A blog by Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
It may be too late to order one for the 2018 season.
But if that is the case, it would make a heck of a 100th anniversary present.
In this case, “it” is a new grass football field donated as part of the Neighborhood Heroes program sponsored by the Arizona Cardinals and Walmart. And said grass should go in at the stadium just a couple miles north of University of Phoenix Stadium — Peoria High School’s Jantzen Field.
This is probably a bit late for the 2018 season, considering Rio Rico High School knew about its 2016 field dedication just after Christmas 2015.
Plus, the Cardinals probably cannot tune up the turf at a Peoria Unified School District field every year. Centennial joined Rio Rico as a recipient in 2016. Then Cactus dedicated its new field last year, as did Tucson Rincon.
The Panthers should be next in line locally. After all, I slagged their field twice in the 2017 playoffs.
I had not taken in a game at PHS since the late September 2016 installment of the annual war with Cactus. I made a point to catch the 4A playoff opener against Walden Grove and, frankly, I was shocked.
A good 80 percent of the grass was dead. Several weeds were dead too, but their husks were strewn across the playing surface.
To be clear, the field was not unsafe. It just needed some rest and TLC, which, as Panthers coach Will Babb will explain, is difficult to come by.
Peoria knocked out Walden Grove and was heading to Scottsdale to face Saguaro the next week. It appeared the grass would get a good break before soccer season, even with the other three schools in Peoria heading toward berths in the semifinals.
Originally, Sunrise Mountain was set to play Tucson Salpointe at Ironwood High School on Nov. 17 while the second Centennial-Liberty showdown was slated at Deer Valley High. But enough criticism of that choice caused the AIA to move the game between two PUSD teams to one of the district’s stadiums.
With Centennial owning the better seed, the Coyotes received the advantage of playing close to home at PHS. I openly questioned the decision on Twitter based on the condition of the field two weeks prior.
To the credit of the grounds crew, Peoria’s field was in better shape for that classic tilt. Maybe that is not a surprise. The grass had a week off.
“Any field that looks good has had a good amount of rest,” Babb said.
As the coach detailed, rest often is not an option at Peoria. The football field is the only lighted field on campus.
Cactus, Liberty and Peoria lack lighted practice fields. Centennial and Peoria do not have practice fields set aside.
That combination of factors leads the Panthers to practice primarily on the JV and varsity baseball fields. But in August and September, night practices make more sense, leaving Jantzen Field as the only option.
During soccer season, it’s the opposite problem. The weather is fine, but the sun goes down around 5:30 leading to more night practices on the game field.
Some of the same problems exist at the other older Northwest Valley school that should receive a new field soon through the Neighborhood Heroes program — Dysart High.
Demons coach John Ganados said the field has the same grass he played on in 1990 — that it is a combination of maybe four different grasses. He said the district did an amazing job preparing the field this year.
Ganados said now the scoreboard is fine after some replacements were made. The same is true of the stadium lights.
“We are in the process of getting practice lights someday on the practice field,” Ganados stated in an email.
That is one advantage the Demons have. Both campuses were revamped extensively in the 2000s, but only Dysart had much room left over.
When Babb played for the 1986 and 1987 state champions, Peoria High had plenty of land and field space. Now, it is all in use or sold.
“We have a beautiful campus, but not a lot of field space,” Babb said.
Babb and Ganados make these statements in a matter of fact fashion. They knew the money and resources were not flowing in at their alma mater. That’s not the reason they came back.
Both men said they are comfortable with what they have, and are focused on coaching and mentoring their kids.
But both of these schools — close enough to University of Phoenix Stadium to have their annual graduation ceremonies in the stadium — could use a hand from the Cards.
While new grass would not solve all of Peoria High School’s field issues, a fresh pitch certainly would help the West Valley’s legacy program.
Peoria High was the first local team to challenge statewide, and the Panthers’ rivalries with Cactus and Agua Fria raised West Valley football to new heights and paved the way for today’s powerhouses.
Ol’ PHS will celebrate its 100th year in 2019. Unveiling its new football field should be a highlight of its anniversary festivities.
And Dysart should be one of the next teams in line, hopefully also in 2019 or at least by 2020.