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1. Best fans.
Canyon del Oro hands down. Not only is it packed every Friday night, the student section goes from the first row all the way to the top. Students wait four years to be able to get near the front row but only the top female athletes have been able to reserve that row for almost a decade now.
Coming up strong would the Ironwood Ridge student section but the other half of the stands are only half full….
Cienega students. Others come close but only for rivalry games. A whole section full of choreographed cheers and (sometimes) taunts.
Ironwood Ridge. I’m not even sure there is a second place in this category. Again, packed and rowdy. Kudos to the boosters for paying for the students during playoff time.
Ironwood Ridge, Canyon del Oro, Cienega, Salpointe and Sahuaro. I’m not sure you can find an open seat on really big games and it’s not just a coincidence that these fans are the most educated on the sport.
Too many to count. High School baseball in Southern Arizona is like the minor leagues and everyone comes out.
2. Best announcing.
Bill Nettling, Canyon del Oro.
Not only does he get the yardage markers right in football, he knows what the penalties are. The only other place that comes close would have to be Salpointe. I try hard to ignore what other announcers say at football games because they either get the down wrong, the distance wrong, the runner wrong or the actual yard marker wrong.
For softball, Nettling makes the visitors feel at home with trivia and information about their team and coaches. I always get compliments from other teams about his announcing.
3. Most prepared coach.
Anne Fitzsimmons, Ironwood Ridge swim coach.
For a sport that doesn’t lend itself to reporting easily because of swim caps, goggles and no uniforms, Fitzsimmons always has extra lane assignments handy with all the names typed out.
You’d be surprised how big of a deal that is.
4. Best food.
Sunnyside football has the best homemade Mexican food but you have to get there before the second quarter starts because it goes fast.
Salpointe and Pusch Ridge always have the best food for coaches and officials during invitationals. Instant weight gain.
5. Best gym the print media has never seen.
Desert Christian has the best basketball gym in Southern Arizona regardless of size. Tucson High’s comes close but Desert Christian has the feel of a gym somewhere in a small high school in Indiana. They lucked out with an architect who knew what he was doing.
Whenever I go into a gym and see a ledge where balls can get stuck forever like Sahuaro, Sabino or numerous others, I just shake my head and wonder how that architect ever got hired to do a gym.
6. Best turf/stadiums.
Contrary to what you may have read somewhere else one morning, there are six (not five) artificial turf’s in the Tucson area. Cienega, Sahuarita, Marana, Mountain View, Tucson High and Salpointe all have them. If you include the Pima and University of Arizona fields then the number increases to eight.
Having been on all of them, I would have to tip my hat off to Arizona’s.
Best softball stadium isn’t even close – Canyon del Oro. Salpointe’s new configuration gave it a boost to second place.
Best baseball stadium is up for grabs. Scenery is great at Ironwood Ridge and Catalina Foothills. Tucson High (Cherry Field) can be if the seating is ever reconfigured on the first-base side.
Football must take into account parking situations. For that reason, the lack of parking at Tucson High or the “parking lot of death” at Ironwood Ridge, where it can take 30 minutes to leave after a football game, eliminates those two schools.
After that, they are all pretty much the same. Some are older and some are newer. Amphi has the best new facilities but they will need more than 30 fans to return it to the glory days.
It’s kind of odd, but the Pusch Ridge cross country course has to be mentioned here also. No flat golf courses or public parks on this course. There are washes, mountains, desert and cactus on this course. You get the feel that this must be what cross country was meant to be – otherwise you are just running.
7. What did I miss?
Mascot, colors or nickname?
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on the pages of the Vail Voice. Contact Andy Morales at AMoralesMyTucson@yahoo.com