun “big man” competition for linemen that involves not only weight lifting and agility drills, but competitions that involve several guys pushing a truck about 80 yards and five linemen carrying a telephone pole on their shoulders as they race around half the football field.

If you have a son in elementary school or middle school who is interested in playing high school football, go check out a passing league game or tournament. Admission to the games and the tournaments is free. — Dan Barr