It was fitting that one of Mark Brunenkant’s most significant milestones as a distinguished high school football coach in Southern Arizona went unnoticed last week after Flowing Wells’ 40-12 romp over rival Amphi.
Brunenkant won his 100th game in his 22nd year as a head coach at Douglas, Catalina Foothills and now Flowing Wells. It didn’t make the headlines or the 10 o’clock news. It may have not been even talked about at Brunenkant’s dinner table with his wife Lucinda.
How appropriate from Brunenkant’s refreshing soft-spoken modest ways to the fact he coaches at a quaint neighborhood school, the only high school in the Flowing Wells School District.
“We don’t have to have luxuries,” Brunenkant said after yesterday’s walk through leading up to tonight’s home game against Paradise Valley. “We have a system. We’re always trying to improve. Some years are better than others.”
Case in point: After going 1-9 in 2013, Brunenkant’s teams went 22-12 in a three-year span before going 3-7 last season. The Caballeros have already matched that win total this season with a 3-1 record.
“All of our kids are Flowing Wells kids, which you don’t see nowadays,” Brunenkant said. “That’s a credit to the district. Our district does a great job from an education standpoint. … We have the approach that we do enough.”
It is a constant numbers game with the Caballeros year to year because of the small pool of players available. Brunenkant will dress only 36 players for tonight’s game. About 20 of them played in the junior varsity game last night at Palo Verde. Some of those players will play again tonight, mostly on special teams.
Brunenkant said he will play a “solid 18 to 19 kids” in the game tonight with obviously most of them playing on both sides of the ball.
“We could easily say, ‘No JV team,’ and have those kids with us,” Brunenkant said. “We’re trying to do enough to get guys who aren’t playing on Friday night to play some JV games. It’s a numbers issue, so we constantly walk a fine line.
“It’s a puzzle that we try to piece together.”
We do enough. Brunenkant said those words more than once. At a school like Flowing Wells, that’s all you can ask for. And the Caballeros coaches and administration have done plenty.
Just a few yards away yesterday from the Caballeros’ practice field athletic director Pat Weber was preparing for the freshman game in addition to putting up banners of sponsors for tonight’s game, which will include the induction of Flowing Wells’ Class of 2018 Hall of Fame members.
Among those entering the Hall of Fame are former Flowing Wells coach and teacher Todd Holthaus, now the women’s basketball coach at Pima Community College, and former Flowing Wells and Arizona soccer standout Alex Davis, who is the Caballeros’ girls soccer coach.
Weber is expecting another capacity crowd of about 5,000 on the Flowing Wells’ side of the field for tonight’s game.
“Our fans show up and they continue to show up,” Weber said. “We usually fill our side while we keep doing well. It’s a lot of fun. … We try to keep the prices as low as possible. We also have a lot of help every football game.”
Weber said another reason why Flowing Wells is flourishing is Brunenkant’s coaching style and performance, building an essential trust factor with his players and their families.
Brunenkant turned around losing programs at Douglas and Catalina Foothills after he was hired. He has endured at Flowing Wells, his longest coaching stint, while carrying on the legendary Brunenkant name at the school.
His late father Carl served as either coach, principal or athletic director at Salpointe, Sunnyside, Desert View and Flowing Wells for more than 40 years. His brother Jim is the principal at Flowing Wells.
Also, brothers John, Barry and Tim are well-known around Tucson. Barry was a star baseball player who reached the Triple-A level in the minor leagues as an outfielder. Tim is the lieutenant of the Marana Police Department. His oldest brother John played for Palo Verde’s 1973 championship football team.
The Brunenkant name has been synonymous with sports excellence in Tucson since Carl attended Salpointe and met his wife Mary there in the 1950’s. Mary was the first homecoming queen at Salpointe.
“It’s a no-brainer for us to have Coach Brunenkant here,” Weber said. “We’re really happy with the setup. The amount of time he puts in and the connections he makes with athletes is the critical piece. He’s able to connect with them and get to know them.
“He finds out about their family situation and about them personally. I think that is a key factor in building trust. Once the coach has trust, usually the athletes will perform to the best of their abilities for them. Trust is critical for any coach to be successful. They have to trust their coach, the program and the support that he gets.”
Brunenkant’s odyssey has taken him as far away as Colombia, where he and his wife moved for a couple of years after he started his coaching career as a Desert View assistant. They moved to Colombia because of friends they knew moved there to teach. They also taught there and Brunenkant served as an athletic director there.
While they were in Medelin, Colombia, drug lord Pablo Escobar was captured there, an event Brunenkant looks back on in amazement to be that close.
Brunenkant later had a career interest at Barcelona, Spain, but chose to return to Southern Arizona to coach Douglas instead because he and his wife were homesick.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘Barcelona or Douglas, Arizona? That’s the kind of running joke,” said Brunenkant, who took over a Douglas program that lost 24 consecutive games before his arrival.
Brunenkant elevated the Bulldogs to a 5-5 record in his third year before taking the Catalina Foothills job. The program there was on a 15-game losing streak. Three years later, he coached Catalina Foothills to the state playoffs and his teams went that far in three out of four years before he stepped down in 2006.
After a year on the staff at Flowing Wells, he was elevated to head coach in 2008. His record is 40-57 with the Caballeros, but what must be factored into the record is that he took over a program that won only 12 games in the five previous seasons and there is that constant challenge of being the lone high school in a school district.
“You always want that consistency,” Brunenkant said. “I’m always confident that we do things right. I love my coaching staff. I always say what we do is the best, the best for us.”
Weber said Brunenkant’s performance goes beyond the wins and losses on the field. In that regard, the Brunenkant’s value is superior to the 100 wins in his career that he achieved last week.
Weber cited food distribution and a shoe donation program for those students in need, including the Kicks 4 Kids program that my brother Andy operates, as ways Brunenkant and the athletic staff try to build a bond and keep students interested in sports.
“Supporting our athletes is one way to get our kids to participate and Mark is essential with that,” Weber said. “We try to create memories and moments with athletes. … The football team has a camp every summer in which they take about 50 athletes. There’s a lot of activities like that we do that are out of the realm your normal athletic activities.
“We’re trying to create moments that athletes remember. We look at impacting an athlete’s experiences and the memories they can take away whether they win a bunch or not.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.