Looking at the sunny side: Blue Devils make most of situation without home game this season

Sunnyside’s football players gather after their 61-13 win over Cholla in their “home” game at Desert View on Saturday (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The last time Sunnyside High School played at its field was exactly a year ago to the day from when the Blue Devils faced Cholla on Saturday in a “home” game at rival school Desert View.

Sunnyside lost to Cienega on Oct. 29, 2021.

Seniors such as quarterback Deion Conde and receiver/cornerback Mekhi Gaskin have not returned to their field for a game since because a new turf field is being installed this season.

“It’s been different because normally we play at home and normally we have our Homecoming and Senior Night at home,” Conde said after throwing three touchdown passes and running for another in the Blue Devils’ 61-13 win over Cholla.

“It’s a little difficult because (Sunnyside) is where it’s closer for the families. Now, everybody has to travel wherever we play.”

Gaskin, who caught two touchdown passes against the Chargers, added that not playing a true home game has been a “little challenging and a little upsetting.”

“(The seniors) want a game on our home field, but we’ve been getting it done for the most part (with a 5-3 record under first-year coach Thomas Romack). It’s been okay.”

Romack has yet to experience a game on Sunnyside’s campus as the permanent head coach. He served as Glenn Posey’s defensive coordinator the previous four years and became the head coach when Posey resigned during the summer.

“The first month I would say it was difficult because it’s like even if you have two or three road games in a row, you can get that break of ‘at least we’re home this week’ … a sigh of relief,” Romack said. “Every week, we’re traveling, even if it’s here (to Desert View, three miles from Sunnyside’s campus). It’s a home game but it doesn’t feel like home.”

Former Sunnyside superintendent Steve Holmes advocated for the football fields at Sunnyside and Desert View be changed to synthetic turf to help invigorate the programs and save on maintenance costs.

His successor, Jose Gastelum, is sports-minded as a baseball prospect when he attended Sunnyside. He is following through on what Holmes started and is also spearheading other major renovation projects involving the sports facilities at Desert View and Sunnyside.

Desert View recently had its gym floor resurfaced and its tennis courts are being renovated.

Sunnyside’s gym and softball field are undergoing changes.

Desert View had a christening ceremony for its football field Friday when the Jaguars played Cienega. Robert Bonillas’ team played its first three scheduled home games elsewhere (Kino Stadium North and Tucson High) while awaiting the field to be ready.

The Jaguars will celebrate a Senior Night at home Nov. 10 when Mountain View visits.

Sunnyside’s Senior Night festivities will take place Friday at Desert View when Nogales comes to town.

“Obviously it’s a bummer for the seniors because that’s the most important thing is trying to get the seniors at least one game at home,” said Sunnyside athletic director Casey O’Brien, who also serves as the boys soccer coach. “We were really pushing for that, but it just didn’t necessarily work out.”

Sunnyside’s halftime against Cholla at Desert View was spent behind the north end zone rather than in Desert View’s locker room (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Celebrating the Sunnyside seniors of the football team, band, cheerleaders and training staff at Desert View is the best possible scenario with the proximity to where families of the students live.

Having such an occasion at Tucson High or Kino North Stadium (with a hefty scheduling fee) would not have felt normal.

“It’s better for everybody’s family because you don’t have to travel as far,” Conde said about Senior Night festivities at Desert View. “But it’s going to look weird with blue (Sunnyside’s colors) on top of maroon (Desert View).”

Nine games into the season now, the Blue Devils may not like being vagabonds but they have adapted to playing “home” games at Kino North, Tucson High and now Desert View.

Expect more of this type of story with local high school programs in the upcoming years.

Flowing Wells played on the road for all but two games last year when its field was renovated with new natural grass.

Many fields in Southern Arizona have yellow grass or dirt spots. The fields are in need to either be resurfaced with natural grass or with the durable synthetic turf that will save schools costs on water and maintenance.

“The kids have handled adversity and I think at this point, we’re used to being on a bus and our guys are ready to come off and play. That’s really important,” Romack said.

O’Brien mentioned that the girls and boys soccer programs may have to start the season playing only road matches until Sunnyside’s field is ready.

The girls are tentatively scheduled to open their season at home Dec. 1 against Desert View and the boys Dec. 6 against Buena.

O’Brien said if his soccer team is unable to play at home to start the season, it will take the same approach as the football team.

“I think it seems like we are super focused this year (in football) and we’re really trying to get back to being a playoff team, a competitive team,” O’Brien said. “Romack’s got the kids so locked in. If it was another year, maybe it would be a distraction, but this year, it just seems like the kids just want to play.

“Even though we’re playing at other schools as our home sites, I think the kids are just looking at everything as just another game right now. They’ve been really good.”

Gaskin would rather have Senior Night at Sunnyside but he welcomes the opportunity to have the event close to home at Desert View.

“It’s pretty good … It’s a great feeling because we kind of picture it as going 2-0 on our rival’s field,” he said.


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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