Sammy Padilla named 2023 Southern Arizona Student Athlete of the Year; Takaia Hicks and Bella Rodriguez earn Hector J. Morales III Scholarships

Sammy Padilla (Flowing Wells student Caley John Photo)

The Tucson Citizen profiled the city’s finest high school student-athletes from 1957 through 2008. The tradition of recognizing only the very best was continued on the pages of the TucsonCitizen.com website and we have continued this tradition at AllSportsTucson.com since 2014. Each candidate was judged on academics, athletics, leadership, service to their school and on a one-page essay on who influenced them most in their life.

Flowing Wells standout Sammy Padilla is the 2023 Southern Arizona Student-Athlete of the Year recipient and the $1,000 scholarship that goes with it. Also, we started a scholarship fund to honor our brother, Hector J. Morales III, who passed away this year, and two student athletes earned $500 scholarships in his name, Takaia Hicks of Marana and Bella Rodriguez of Cienega.

Padilla announced his commitment to play baseball for Emporia State last week. Padilla graduated third in his class with a 4.21 GPA after serving three years as the captain of the soccer team and two years as the captain of the baseball team.


There have been many people in my life that have influenced me along my journey, but my parents, Louie and Christine, have been by far the most influential. Raising a boy, let alone three, is no easy task. They have unselfishly devoted themselves to raising us and being there for us no matter what. They always came to our games no matter if it was 115 degrees in Phoenix on a July afternoon or rainy and below 40 degrees in Douglas on a cold winter night. They have taught us important values that I rely on not only in school/sports but will guide me for the rest of my life. The importance of moderation and balance in life… Failure is a part of life, what matters is how you respond… Staying mentally present…

My mom always reminded me that anything I do, do in moderation. Doing so brings a deeper appreciation and balance in life. Having heard these wise words from my mom from such a young age, it helped me successfully balance my time between family, academics, and athletics. While focusing on one thing is a great thing to do for a moment, I learned to step back and appreciate other areas of my life. Growing up my parents encouraged us to play different sports. I think doing so helped keep me physically and mentally healthy. It gave my body a rest, legs from soccer and arm from baseball, and kept me from getting burned out playing sports year-round. At the start of each sport season, I was fresh and ready to play.

While I agree with the saying ‘practice makes perfect’, I have learned that in baseball, soccer, and life it does not always result in success. In baseball, you could have the perfect swing and barrel a ball up perfectly and you could still fail. In soccer, you could have the perfect shot but get blocked by a great goalkeeper and you fail. Growing up and failing in these sports, my parents always taught me that you are going to fail more than you succeed. They taught me, through many, many conversations, that how I respond to failure will determine how successful I am the next at bat, the next shot at goal, or the next difficult life situation.

My deep love for sports and my success on the field and in the classroom is largely due to my father. A Pueblo High School valedictorian and three sport super-athlete in 1987, he has always been there to help my brothers and I do the best we can. Since the time I began playing baseball and soccer at an early age, he not only helped me develop the physical skills needed to play but taught me to be mentally ready. I have learned, and continue to learn, that to perform exceptionally well, I need to practice physical skills, learn the game, and be mentally present when playing. Something that has always stuck with me is the simple saying ‘See ball, hit ball’. Keep it simple in games…hitting is already hard enough, don’t make it any harder by not being mentally present.

While my parents have been the most influential people in my life, I could not have accomplished what I have done and will continue to do without my faith. My parents introduced my brothers and I to our faith when we were young, and I could not be more thankful. Building a relationship with my God has had such an impact on how I view things in life and how family is the most important thing one could have.

1957 D.L. Secrist Jr. Tucson High
1958 Donald Parsons Catalina
1959 Edward Brown Flowing Wells
1960 Terry DeJonghe Salpointe
1961 Robert Svob Catalina
1962 Ray Kosanke Tucson High
1963 Michael Aboud Tucson High
1964 Pat McAndrew Flowing Wells
1965 Charles Begley Sunnyside
1966 Eric Evett Catalina
1967 Ron Curry Tucson High
1968 Jeff Lovin Palo Verde
1969 Bruce Pawlowski Salpointe
1970 Dave Henry Sahuaro
1971 Tom Hagen Salpointe
1972 Bill Baechler Palo Verde
1973 Francisco Gomez Pueblo
1974 Richard Rucker Canyon del Oro
1975 Guillermo Robles Sunnyside
1976 Karen Christensen Rincon
1977 Michael Wing Rincon
1978 Craig Barker Amphitheater
1979 Ralph Gay Sunnyside
1980 Kristine Bush Sabino
1981 Lisa Kay Baker Sahuaro
1982 Vickie Patton Marana
1983 Martin Tetreault Sahuaro
1984 Molly Reiling Salpointe
1985 Timothy Roggeman Salpointe
1986 Jon Volpe Amphitheater
1987 Luis A. Padilla Pueblo
1988 Nicole Stern Catalina
1989 Robert Moen Flowing Wells
1990 Grace O’Neill Salpointe
1991 Angel Phillips Rincon
1992 Zenen Salazar Sunnyside
1993 Michelle Vielledent Sahuaro
1994 Julie Reitan Sahuaro and Brady Bennon Sabino
1995 Kelly Yablonski University High
1996 Joe Aguirre Palo Verde
1997 Andy Viner University High
1998 Scott Beck Canyon del Oro
1999 Glenn Schatz University High
2000 Nicole Voelkel University High
2001 Ai-ris Yonekura Catalina Foothills
2002 Philo Sanchez Sunnyside
2003 Tim Ashcraft Sahuaro
2004 Joe Kay Tucson High
2005 Tiffany Hosten Tucson High and Echo Fallon Catalina Foothills
2006 Michael Smith Sunnyside
2007 Tara Erdmann Flowing Wells
2008 James Eichberger Catalina

2009 Sun Park Cienega
2010 Christine Clark Tucson High
2011 LeeAndra Smith Palo Verde
2012 Rachel Ward (Pusch Ridge) and Robin Landrith (Ironwood Ridge)
2013 Mally McGarity (Marana) and Asha Esprit (University High)

2014 Amanda Nicholas Sahuaro
2015 Laura McGeary Flowing Wells and Courtney Brown Flowing Wells
2016 Cheyenne Pitts Mountain View
2017 Jacqueline Igulu Palo Verde
2018 Tyson Corner Marana
2019 Luc Rosenblatt Salpointe
2020 Shana Brown Ironwood Ridge
2021 Rumur Rouille Ironwood Ridge
2022 Tanvi Narendran University High
2023 Sammy Padilla Flowing Wells


Named one of “Arizona’s Heart & Sol” by KOLD and Casino del Sol, Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and a 2019 AZ Education News recognition. He was a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling and his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is a Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. He earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater and he was recognized by City Councilman Richard Fimbres. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top