A HOME DOWN THE ROAD: Arizona Christian football to play at Cactus

The Arizona Christian University football team takes the field at Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix for a game in 2018. With the university moving to its new campus in Glendale, the Firestorm will play home games at nearby Cactus High School while an on-campus stadium is built. [Submitted photo]

Other Firestorm teams seek temporary homes

Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

While Arizona Christian University athletes moved into their new Glendale campus July 31, their temporary home stadiums were just coming into focus, or still a bit up in the air.

ACU plans for on-campus facilities for most of its sports, but the football/soccer field and volleyball court will not be ready for the 2019 season. The campus on 59th Avenue south of Greenway Road is still in the midst of its transition from its 70-plus years as the home of the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

A key component came together in late July as the Firestorm football program reached an agreement to play its five home games about a mile away at Cactus High School. Sports Information Director Tim Gooszen said proximity and familiarity between ACU Coach Jeff Bowen and Cactus coach Joseph Ortiz were the crucial factor one it became clear Glendale Community College is not interested in hosting football — even temporarily.

“Due to the close proximity to the new Arizona Christian campus, Cactus High School became a great option to introduce ACU football to the Glendale community. Gooszen said. “We look forward to calling M.L. Huber Stadium at Cactus High School the home of ACU football until athletic fields can be built on the new campus.”

Ortiz said Arizona Christian approached his athletic director, Chad Doyle, early in the summer about using the natural grass field. In their previous five seasons, the Firestorm played on the artificial turf field at Shadow Mountain High School, close to the old northeast Phoenix campus.

Ortiz said his only concern was the field’s ability to hold up, since a youth team also plays there. But now, the field can be reserved for game days only.

“If you have a rough field, it can cause a lot of injuries,” Ortiz said. “We just got a brand new practice field with four lights. I think the field will hold up well and we will not be using it except for games.”

ACU also can practice elsewhere, using the old Thunderbird school rugby field this season while an on-campus turf field goes up. Once that was cleared up and the schools came up with a plan for field transition and maintenance.

While second-year Cactus coach Ortiz got to know Bowen during his Westview High School coaching heyday, the connection between the Cobras and Firestorm goes back a few years. Cactus alums Mahal Lee and Kelvyn Martin were on the 2018 ACU roster.

Then 2019 graduates Zaach Cullop, Adam Rivera and Rylee Williams signed. Former Cobras Isaac Gilliam, Scott Jones and Joey Marrufo came over after playing at Phoenix College.

“They’re right across the street, essentially and I hope that this can help more of our student-athletes, not just football,” Ortiz said.

Most Firestorm teams will go further afield for home games. After years of Arizona Christian soccer games at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix, that site was available only for half of the games Gooszen said. So the soccer teams will play at the Reach 11 complex in Northwest Phoenix.

Women’s volleyball remains undecided and the clock is ticking. The Firestorm Labor Day Invitational is during Labor Day weekend.

Both basketball programs, acrobatics and tumbling and wrestling are the only certainties to play on campus at the new/old ACU Event Center. And even that sounds like a temporary gym that is just big enough to host events.

“We were able to acquire the old floor from the Honda Center in Anaheim. The floor has been sanded down and a new floor design is in process,” Gooszen said. “With the addition of temporary bleachers, the ACU Event Center should provide a nice home court advantage for the Firestorm.”

On-campus baseball and softball fields and tennis courts are in the works. At this point, it is too early to speculate if any will be open in time for the spring 2020 season. Even next fall is far from certain.

“Hopefully we are talking about more fields on campus next year. Many people are working hard to make that a reality,” Gooszen said.

Ortiz, for one, would not mind a second year of Friday and Saturday night lights at 6330 W. Greenway.

“We’re super excited. The football program is running the concessions (for ACU games). I plan to be there every Saturday, cheering them on,” Ortiz said.

Home games in caps (at Cactus High School)
Sept. 7 at Abeline Christian
Sept. 21 at Wayland Baptist
Oct. 12 at Langston
Nov. 2 at Texas Wesleyan
Nov. 9 at Lyon

Cactus Head Coach Joseph Ortiz gives instruction to his players during a summer workout on Friday, June 22, 2018 at Cactus High School in Glendale. Ortiz and the Cobras will share their home field with Arizona Christian football in 2019. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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