Teaching the sport: Dysart district coaches prepare for athletic classes in 2019-20

Dysart High School football coach John Ganados gives instruction to his players during a 7-on-7 practice on May 23 at Dysart High School in El Mirage. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

High school coaches across the Dysart Unified School District spent the end of the recent school year preparing to convert their sport into a classroom of sorts.

In late-2018 meetings, the district allowed modification of the high school curriculum to include sports-based physical education classes.

The new program will start in the 2019-20 school year and will include team sports, such as football, volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball and spiritline. Dysart football coach John Ganados said Dysart Superintendent Dr. Quinn Kellis and district athletic director Jim Dean deserve credit for launching these classes.

“Dr. Kellis and Mr. Dean have made a big emphasis on athletics. Some people say stuff and have not come through. These gentlemen have come through. They have not hesitated to write those checks for athletics,” Ganados said. “I know that they see we’re trying to change it here. This is going to play into turning that corner.”

In the first year at least, the structure of classes will be determined by the coach — to a point at least. Academic components figure to mix with weight lifting, skill drills and going over the offense or defense.

No matter the school, program or current situation, the classes figure to improve sports district-wide. Dysart is the first West Valley district to adopt an athletic class model, but some East Valley districts like Chandler and Higley have run these classes for years.

“The opportunity to level the competitive playing field with the schools that already do this is outstanding,” Willow Canyon boys basketball coach Joseph Colletti said. “I expect our academics, weight room numbers and basketball IQ to improve.”

Colletti, Ganados and Valley Vista girls basketball coach Rachel Matakas are among the teachers preparing for the new classes and figuring out what form they will take. None have been primarily PE teachers recently — Colletti teaches history, Ganados biology and Matakas math — and all were conscious about creating classes that are more about academic content than extended practice.

“I think the ideal situation was to go right into practice but I’m very academically driven. It would be more of a skills class for us or if we wanted to review something from the night before,” Matakas said. “I don’t know about the weight room because it will be hard to get in. There are three other teams that have the same academic class time that we do. If we can save time with shooting practice we can maybe cut practice a little bit short. But definitely for us it’s going to be more academic, they’re going to be writing papers. I’m talking maybe on court twice a week.”

With two state titles and two semifinal appearances in the last four years, Matakas is in a different position than many coaches in the district. Most of her players come to with club backgrounds and a firm grasp on the fundamentals.

Ganados often has players on the opposite ends. To start with, the classes will be for expected varsity players and many of the Demons have some catching up to do.

“At the varsity level, it’s going to help out because during the season we did something similar to this my first year and even last year. We took varsity players in here that we felt were going to help our team and quizzed them one day to see if they even knew how long one quarter was, and how long and wide a football field is — the basics. You’d be shocked how many times these kids didn’t know the rules,” Ganados said.

He said he talked to Liberty coach Mark Smith for ideas on weight room routines and the class. The goal, Ganados said, is to start with the basics then get into personnel groups and teach why the team runs certain systems.

His classes will be more analytical, as he said a lack of knowledge hurt the Demons in the last couple years.

Only now is Dysart football starting to see the influx of a youth football feeder system common throughout the rest of the West Valley. And, Ganados said, many of the best local players end up elsewhere.

Marley Park should be the most reliable Dysart High feeder school, but it is several miles west in Surprise. Ganados said many of the top athletes from Marley Park open enroll at Shadow Ridge and Valley Vista.

A 6-5 incoming freshman from down the street at El Mirage Elementary is going to Centennial. Ganados said he ran into two 7-on-7 players who will be juniors and live within walking distance of Dysart. They’re going to Desert Edge.

“We don’t have much Pop Warner here. We do have it, but they go elsewhere. We’re ahead of the game this year because we started a football camp in January and finished it last Thursday. I have 30 to 40 incoming freshmen that know now how to lift and know different formations. They’re not going to be intimidated when they step in the weight room and they’ll know our base formations,” Ganados said.

Willow Canyon head coach Joseph Colletti argues a call during a game against Liberty on Jan. 26, 2018 at Liberty High School in Peoria. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]
Some of this sounds familiar to Colletti who will enter his third year as Wildcats coach. Willow Canyon does not stack up local club players and send them onto the court.

A handful of kids arrive with club basketball bonafides and others take part in the Relentless Basketball feeder club. But the class should help fill some gaps.

“Players are going to grow rapidly. I think that’s going to allow us to compete even when there are not a lot of experienced players coming back,” Colletti said.

He said the class will include similar leadership and character-focused events like the regular program. The class also will have an honors component that dovetails with the curriculum at this International Baccalaureate campus.

Colletti said nine of the 13 varsity players last year made the Sports360AZ academic team and the boys basketball class will have an honors component to continue preparing athletes for their college aspirations.

“There’s going to be a curriculum alongside the athletic benefits of these classes, so that the kids don’t have to worry about it hurting their academic standing,” Colletti said.

Matakas also is looking at the basketball class from more or an academic standpoint. She wants to incorporate studying for the SAT and ACT test, share NCAA qualifying information and procedures, as well as character counts and leadership components.

“I want to bring in college coaches to come in and talk to the kids about what it takes to be a student-athlete. I want to do community service and give back, because sometimes we don’t have that time,” Matakas said. “At the same time, we will be getting in the gym and doing skill work and speed and agility stuff that I can’t necessarily get done during the preseason.”

The class will allow her time to work on skill development with the lower levels. Matakas said the classes will help other Monsoon programs that do not attract top players and need that extra time with skill development.

Football coach Josh Sekoch and boys basketball coach Ben Isai, she said, are building great programs but need more time with their kids. Grade checks and time management skills will also be a huge part of the athletic classes.

“Basketball is not the for all, be all. Basketball is a tool to get your degree,” Matakas said. “If you get straight As, you’re talking thousands of dollars. Schools are out there starving for kids, but their grades are terrible.”

Ganados said finding these kids a college program that fits is the goal, as much as feeding the homeless and help city of El Mirage with clean up.Most kids, he said, enter high school football with the dream of playing in college.

Dysart may not have had any NCAA Division I signees from its 2018 team . But that 2-8 group sported five kids who will play college football next year.“

You ask the group who wants to play college football. Out of 50 or 60 kids maybe one or two might not raise their hand because they know they’re going into the military. If you’re playing football, that’s someone’s dream,” Ganados said. “If you can get a scholarship for academics and athletics, it takes a lot of pressure off the parents because college is so expensive. In this class, we will talk about it. We sent five kids to college this year, and we didn’t have a very good season. But we did make them better student athletes.”

Valley Vista girls basketball coach Rachel Matakas, top row second from right, and her team celebrate after their win in a 5A championship game against Xavier Prep on Feb. 28, 2018 at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Monsoon defeated the Gators 68-55 to win their second straight title. [West Valley Preps file]

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