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Taylor Coleman (22) scored 15 and Jayla Johnson (12) scored 14 in Maricopa's play-in victory. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa is back in the state playoffs.

With a 59-30 victory over Deer Valley, the Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team qualified for the Arizona Interscholastic Association 5A championships. Seedings for the Top 16 bracket will be announced this weekend.

Most of the team is new to playoff atmosphere, but senior Sydni Callis was a freshman on the state champion team in 2015 and has seen four years of high expectations. So she has some perspective on what it takes to win a title.

“It feels good,” she said about Thursday’s win. “I’m hoping we can get as far as we did. I think we can. I have confidence in them.”

While Callis described the return to the playoffs as “kind of like déjà vu,” head coach Melvin Mitchell feels her experience is vital for a young team that was unprepared for the intensity that came at them from 20th-ranked Deer Valley.

“I tried to explain what the playoff atmosphere was like, but they just don’t understand that because they’ve never experienced it,” said Mitchell, who was assistant coach for that championship season. “Sydni is starting to step up and become more of a leader. She’s not necessarily vocal in her personality, but she’s starting to get there and tell these girls exactly what she wants them to do.

“They respect her because she’s been there and won a state championship.”

Maricopa knew Deer Valley only from game tapes. Mitchell said the team looked bigger in person than on film. Though clearly the superior team, the Rams played shaky, often wild basketball in the first half, letting the Hawks stay close early. Though leading by only one point after one quarter, Maricopa held Deer Valley to just two points in the second and led 23-10 at the half.

“I think they got a little over-anxious we had a lot of fast-break layups in the first half that we just didn’t convert,” Mitchell said.

He told them to calm down during break and to back off on the long pass when it wasn’t there. The Rams scored 21 points in the third quarter and ran off with the victory.

Sophomore Taylor Coleman led all scoring with 15 points. Mitchell said she has always been a spark on the team and is learning what her strong shots are.

Chipping in two 3-pointers, junior Jayla Johnson scored 14. Senior Alia Ballou scored nine, and freshman Brooke Smith scored seven. Callis scored just five but had 12 rebounds, seven steals and six assists.

“The more and more they get used to and the more physical we amp it up in practice, the better they’ll play,” Mitchell said. “We have to do the things that got us here.”

Senior Sydni Callis (11) led the Maricopa scoring Tuesday as the Rams took a tough loss against top-ranked Apollo. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


After a tight-battle with one of the top teams in the state, Maricopa High School girls’ basketball posted a loss for the final game of the season, but the Rams retained their 13th-place ranking in 5A.

That sets them up as the home team for the first round of the 5A play-in tournament Thursday. They will host No. 20 Deer Valley at 6:30 p.m.

The Rams (17-9) lost to Apollo Tuesday, 53-45. Afterward, Apollo moved from No. 4 to No. 1, finishing with a record of 20-2. The top eight teams automatically move into the state championship bracket. Those ranked ninth through 24th qualify for the play-in tournament to vie for spots in the championship bracket.

For instance, Maricopa’s varsity boys’ team also lost to Apollo Tuesday, to end with an 11-12 record. But their 23rd ranking in 5A advances them to the play-in tournament. They play at 10th-ranked Sahuaro on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Previously this season, Maricopa’s girls lost to Apollo by 17 points. The Rams came into Tuesday’s rematch with four straight wins, including a narrow 48-47 victory at Williams Field.

“When we played them the first time, they were a heck of a rebounding team,” Rams’ head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “Of course, they’re big. They keep it above their heads. All the fundamental stuff that you want to teach your kids, they do. And they’re very, very physical. So, we wanted to try to match that intensity and make sure we were rebounding off the weak side.

“We definitely wanted to challenge them and see what they were made of.”

Both teams were shooting cold at the start of the game. Maricopa’s defense kept the Rams battling back and forth for the lead. The MHS strategy on the boards was effective for the first half, and then the offense started firing in the third quarter to allow the Rams a lead.

Inconsistency upended the Rams’ effort in the fourth quarter, Mitchell said.

“In the fourth quarter it kind of broke down,” he said. “They were playing ‘Monkey in the Middle’ or something. It was just one of those things where we have to be consistent throughout the whole game.”

For Senior Night, Maricopa’s two seniors led the scoring. Sydni Callis scored 16 and had seven steals, four rebounds and six assists. Alia Ballou scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers. Junior Jayla Johnson had nine points. Sophomore Taylor Coleman had eight rebounds and two blocks.

For Apollo, 6-foot junior Jakaree Harris led all scoring with 22 points, and 6-foot-1 freshman Haylee Weathersby scored 17.

“I think we kept up the intensity,” Mitchell said. “The play out of our guards was spectacular.”

That, he said, has Maricopa in good preparation for Thursday’s play-in game.

“It’s that time of year where we have to refuse to lose, and we want to see where we go,” the coach said. “I’m looking forward to it.”


Dylan Hill. Photo by Victor Moreno

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Maricopa High School senior Dylan Hill has received congressional nominations for the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy (also known as West Point). After months of preparation, paperwork and interviews, the Air Force Junior ROTC cadet is on the road toward acceptance to one or both prestigious service academies.

After a long waiting process, Dylan was excited to get the news of her nomination from Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-District 1). “Aside from the clear reason of wanting to serve my country, I also want to be in a leadership position as an officer, so I can advocate for the enlisted and contribute to the safeguarding of America and its interests.”

Dylan, 17, and her family have called Maricopa home for 10 years. Her favorite classes are AP American Government and JROTC. Dylan has been involved in JROTC all four years of high school. She has been interested in the military since her middle school years and would be the first member of her family to join the U.S military since World War II.

Rather than simply enlisting after graduation, Dylan has gravitated toward an academy for the rigorous environment and training, exposure to military environments, and leadership training. Dylan believes an academy would better prepare her to lead others in any situation, as well as offer her many academically challenging opportunities.

She has been taking steps toward this goal since her freshman year. She practices time-management by constantly juggling AP high school courses, JROTC obligations, a job and extracurriculars. She has participated in cross country, Pinal County Teen Court, Youth Council and Governor’s Youth Commission.

She also exercises at least four times a week.

Above all, Dylan makes it a priority to follow through with the responsibilities she is given.  

Dylan envisions a career as a ground intelligence officer. She would be responsible for many aspects of a military unit, including deployment, tactical employment, planning and welfare of troops.

MHS JROTC Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory considers Dylan a superior student, cadet and citizen. He was “not surprised at all” she received the congressional nomination. Gregory lists Dylan finest qualities as her high standards, attention to detail, motivation, drive and leadership skills.

“I am honored to be able to work with Dylan for the past four years,” said Gregory, who believes she will be successful in anything she chooses to do.

Dylan’s aerospace science teacher Allen Kirksey says she is a proven individual with the highest standards of commitment and dedication to the U.S military.

“Without a doubt, she is ready for increased responsibilities as a cadet at West Point or the Naval Academy… I feel that she will prove to be an invaluable asset to the U.S military as a future officer.”

Maricopa High School also had a graduate in last year’s class – John Blodgett – be nominated for admission to West Point and the Air Force Academy.  He chose West Point.

MHS Principal Rick Abel said he hopes the successes of his students will encourage others to make the same level of effort to show what MHS graduates can do. “Both students have been good examples of good examples.”


Joycelyn Cabrera is a student at Maricopa High School.

This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Theater students from Maricopa High School have written and will perform a play in Florence about the "Baron of Arizona." (File photo)

Students from Maricopa are getting into the act for the Historic Florence Home Tour.

Maricopa High School Theatre Company was asked to perform a bit of history for the 33rd annual event. When local drama clubs were not able to participate, the Florence recreation superintendent knew who to call.

John Nixon was Community Services director in Maricopa before taking the job in Florence. He approached MHS drama teacher Cynthia Calhoun with the committee-chosen title, “The Baron of Arizona,” about infamous fraudster James Reavis. The MHS students jumped at the chance.

“The kids are performing an original script that they wrote about the people of Florence and how they reacted to and banded together against Reavis’ phony Peralta Land Grant claim,” said Calhoun, a master teacher.

She met with Pinal County Historical Museum staff for background to give the theater students solid footing for their storytelling.

“We are excited that a talented high school drama club from Pinal County is willing to come to Florence to perform,” Nixon said.   

The Florence Home Tour started incorporating live plays last year. The drama club from San Tan Foothills High School presented “The Trial of Pearl Hart; Lady Bandit.” Nixon said it was standing-room-only for both performances.

This year, the tour committee asked Calhoun’s troupe to perform three shows for 20-25 minutes each. Nixon said the additional performance would give more visitors the opportunity to view the play.

“The Baron of Arizona” will be performed Feb. 10 at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at McFarland Historical State Park, 24 W. Ruggles St. The home tour runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Learn more about the tour at www.florenceaz.gov/hometour.

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Maricopa DECA competed in the Arizona DECA District 9 competition on Jan. 18, facing competitors from eight Arizona schools including Mountain View Mesa, Dobson and Red Mountain.

Maricopa DECA performed its personal best since the program was chartered in 2009. Forty Maricopa DECA members took home 62 medals. Students competed in a range of events such as Hospitality, Hotel and Lodging, Finance, Marketing Communications, Travel and Tourism, and Sports and Entertainment Marketing.

First place: Freya Abraham, Steel Lewis, Yasmeen Hanania, Joy Newey, Jasmine Ngo, Miranda Chitwood, Faith Mead, Brendan Maxwell, Adia Carr, Fides Bernales, Harrison Edmondson and Elise Brown Thunder

Second place: Jamie Hall, Ly’Zhai Wilford, Jimmy Cutajar, Nicholas Perez, John Jackson, Sophia Saucedo, Jaylene Gosselin, Tabaaha Gooden, Jose Ruiz, Landen Thomas, Olivia Healy-Martin

Third place: Jordan Reed, Rachael Zavitka, Kyla Boyce

Role play medalists – 27 MHS students recognized for top role play score in section

Test medalists – 7 MHS students recognized for top tier test scores; the most of any high school at the competition

Six Maricopa DECA champions swept medals in every competitive category.

Maricopa DECA will take 32 competitors to the State Career Development Conference March 2-4, competing against 3000 Arizona DECA students for a shot at 300 competitor spots at the DECA International Career Development Conference hosted in Atlanta, Georgia, this April.

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MHS giPhoto by Raquel Hendricksonrls' soccer qualified for the 5A play-in tournament. They play Sahuaro on Thursday.

Girls’ and boys’ soccer wrapped up the regular season Tuesday with victories for Maricopa High School. But the year isn’t over for the girls.

Posting a record of 8-5-1 (3-2), the girls’ soccer team finished ranked 22nd in 5A. That qualified them for the state’s sectional play-in, a chance to play for a spot in the state tournament.

The Rams play Thursday at 6 p.m. at Sahuaro High School in Tucson. Sahuaro is ranked 11th in 5A despite ending its season with three losses and a tie.

“We have a decent chance to win,” coach Morgan Davis said.

The teams have not met this season and had only one opponent in common. Sahauro beat Poston Butte 2-1; Maricopa beat Poston Butte 4-1. Davis said she used that gauge and Sahuaro’s overall performance to assess her own players. That gives her high expectations.

In Tuesday’s game at McClintock, the Maricopa girls won 7-0. Four of the goals came from the foot of junior Shannon Coutré. Also scoring were sophomores Senaya Cowing and Payson Hacker and freshman Jezelle Magallanes.

Coutré leads the team overall with 20 goals and 47 points, moving her into the top 10 in the region. That was a personal ambition for Coutré, who was this season’s team choice for captain.

“She’s stepped up her game,” Davis said. “She started leading as a player and off the field, and sort of became a mentor to the younger players.”

Junior Bianca Olivares has seven goals and 16 points.

Meanwhile, the boys ended the season with Senior Night and a 3-0 shutout of McClintock. Their overall record was 6-7-3 (1-4). Their final 5A state ranking was 26.

Freshman Cadet Emily Trast won the local Voice of Democracy contest. Submitted photo

Jan. 16, Charles Kemp and Mike Kemery of the Maricopa Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post presented the VFW Voice of Democracy (VOD) Essay Award and $100 prize to Emily Trast, a first-year Air Force JROTC cadet at Maricopa High School in front of her parents, Kati and Peter Trast, counselor, Rebecca Collins, and fellow cadets.

Kemery said, “personally, I enjoy seeing young people succeed, whether it be Cadet of the Year, VOD Winner, or being nominated to a service academy. They are the future.”

The Maricopa VFW Post has been presenting the award since 2005, and the program has evolved over time. MHS AFJROTC cadets have been participated since 2013.

The 2017-18 theme is “American History: Our Hope for the Future.” Essays are submitted to the local VFW Post. Once a winner has been selected, it automatically is submitted to the VFW District. If the essay is chosen at that level then it is submitted to the state level, and then that state winner is submitted to the National Level. A first-place winner is awarded a $30,000 scholarship, second place receives a $16,000 scholarship, and third place receives one of $10,000.

Emily is a freshman originally from Barstow, California. She loves to write and is considering a career in both creative writing and as a playwright. She would love to explore a career in theater. She also loves drawing, writing, painting and singing. Emily is also considering studying political science with a possible goal of working for the State Department and becoming an ambassador.

Her other hobbies include hiking, acting (television and stage) and musicals. Her high school goal is to maintain a 3.75 GPA. Upon her high school graduation, she would like to join the U.S. Navy or attend a Performing Arts School.

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The Maricopa Police Department Explorers Post 2100 placed first in crisis negotiation during a two-day, national tactical competition in Chandler.

The local post was one of 65 teams from around the country that competed in various SWAT events at the Chandler Police Department 20th annual Explorer Tactical Competition Jan. 13-14.

Explorer Edward Figueroa took the top placing in the individual male pistol shoot competition. Explorer Aubree Goettle placed fourth in the same event’s female category.

“Other events the MPD Explorers competed in were the tactical obstacle course, TK4 (swat vehicle) pull, rock wall climb, 5-man Hostage Rescue Team, marijuana grow operation raid, waterborne operations, sniper challenge and a tactical scavenger hunt,” said MPD Explorer advisor Officer Chris Evans.

Explorers who competed:
Edward Figueroa
Jacelyn Rodriguez
Dreama King
Dax Sweetser
James McNelly
Augustine Lujan
Aubree Goettle
Ethan Griffin
Donavan Griffin
MPD Advisors: Officer Chris Evans and Sgt. Sean Marchese

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Other administrative changes announced

Brian Winter has been named high school principal for next year as Rick Abel seeks other opportunities. Photo by Michelle Chance

The athletic director for Maricopa Unified School District will ascend to principal of Maricopa High School this fall.

AD Brian Winter will begin his new leadership role in the 2018-19 school year, MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said in a news release Friday.

Winter contributed two years as AD and another as Dean at MHS. His career in education has included 10 years as a high school administrator and an additional two decades as a K-12 teacher at other districts.

“I am extremely grateful, humbled and very excited to be named the new Principal at MHS for next school year,” Winter said. “I have a host of ideas/goals moving into the position, but ultimately we want to raise the bar from an academic standpoint and provide our students with as many offerings/opportunities as possible in an effort for them to be well rounded and prepared for college and or career.”

MHS Interim Principal Rick Abel and Winter will serve in their current positions for the remainder of the school year.

“At this point in (Abel’s) career, he told me that he will be looking at other professional opportunities, including openings in MUSD for the 2018-19 school year,” Chestnut said.

Abel said he was not pursuing any specific position at this time. “I very much enjoy working with students, staff and families and have a background in teaching social studies and experience in various administrative positions. I hope to continue my work in public education.”

One job opening in the district is Chestnut’s. The MUSD Governing Board began its superintendent search Jan. 12, and will begin screening applicants in February.

Abel has served as principal in the district at the elementary, middle and high school levels since 2005. His most recent post at MHS came after the resignation of Renita Meyers last fall.

Thad Miller, who was named interim principal in October at Maricopa Wells Middle School, will stay in the position permanently, according to the release.

“I am very excited about having Mr. Winter and Mr. Miller in these leadership roles and I know they will be a tremendous asset at each school,” Chestnut stated. “I also want to thank Mr. Abel for his many years of outstanding leadership as a principal in our district. I have greatly enjoyed working with him as have a huge number of students, staff and parents. He will be missed.”

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The Maricopa High School varsity girls' basketball team links arms ahead of the national anthem Tuesday night. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team may be quietly hanging around the 14th ranking in 5A, but that’s OK with coach Melvin Mitchell.

“A lot of people are kind of writing us off, which is good. We don’t need the attention right now,” the third-year head coach said. “We’re just waiting and preparing for February.”

The Rams coasted through a 5A Metro game Tuesday, thumping McClintock 80-31 while getting the bench plenty of playing time.

“It became a track race a little bit, which I really didn’t want it to get,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to bring the ball up slowly and work around the offense, but you can’t tell them not to score if it’s a fast-break layup.”

Maricopa is 4-0 in Metro play, but the Rams have sixth-ranked Apollo waiting for them Friday night. Apollo has a very tall team loaded with seniors. Mitchell said the Hawks run most of their plays through 6-foot junior Jakaree Harris. Apollo also has a “nice new big” in 6-foot-1 freshman Haylee Weathersby, who is averaging 16 points a game. Both are strong offensive rebounders.

“Limiting them to one possession is going to be key,” Mitchell said.

All but one of Maricopa’s remaining regular-season games are Metro contests. The Rams sit on top of the region with Apollo. Overall, Maricopa is 12-7.

“I think we’re just very young. We’re not necessarily deep,” Mitchell said. “Some of our younger players need to step up and just learn and know their role, and they got the opportunity to show some of that tonight.”

Against McClintock, MHS senior Sydni Callis led all scoring with 24 points. She also had four steals and five assists. Junior Jayla Johnson, recovering from injury, “didn’t look like herself,” according to Mitchell, but still scored 19 points, 14 in the first half. The coach said Johnson needed to be 100 percent in order for the team to make a run in the playoffs.

Freshman Brook Smith scored nine points. Italy Brookshire and freshman Evone Santiago scored eight each. Taylor Coleman led the rebounding with seven while scoring six points.

The next game for the Rams is Thursday against Ironwood in Maricopa. Varsity game time is 7 p.m.

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Josh Johnson and the Maricopa High School boys' basketball team came from behind Tuesday to defeat 5A Metro competition Sunnyslope in an upset. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson


The game ended in dramatic fashion, with referees taking names, but the teams may not have heard the end of it.

A Maricopa boys’ basketball team, again abbreviated by scholastic issues, played close to Sunnyslope but trailed in the final minutes. Every point mattered for the Rams in the fourth quarter as they chopped the Viking lead to one point on free throws from P.J. Austin.

At the final buzzer, Sunnyslope led 48-47 but was called for a foul as Maricopa senior Josh Johnson tried to get into the air from beyond the arc. Johnson missed his first free throw, then nailed the second to tie the score and the third to win, 49-48.

In the aftermath of celebrating Maricopa players and fans, and furious Sunnyslope players and fans, scuffles led to suggestions of calling the police and the referees noting the names of three Viking players. The situation will come to the attention of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

It was just the fourth loss of the season for Sunnyslope, ranked fourth in the state, while Maricopa’s overall record improved to 11-5. The Rams are ranked 17th.

“This really helps us and gives us some confidence,” coach Tony Fuller said.

The Vikings’ size inside caused the Rams problems all night, but Sunnyslope was never allowed to open a sizeable lead. Maricopa was the quicker team, and proved their conditioning by hanging with the deeper bench. The Rams had just four players on their bench, and only two of them were in a condition to play.

“We call them the divine nine,” Fuller said. “We got some good students who take care of business in the classroom. Scrappy. They make good plays, and everybody knows their role.”

Johnson led the Maricopa scoring with 18 points.  Austin scored six vital points in the fourth quarter and finished with eight. Cameron Sanders and Jacob Cowing also scored eight each, and El Jones scored seven. Sunnyslope senior Kyle Fischer led all scoring with 20 points, and Chris Orozco scored 16.

The second half of Maricopa’s season is filled mostly with 5A Metro competition. The Rams play Sunnyslope again Jan. 23 on the road. Fuller said he feels his team needs to win three more games to reach the playoffs.

Next up is Kellis on Friday at 7 p.m. in Maricopa.

Explorer of the Year Dreama King with School Resource Officer Chris Evans, who runs the Explorer program at MHS. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Sixteen-year-old Dreama King was awarded the Maricopa Police Department Explorers’ “Explorer of the Year” after she prevented a peer from committing suicide over the summer.

King stumbled upon an online group chat and discovered a young lady who had described the desire to harm herself and end her life due to her living circumstances.

King convinced the teen to message her privately and prevented her from taking her own life by helping her realize her own self-worth. Today, both young women have connected as close friends and continue to talk regularly.

After discussing the series of events with the lead advisor of MPD Explorers, Officer Chris Evans, she was nominated to be named 2017’s MPD Explorer of the Year. King received the honor in early November at the Maricopa Police Foundation awards dinner.

King, a junior at Maricopa High School, has been a part of MPD Explorers since her freshman year, after contemplating a career in military service or law enforcement. She rose to executive commander and second in command among the Explorers after only two years.

Evans nominated King due to her achievement in protecting a life as well as her drive and motivation among the Explorers. “It’s pretty easy working with someone who has that drive. She definitely earned it,” he said.

Dreama King. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Evans oversees training among the Explorers and describes scenario-based situations to be prepared for real-life emergencies. Additionally, Explorers are exposed to potentially dangerous scenes when they participate in ride-alongs with officers.

The goal is for every Explorer to know how to react in any situation. Evans and King agree it was the training that primarily guided King through what to do, what to say and how to say it.

King said she was shocked and honored to receive the award. She believes anyone currently struggling should try to seek help. “There’s a lot of people that care. You can’t have a rainbow without a little rain.”

Joycelyn Cabrera is a senior at Maricopa High School.

This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

John Blodgett, now a U.S. Military Academy cadet, sought out his high junior ROTC instructor Allen Kirksey when he returned to Maricopa for winter break.

Maricopa’s West Point cadet survived Beast and his first semester of classes.

2017 Maricopa High School graduate John Blodgett stopped by his old haunts during winter break from the U.S. Military Academy. After a summer of cadet basic training known as Beast Barracks and a semester of intense coursework, he is looking forward to “some alone time.”

That was the biggest adjustment to West Point, he said.

“There are no breaks,” he said. “No alone time. You’re always with somebody. There are room inspections for everything.”

West Point has its challenges scholastically, physically and mentally. After families drop off their freshman sons and daughters, the separation is immediate. Families get a nice tour of the military academy and an introduction to the rigors of academy life their children will face. The plebes get a ruder awakening and are pretty much yelled at by upperclassmen the rest of the day.

All military academies have a form of Beast for basic training seven weeks in summer.

“It’s go, go, go all the time,” Blodgett said, “sleeping in the rain, rucking uphill in the rain. But it’s really just learning how to be a soldier.”

Blodgett’s toughest challenge during Beast was standing around waiting, also part of a soldier’s life. He quickly realized his years of MHS cross country and track were a major advantage.

Cadet John Blodgett in his West Point dress gray uniform. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

He also discovered he was a “decent shooter” when it came to marksmanship.

He said he looks forward to being a Beast squad leader in second class (junior year), when he will have 10 cadets at his command.

Retired Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, who was one of Blodgett’s Junior ROTC instructors at MHS, said Blodgett already had the “follow me” leadership style in high school. Blodgett dropped in on Kirksey at the high school when he returned home.

“We’re proud of him. He’s looking smart and shiny in his new cadet uniform,” Kirksey said.

Blodgett said about 50 percent of his instructors are captains, and his chemistry instructor is a lieutenant colonel. Classes are intense.

“I have boxing, which is different,” he said. “We go from math to boxing to history.”

It is not unusual for cadets to wash out during Beast or first semester, but his company has stayed intact, helping each other through challenges.

“That’s what makes it all worth it,” Blodgett said.

How is he spending his two weeks at home? “Sleeping and eating.”

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Maricopa High School students performing in Gila Bend. Submitted photo

Saturday, the Maricopa High School Band, Theater Company and Technical Theater programs participated in the Town of Gila Bend’s Light Parade and “Santa in the Park” event.

The event was planned and overseen by former MHS Assistant Principal Krista Vandermolen, now director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Gila Bend.

The MHS programs were the spirit of the event. Technical Theater, along with teacher Kevin Piquette, built a float and mobile sound station for the parade and provided sound and announcements for the event. The Theater Company performed “Twelve Days to Christmas” from She Loves Me, and the Marching Rams marched in the parade and also performed a 20-minute concert of pep band and holiday music as part of the evening’s festivities at the park.

“We want to thank the Town of Gila Bend for inviting us to be a part of this wonderful event,” Music Director Ivan Pour said. “It was great to be able to share the success and wonderful programs we have at Maricopa High School with our neighbors in Gila Bend.”

Earlier this semester, the Technical Theater program competed at the Arizona State Thespian Festival. The team took third out of 60 schools. In the Skills USA competition, MHS placed second.

Marisa Lopez won the “quick knot tying” portion of the competition by tying all three knots in 5.56 seconds.  This was over 1 second faster than her nearest competitor. Other team members were Hyrum Sherwood, Connor Paine, Eric Bennett, Skylar Dugan, Ashley Piet, Yazmin Calleros and Keilani Hlebasko.

Technical Theater students were third out of 60 schools at the state Thespian Festival.

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Joby Thompson and Amy Stump

Two Maricopa High School teachers are moving up the ladder.

In a few weeks, chemistry teacher Amy Stump and graphic design teacher Joby Thompson will return from Winter Break with promotions.

Stump will serve the student body as assistant principal and Thompson will handle discipline and guidance as interim dean of students. School officials sifted through “a large number of quality candidates” during the hiring process for both positions, according to MHS Interim Principal Rick Abel.

“I believe we have selected the best of the best for both spots,” Abel said.

Hiring administrators from within is becoming a trend for the district.

In November, MUSD hired Evana Santee – who was then the dean of students at MHS – was chosen to fill a vacant assistant principal position at Maricopa Wells Middle School.

District officials said they are happy to see their employees advance professionally within MUSD.

“Hiring administrators internally demonstrates the quality job the district does in finding, hiring and cultivating outstanding potential talent,” Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut called Stump and Thompson “highly respected teachers” at MHS and reinforced the excitement other district and school officials expressed regarding their reclassifications from educators to administrators.

The hires will mean more work for the district’s HR Department, though, as they work to fill the teaching positions left open by the promotions.

The new assistant principal said she is honored to serve MHS students in her new role. However, the professional advancement is bittersweet for Stump who loves her work inside the chemistry classroom.

“I adore teaching, but know I can make a difference in student lives as an administrator as well,” she said. “Working with students and the community will be rewarding and I am thankful to be chosen to serve in this capacity.”

Among some of Stump’s responsibilities will include working with student clubs, student council and the community to coordinate use of the school’s facilities and related activities.

Stump begins as AP Jan. 2.

Almost a week after that, Thompson will start his first day as interim dean.

In addition to his design classes, Thompson is department chair of the Career and Technical Education Department at MHS.

Thompson was selected as a “creative leader” for a business and design conference at Yale University over the summer.

His transition to student discipline is a new chapter in his career he said he’s excited to begin.

“I’m looking forward to building meaningful relationships with the students who need it most,” Thompson said. “I also look forward to providing purposeful feedback to students who need guidance in managing their decision at MHS.”

Beckett said the district is confident Thompson will excel in the role, “but we have also posted a temporary opening for a permanent placement for his current role for potential contingencies.”

A final decision will be made by the district, with input from Thompson, “at the appropriate time,” Beckett said.

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Alexandra Biggs has taken over a lively dance program at Maricopa High School. Photo by Mason Callejas

Afternoon light blazes through the small rectangular windows of a dance studio inside Maricopa High School.

See photos from the winter dance recital

The illuminated beams are interrupted by the graceful, outstretched hand of a slender dancer. All at once, the elegance is met with a drop of a hip-hop beat, then a physical twist and a stomp as a group of elite dancers join the floor and together pivot styles from contemporary to jazz.

The MHS Performance Group rehearses under the refined eye of the school’s new dance teacher, 26-year-old Alexandra Biggs.

“Dance instills so many life lessons outside of just how to point your feet,” said Biggs, a technically trained ballerina. “You learn self-discipline and self-motivation.”

Biggs grew up in Farmington, New Mexico, and fell in love with ballet at age 3.

As time for college came, she decided to pursue a career where she could teach the art she treasured.

“I thought, ‘If I love this so much, then instilling it in the next generation is where my heart and my passion are,’” Biggs said. “So, it was an easy decision.”

Biggs graduated from Grand Canyon University a year and a half ago with a degree in Dance Education. She taught dance to preschool-aged children before accepting her first professional, full-time position at MHS.

In addition to instructing advanced and intermediate dance students, Biggs also teaches novices in her Dance 1 class, where 90 percent of the class is freshmen.

“They are new to it so it’s so much fun to see them expand their world to include dance,” Biggs said.

Biggs inherited the dance program from Toshia Jackson, “a sassy, jazz teacher” known affectionately by students as “Mrs. T,” according to sophomore Rylin Balgaard.

Balgaard, 15, began the dance program as a freshman with Jackson and quickly moved her way up to Performance Group.

Biggs exposes students to a polished focus on dance, including special instruction on ballet etiquette.

“I know the previous teacher – I’ve heard wonderful things about her – did a lot more hip-hop and less of the technical side of it. So being a technically trained dancer, my emphasis is more on doing things correctly, especially in ballet, and building that base for anything else that they want to do,” Biggs said.

Grooming her dancers to become educators is also on her list.

Performance Group President Jalen Reyes, 17, aspires to become a dance instructor after college. He was recently accepted to Northern Arizona University and is eligible for the Lumberjack Scholarship.

He had no previous dance training before enrolling in the program as a freshman, but his natural talent on the dance floor and behind-the-scenes choreography has lent well to the program. As a senior, Reyes attends a mixed-level class during the day and is Biggs’ aide in a lower-level course.

“I’ve got to see her teach and I think she’s really effective in knowing who she’s working with, so she knows how fast to go. I think she’s great at teaching,” Reyes said.

Biggs, a Maricopa resident, plans to grow the MHS program into one with a “reputation of excellence,” and an incubator for future dance instructors.

“I have had several (students) come to me to talk about letters of recommendation for dance education programs, and I’m all for it,” Biggs said. “It’s not an easy job – that’s the misconception. It’s really long hours and it’s physically really demanding sometimes, but it’s worth it to see other kids watch me teach and want to teach. I think that’s the biggest compliment a student can give me.”

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa vocal students performed a winter choral recital Dec. 7 at the Performing Arts Center. High school and middle school choirs participated.

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Named 5A Metro First Team from Maricopa High School were (from left) Kemo Akins , Tylen Coleman, Jacob Cowing and Edward Donaldson.

Nine Maricopa High School football players have been named All-Region in recent 5A Metro voting.

Wide receive Jacob Cowing, a junior, and senior running back Kemo Akins were named First Team, as were junior defensive lineman Tylen Coleman and senior linebacker Edward Donaldson.

Cowing led 5A Metro in receiving yards with 1,081. He scored 13 touchdowns for 78 points, tied for fourth in the region. Akins was third in rushing yards, with 1,040. His 18 touchdowns and 108 points were third in Metro.

Coleman collected by far the most sacks in the region with 13.

Named to 5A Metro’s Second Team were seniors Taylor Belcher, Zion Saole, Brenden West and Baylen Redfern and junior Stefon Nelson.

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Alex Hurley. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Alex Hurley had never participated in a poetry slam prior to October’s All-Maricopa Slam. Hurley, a junior at Maricopa High School, competed against a few teens and many adults.

Each competitor prepared three poems for three rounds, each round judged on a 1-10 scale by a panel of five judges. Alex was a favorite from the beginning with enthusiastic audience reception.

Being one of the youngest participants in the slam, Hurley surprised the judges and audience with powerful, evocative poems filled with emotion. With original poetry “The Gun,” “Beauty” and “Bitten Fingernails,” Hurley’s themes of struggle earned him first place at the slam, opening a spot for him to compete at the All-State Poetry Slam in January.

“The Gun” was written in reference to the end of Hurley’s sophomore year after his participation with the MHS spring musical, Beauty and the Beast.

“I was feeling very fake, everything felt fake and unreal,” Hurley said. He created a metaphor describing both his identity struggles and his support system – contrasting the two different sides of his life at the time.

Hurley’s most recent poem, “Beauty,” was performed while unfinished at the poetry slam.

Alex has been writing since his freshman year, beginning as a coping mechanism. He wrote “Bitten Fingernails” over the summer of his sophomore year. His interest in poetry grew as he noticed the rhythm that comes with poems and the ability to communicate emotion through poetry.

“It makes people realize something about themselves and about other people. It sends a message,” Hurley said.

He gets his inspiration from his own struggles and the struggles of others around him.

Hurley describes performing at the All-Maricopa Slam as a nerve-racking and exhilarating experience. “It was kind of like achieving a dream.”

Hurley plans to bring old and new pieces to the All-State Poetry Slam, including “Bitten Fingernails.”

Bitten Fingernails

By Alex Hurley

my fingernails are tapping on piano keys
my fingertips used to be the only things that came out of my throat
and surely, i was done with my tweezing teeth
the clippings of sound that came out of my mouth
when i was unsure or clearly just bored
were comforting
a steady routine
a bad habit
a consistency i could depend on
an addiction
something i loved but its friction made my bones hurt with affliction
my fingers are always on restriction
bloodied and bruised
i often mused to the sound of pain coming from my brain

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Photo by MPhoto by Mason Callejasason Callejas

Members of the Maricopa High School Performance Company, part of the school’s dance program, performed their winter recital, “Dedications,” Friday and Saturday in the Performing Arts Center. Dances were choreographed by artistic director and instructor Alexandra Biggs and students Sara Brock, Danielle Anderson, Natasha Nechvatal, Riley Bell, Averi Pepper, Myka Borunda, Fides Bernales, Jalen Reyes, Samuel Peters and Stirling Luckey.

Click photos for larger images.

From left, junior soccer player Shannon Coutre, senior soccer player Johnathan Mendez, senior wrestler Kevin McDill, cheerleader Aliyah Munguia, senior basketball player Josh Johnson and senior basketball player Sydni Callis. Photos by Victor Moreno

Click on photo to enlarge

This item appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Evana Santee. Submitted photo

The Maricopa Unified School District hired from within to fill a vacant administrator position at Maricopa Wells Middle School.

Out of 33 applicants, a hiring committee recently chose current Maricopa High School Dean of Students Evana Santee to fill the role of assistant principal. She will begin at MWMS when school resumes from winter break Jan. 9, according to district documents.

Santee came to the district this school year from Desert Heights Academy in Phoenix.

“In the short time she has been here, she has made a noticeable impact at the high school and she has demonstrated her strong commitment to our students,” said Tom Beckett, MUSD human resources director.

The New Jersey native moved to Arizona last year with her family. She began teaching 11 years ago and has since held a variety of teaching and administrator positions, according to her online biography.

At MWMS, Santee will be the primary administrative support for Principal Thad Miller who has been managing the school with a vacant assistant principal position for nearly two months, Beckett said.

Santee replaces former Assistant Principal Mallory Miller, who resigned Oct. 3.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the younger population of students to help prepare them academically, emotionally, mentally and socially for their high school experience,” Santee said Wednesday. “I’m excited to collaborate with Principal (Thad) Miller to support MWMS staff, students and parents.”

MUSD posted an advertisement on its website Tuesday for Santee’s current position at MHS. The high school is also currently interviewing candidates for an assistant principal.

The district governing board will vote to approve Santee’s new position Nov. 29. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy.

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MPD Chief Steve Stahl addresses cadets in Maricopa High School's AFJROTC program.

Steve Stahl, chief of the Maricopa Police Department, never dreamed of becoming a police officer, let alone the leader of an entire jurisdiction.

While attending college, Stahl originally pursued a career in education.

“I wanted to be a school teacher,” he told a group of Air Force Junior ROTC cadets at Maricopa High School Monday morning.

But plans changed. Eventually, Stahl graduated from police academy and held several positions at the Mesa Police Department before taking his first chief of police position in Maricopa.

It was a decision spurred by Stahl’s dedication for his profession, he said, a trait vital for leaders in any field.

“Never chase the money. The money is not going to make you happy. Chase your passion,” Stahl said.

The police chief, dressed in uniform, lectured inside the school auditorium and outlined the personal attributes successful leaders share.

One of the most important traits is honesty, he said.

“If you lie, you lose the core, fundamental element of being part of something bigger than yourself,” Stahl said.

Students listened as the police chief encouraged them to bond with their community and break away from their comfort zones. Stahl asked students how many of them knew there was a mosque located in Maricopa. No hands raised.

“You have to be willing to talk to people who are different from you because they have a lot to offer and you have a lot to offer them,” he said.

Although Stahl decided against a career as a teacher years ago, MHS students said he taught them a lot about their potential.

“Everyone, individually, could be a great leader as long as they try,” said AFJROTC Cadet Nathan Dickinson.

Stahl’s speech is part of a lecture series held at MHS for AFJROTC students.

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Cross country and track volunteer coach Manuel Quintana works with head coach Heather Abel at Maricopa High School. Photo by Victor Moreno

By Joycelyn Cabrera

At 68 years old, volunteer cross-country coach Manuel Quintana has an unusual nickname around the Maricopa High School campus.

The students refer to him as “Grandpa” or “Coach Grandpa.” Quintana said the students have called him Grandpa for many years, ever since he began coaching his granddaughter, who called him “Tata,” a Spanish term of endearment for grandfathers. Once he told students, “Tata means Grandpa,” the nickname spread.

Quintana has volunteered as a coach at MHS for more than a decade. Originally from Mesa, Quintana graduated from Westwood High School and attended Mesa Community College before transferring to ASU. Quintana left the university to pursue a mechanics apprenticeship and stayed in the field 25 years. Quintana moved to Maricopa in 1978 and worked as a mechanic before beginning a new “career” as a volunteer coach.

Quintana began working with the MHS cross-country team after he realized he enjoyed coaching his granddaughter, a former student. He became involved with the Rams’ sports program simply because he liked working with the students and watching them improve. Quintana has helped student-athletes progress from running a half-mile to nearly three miles mid-season.

For five years, Quintana has worked with head coach Heather Abel, who doubles as an MHS teacher. Abel regards him as someone who “has been a real positive influence with the kids.”

“He really knows his stuff. He loves it. Everybody knows who he is,” she said.

The student-athletes themselves adore their coach, feeling positive about their progress individually and as a team.

“We work hard,” senior Megan Carr said. “It’s definitely a mental sport; it’s difficult, but it’s worth it.”

Quintana hopes his teaching and coaching will result in constant improvement for the students, passing on the knowledge of previous coaches like Duane Anderson and Ronnie Buchanan.

And being called Grandpa? Quintana feels good about the nickname: “It shows they have a lot of respect.”

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory instructs Dylan Hill (center) and Joseph Rice at Maricopa High School. Photo by Victor Moreno

Developing independence in high school students has been the work of Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory for six years.

It resulted in his winning the title of “Best of the Best” teacher from Maricopa Unified School District in May.

The Air Force sergeant began instructing Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Maricopa High School a few months before retiring from the military in 2011 after 22 years of service.

“I look at these (cadets) and I treat them as if they were my own kids,” Gregory said. “Whatever advice I would give them, I would give to my sons.”

Gregory and his wife Valerie have two children, David, 21, and Ahmad, 13. His sons haven’t yet aspired to follow in their father’s footsteps, Gregory said, but he doesn’t expect them or all his AFJROTC students to join the military.

“I tell all of my cadets, ‘You want to make me proud? You want to make me happy? Graduate.”

Many of them have gone on to exceed expectations.

In May, MHS student and AFJROTC Cadet Capt. John Blodgett received prestigious appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy, eventually deciding on West Point.

Not one to take all the credit, Gregory said he taught Blodgett the basics, “but it had to start with him; he had that drive.”

Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory. Photo by Victor Moreno

The AFJROTC program currently has 126 cadets. Gregory has taught over 1,000 of them during his tenure at MHS.

Rising in rank this year is Corps Commander Dylan Hill, a senior at MHS. She joined AFJROTC as a timid freshman.

“(Sgt. Gregory) helped me a lot to become more open, socially,” Hill said. “He’s given me a lot of opportunities to work on my leadership skills, and because he’s given me opportunities to do so that’s why I’m corps commander.”

Gregory instructs cadets in drill team, color guard, life skills and public speaking with additional classroom components including quizzes and discussions.

The MHS assignment is not the first instructor position for Gregory.

Early into his military career Gregory served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm for combined tours in 1990. After deploying to Qatar for Operation Southern Watch, he took a special duty assignment as a technical training instructor for the Air Force in 2005.

After assignments at Pacific Air Forces Headquarters in Pearl Harbor and the 15th Airlift Wing, and another deployment during Operation Enduring Freedom, he transitioned to teaching high school students.

“I used to be an instructor; I used to be in Honor Guard, so that’s right up my alley,” Gregory said.

Not surprisingly, his philosophy in the classroom is one backed by years in the service.

“As a planning and scheduling individual, I’m able to lay things out and train them and so I get enjoyment out of teaching and instructing and making that person or people independent and better than myself,” Gregory said.

Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, AFJROTC senior aerospace science instructor at MHS, described Gregory as “one of the finest non-commissioned officers I have met.”

In October, Kirksey nominated Gregory for the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award, a national accolade that will be decided by mid-November.

Gregory won the same award in 2014.

“His dynamic and mature handling of difficult decisions and situations has earned him the respect from cadets, peers, parents, administrators and the community,” Kirksey said.

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Rick Abel (right) at a Maricopa High School football game earlier this year. Abel had been acting principal at MHS and will be interim principal the rest of the year.

Rick Abel and Thad Miller, two acting principals in the Maricopa Unified School District, will continue their positions and posts through the 2017-18 school year, school officials said Friday.

The district made the announcement soon after confirming the resignation of former Maricopa High School Principal Renita Myers.

The MUSD Governing Board will vote to approve Myers’ resignation during a meeting Nov. 8.

Beginning Nov. 3, Abel’s and Miller’s respective titles change from “acting principal” to “interim principal,” according to a news release from the district.

Abel began as acting principal at MHS Oct. 16. MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said former MHS Principal Renita Myers resigned Oct. 23.

After he was transferred to the high school earlier this school year and back again, Maricopa Wells Middle School will keep Miller on campus, now as its interim principal until May.

The news release stated the district will consider a decision regarding the principal position at each school for the 2018-19 school year “in the next few months.”

Thad Miller

“I am very pleased that Mr. Abel and Mr. Miller will be serving as principals for the rest of the school year,” Chestnut stated. “They are both excellent leaders and I greatly enjoy working with them. Both are greatly respected by students, staff and parents.”

Abel has worked as a district principal since 2009 at Santa Rosa Elementary, MWMS and now MHS.

Miller, a veteran MUSD employee and lifelong Maricopa resident, began work in 1997 at the district’s Maricopa Middle School as a science teacher.



This story has been updated from a previous version.

Assault charges are pending against a teen after she allegedly kicked another, pregnant teen in an altercation at Maricopa High School.

Maricopa Police Department spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said the incident involving the two juveniles occurred around 2:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 27. The alleged offender supposedly kicked the other teen, described as four months pregnant, in the back causing her to fall to the ground, Alvarado said.

The pregnant teen refused medical treatment on scene and that “she would seek treatment on her own,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado further stated the teen responsible for the alleged assault was released into the custody of her mother. No motives for the fight were given.

As for the student’s punishment, Maricopa Unified School District superintendent Steve Chestnut said, “disciplinary consequences as described in the Secondary Student Handbook are being followed.”

Assault is considered a class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

MHS volleyball team at Mesquite for play-in. Photo by Jennifer Ford.

Except for one athlete, Maricopa High School wrapped up its fall sports season last week.

Evelyn Corliss, a sophomore runner on the cross country team, ran a personal best 21:37 in the 5K at the Division II Section IV meet Friday. She finished 15th, which qualified her for the Arizona State Championships, which are Nov. 4 at Cave Creek Golf Course. The top 25 runners in each section advanced along with the qualified teams.

“She ran her heart out,” coach Heather Abel said. “She really deserves it.”

Senior Alondra Borbolla Gonzalez finished 27th in 22:36. Freshman Alyssa Frarck was 69th in 25:39. Sophomore Juni Hall was 74th in 26:42. Freshman Kaitlyn Crean was 84th in 30:07, and junior Hayley Mase was 85th in 30:29. Among the boys, junior Alec Kramarczyk was team leader in 31st place in 18:27. Senior Chet Carroll, who won the Maricopa Mud Run the following day, ran 70th in 20:01. Freshman Jovanni Fentes was 79th in 20:53. Sophomore Carlos Chavez ran a personal best 20:55 to finish 80th. Junior Diego Riva was 84th in 21:48. Junior Orion Martin was 91st in 23:19. Senior Gio Hernandez was 92nd in 23:20.

Thursday, the volleyball team, ranked 20th in 5A, competed in a play-in game for a chance to qualify for the state tournament. The Rams fell to No. 13 Mesquite in three, 25-14, 25-18, 25-18. That ended their season with an official overall record of 12-7 and second place in 5A Metro.

Friday, the MHS football team ended its season at home by defeating McClintock in a down-to-the-wire contest. This season, junior Tylen Coleman led all of 5A in sacks with 12, a total was 10th across all divisions in the state. Junior Jacob Cowing was second in 5A overall and first in 5A Metro in receiving yards with 1,081. Senior Alec Smith was third in 5A Metro in passing yards with 1,632, which was 10th in 5A overall. A running quarterback, he had 2,030 total yards. Senior Kemo Akins was third in 5A Metro in rushing yards with 1,040, 17th in all of 5A.


Photo by RaquePhoto by Raquel Hendricksonl Hendrickson


After a Jekyll-and-Hyde season, the Maricopa High School varsity football team went out with a bang Friday night.

The Rams put a choke hold on McClintock in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, preventing a field goal that could have won the game for the Chargers. Instead, Maricopa came out with a 21-20 victory.

That gave the Rams a 6-4 record.

“We overcame a ton of adversity for a one-point win,” head coach Chris McDonald said. “And it shouldn’t have been that.

“It took a fumble inside the red zone, another hold inside the red zone on two different drives and then a snafu on the punt for it to be a one-point game.”

McDonald said while he believes the Rams were a better team, the McClintock coaching staff has done a “phenomenal” job with the 6-4 Chargers. Maricopa’s defense had its hands full with McClintock’s senior running back Tyrese Green, but were able to corral him enough to keep the Rams’ game together.

“We had a lot of energy to start off the game, because of course it was Senior Night, and everybody was amped up and ready to go,” senior quarterback Alec Smith said. “And then we kind of hit a couple of rough spots toward the end of the game, but the defense held strong and let us get the W.”

The fact of Senior Night was motivating enough to allow the Rams to shake off two hard-luck losses that pushed them out of playoff contention. At moments, Friday’s game looked like it would follow the same path.

“It was a great game. We got the win, but we just got to finish,” Maricopa senior running back Kemo Akins said. “That was a big key of what we needed to do, just execute and get the job done.”

Akins scored the first of Maricopa’s three touchdowns and the first score of the game just seconds into the second quarter. That lead lasted about three minutes before McClintock tied the score.

However, junior Jacob Cowing took the subsequent kickoff and returned it all the way for a touchdown. Though the point-after kick failed, Maricopa was ahead 13-7.

Just before halftime, the Rams had a messy series that left them at fourth-and-21 and an obvious punt situation. But the hike soared out of arm’s reach, and McClintock landed on it on the 4-yard line. That quickly turned into a touchdown and gave the Chargers the 14-13 lead at the break.

During the time in the locker room, McDonald told his defense if they could hold McClintock to just one more touchdown, the Rams could win the game.

“I think our team, I think Maricopa itself, we’ve always been good at facing adversity. We’ve always been underdogs, no matter what it is,” senior lineman Taylor Belcher said. “Seems like everyone’s out to get us, but we don’t get discouraged by any big-name schools. We always just fight back, no matter what’s happening.”

The Rams battled through a back-and-fourth third quarter. They finally found themselves with first-and-goal on the 1. Then second-and-goal on the 2 and third-and-goal back on the 1, before Smith broke past the Chargers to score. He then ran in the two-point conversion, and Maricopa was on top, 21-14.

The teams traded penalties, punts and turnovers the rest of the game. McClintock scored on an 8-yard run midway through the fourth, but an attempted two-point conversion failed. The Chargers had another chance with 53.4 seconds left and tried for a field goal.

The kick went awry, and the Rams celebrated a game that was a near-perfect synopsis of the season.

“This season was really a test of keep going no matter what the circumstances,” Belcher said. “At the beginning it was just great. We were mowing people over, but we faced some adversity midway through the season. But we just got to keep going. Just got to tell yourself to keep going no matter what.”

“It was a bumpy road – a lot of ups and a lot of downs,” Akins said.

McDonald, too, said the team had to learn to handle adversity in a season that was “a roller-coaster ride.”

“Football’s going to come and go,” the coach said. “But these young men have got to go out into society, and they’ve got to be productive and they’ve got to be able to handle adversity. Some of them still need to learn how to handle adversity a little bit better, and we addressed that.

“I hope that they leave, and 10 years from now they come back and they’ve got families and they’ve got good jobs. That’s more important.”

Members of the team were already putting the season into that rear-view mirror perspective despite a rough season of disappointments.

“Coming out of the Senior Night with a W is just something I’ll always remember,” Belcher said. “I’m thankful for all my underclassmen working their tails off. They know they’ll be here next year, two years from now, working just as hard. I’m proud of my team and everything that we’ve come to do.”

“I love my team,” Akins said. “I really do.”

Diego Villareal and Sara Earle were honored by Maricopa Rotary at an Oct. 25 meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board as Students of the Month. Pictured behind them are Rotarians Alma Farrell and Joanne Ortega and MUSD board President Patti Coutre. In back are school board members Joshua Judd, AnnaMarie Knorr, Gary Miller, Superintendent Steve Chestnut and school board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Michelle Chance


Outstanding students in the Maricopa Unified School District were highlighted for their academic efforts during a school board meeting Wednesday night.

Maricopa Rotary Club Youth Coordinator Alma Farrell and Joanne Ortega presented Maricopa High School senior Diego Villareal and Desert Wind Middle School Sara Earle with Rotary Students of the month for October.

Farrell said Villareal is an honors student with a 3.861 grade point average.

“His guidance counselor nominated him for this award,” Farrell said. “She reports that she admires his diligence to do his work and as well as the respectful and kind demeanor that he has.”

Villareal is a member of the National Honor Society, is involved in the school’s Book and Media Club, and active in his church as a youth pastor, Farrell said.

Earle, DWMS eighth grader, was lauded by school staff in Farrell’s report for her sense-of-humor and her work ethic.

“Not only does she excel in each subject area within the Blended Learning program, she goes above and beyond teacher expectations for a student,” Farrell quoted one teacher as saying.

Earle is a member of the National Junior Honor Society and the Tiger volleyball team.

The MUSD Governing Board also approved the early graduation of MHS senior Andrew Bounsone during the meeting.

Bounsone’s guidance counselor Chris Lathan requested the board approve Bounsone’s December graduation.

Lathan said Bounsone, who was not present at the meeting, intends to walk during the graduation ceremony in May before enlisting in the military.

“One of the reasons he wants to graduate early is because he’s going to be servicing in the Army, so one of the things he would like to do is work and get extra money and work out a little bit and get himself ready for basic training,” Lathan said.

Board Member Gary Miller clarified with the board that Bounsone would still be eligible to attend prom in the spring.

The board voted unanimously to approve Bounsone’s early graduation.