Tags Articles tagged with "MHS"


Coach Brandon Harris at work last season.

The scheduled beginning of the new school year is looming large in July, and schools are trying to plan their return approach.

Maricopa Unified School District meets in regular session Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with a discussion of the re-opening options on the agenda. MUSD has a task force of subgroups on the case. The district hopes to have a complete plan to roll out to staff by June 30.

The athletics subgroup is tasked with “the correct and safe way to reopen athletics and extracurricular activities throughout the school district” following guidance by Arizona Interscholastic Association. That is partially underway, as fall sports like football were allowed to start practice June 1.

Maricopa High School football coach Brandon Harris hoped the AIA guidance would be more direct than it turned out to be.

“I wish the AIA would have taken a leadership position, but everybody’s in CYA mode, pretty much because they left it up to the member districts to determine,” Harris said. “So, some people are able to do certain things, and some people can’t. Some people started on the first, some people didn’t.”

For summer practice, the Rams players are separated into eight groups of 15. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they are on the field and in the bleachers doing plyometrics and field conditioning. Tuesday and Thursday, there are eight sessions of 50-minute workouts.

“It makes for a long day, but it’s nice to have 13 guys on staff to help push that through,” Harris said. “And they’re doing a great job.”

In the first phase, no contact is allowed, and they are not using equipment. Starting Monday, they will be able to start using footballs, but there will still be no contact. The students are not allowed to congregate closely or use the same water bottle. In the weight room, each player is responsible for cleaning equipment under monitoring by a coach.

Harris said other schools are on different schedules. Desert Ridge, for instance, moved from 15 players per group to 30 in one week.

“We’re real proud of our kids,” he said. “I think three months sitting at home and getting minimal outside activity, they are raring to go.”

All together there are more than 100 students involved in the summer practice, varsity, junior varsity and some freshmen.

To add to the complexity of the situation, an AIA stipulation states there must be a COVID-19 point of contact for each team. That is Athletic Director Jake Neill, but Neill is leaving at the end of June and the new interim AD has not yet cycled in, nor has the new principal. So, Harris intends to turn to Vice Principal Heidi Vratil for that duty.

The MHS football season is expected to start Aug. 21 hosting Tucson. Volleyball starts Sept. 3 hosting Amphitheater. Cross country plans to host a meet at Copper Sky Sept. 2. Boys’ golf is expected to start Aug. 20.

MUSD’s task force duties for the new school year are to be spelled out in a presentation to the governing board during this week’s meeting. The task force has six subgroups: teaching and learning, communications and partnerships, athletics and extracurriculars, technology, daily operations and finance, and health and safety.

If technology is working as it should, the meeting will be shown live on the MUSD’s YouTube page. The public can email comments about agenda items to the board or superintendent.

As discussed in an earlier meeting, the task force ideas mirrors those announced by the state’s Department of Education. That includes the possibilities of returning to campuses as normal, or using online learning only, or creating a hybrid of the two, or delaying the start of school.

The first day of school is still scheduled to be July 23, with a two-week fall break, two-week winter break and two-week spring break built into the calendar.

The concept of a hybrid has two models. One would divide students into morning and afternoon sessions on campus and have them learning online when not in the classroom. The second model, called a cohort hybrid, would have students on campus for regular hours two days a week, some on Mondays and Tuesday and others on Thursdays and Fridays, and the other days filled with online learning.

An element of public safety in any community is the relationship between police and youth.

Maricopa Police Department has provided officers to school campuses for years as school resource officers, with the numbers varying, but it’s not cheap. It is also not a certainty.

Last year, Maricopa Unified School District had only one SRO, an officer at the high school, enhancing the presence of hired security staff. The SRO is not just a cop on campus.

“School Resource Officers add a great deal to our school environment,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “Not only do they provide law-related education, the presence of the MPD adds a sense of safety and security for students, staff and parents.”

The positions have always been grant-funded through the City of Maricopa in an agreement between City Hall and schools. If the city does not land the grant, the position is eliminated.

For the new city budget, the City is applying for a grant to fund three SROs. City Manager Rick Horst said the three-year grant would fund 75%. The other 25% would be split between the City and participating schools. MUSD indicated its interest in participating in a letter to City Hall.

High schools and middle schools tend to be priorities for SRO postings, forming relationships with teens. But both the schools and MPD would like those relationships to be formed even younger.

“In an ideal world, we would have a member of the Maricopa Police Department at every school,” Lopeman said.

However, the City must be awarded the grant, which is not guaranteed. If the grant is awarded, the City and school district must lock in their budgetary obligations for the three years.

“We’re in a good position because we’re a growth city,” Horst said. “We know we’re going to adequately staff police officers as we go anyway. If we were a built-out city, I’d probably be a little reluctant because we may not have the ability to retain their services after the grant period of three years.”

Horst said the positions would be filled by new employees. “We’ll make it clear upfront that this is contingent upon continued grant funds.”

The SROs are not the only positions for which the City has hopes for grants. One of those, a victim youth advocate, is also somewhat related to public safety, helping young victims of crime.

“This is a grant that would fund a position at 100% at no cost to the city whatsoever,” Horst said. “In essence, if we get the grant, we’ll hire somebody. If the grant’s not funded in subsequent years, the position will not continue to exist.”

The final grant-funded position the City applied for was in transit. It would allow the City to move a City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) employee from part-time to full-time. Without the grant, the employee would continue as is.

As Gov. Doug Ducey was announcing Arizona’s return to school in the fall, the state’s leading youth athletic-regulating body was already distributing its plans to get student athletes back on the practice fields and courts and courses.

That includes no hugs, no high fives, no fist bumps.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association presented its “Recommended Guidelines” for returning to competition with an abundance of caution.

“As long as there is active community spread, which means that new cases are still increasing, we must all be stewards of maintaining a healthy community by limiting the spread of disease,” AIA stated.

Though seasons are not expected to begin until August at the earliest, fall sports have summer training sessions usually underway in June. The plan outlines a phased return to practice that several school districts were already putting together while waiting for state guidance.

“Many districts, including us, were already working on plans to start phasing back in athletic workouts during the summer months, so when that was released by the AIA it reaffirmed everything that we had been working on,” said Jake Neill, athletic director for Maricopa Unified School District.

Though Neill is leaving at the end of June, to be replaced by interim high school AD Evelyn Wynn, his focus has been setting up the MUSD sports programs to move into a new season in unprecedented circumstances. The information from AIA reaffirmed the direction coaches were already heading.

“The guidelines they put out are great and show that everyone involved is trying to do this the right way,” Neill said. “The No. 1 priority while working our way back into things is the safety of the student athletes and coaches.”

Maricopa High School’s fall sports include football, volleyball, cross country, swimming and golf. Sequoia Pathway, a Maricopa charter school coming into the AIA for the first time this year, has football and volleyball on the line as well.

“I think it’s a good first step,” Pathway AD Glen Hale said of the guidelines. “We all want to get the student athletes back on field and court, but the safety and health of our athletes are super important.”

AIA’s new protocols include having a designated COVID-19 point of contact. It reiterates basic healthy behavior outlined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention such as staying home when sick, washing hands, using soap, avoiding physical contact and avoiding touching the face with hands.

AIA is discouraging a common athletic activity of spitting. Athletes should also “shower immediately upon arriving home and wash hands after placing clothes in a place to be washed that other people living in your house are not in contact with.”

The use of a “cloth face covering” for athletic competitions, strongly recommended by AIA, is not without precedent during pandemic conditions. Photos survive from 1918 of professional baseball players (and umpires) wearing masks on the field to ward off the so-called swine flu that killed more than 500,000 Americans.

For AIA, maintaining healthy environments means:

• No water fountains
• Outdoor practice when possible
• Modified layouts and social distancing, with at least 6 feet of distance between all people
• Physical barriers and guides that 0utline training areas for each athlete
• Communal spaces, including closed locker rooms and athletes shall come to play and leave immediately after practice
• No shared objects, with each participant having his/her own ball, additional equipment, and protective gear. All gear should be disinfected before and after training sessions, and each athlete should have has own water bottle and towel.
• Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces between uses and deep cleaning daily.

Outside observers will not be allowed to stay and watch practice. Protocols are explained in the event an athlete or a coach becomes ill. Teams are expected to have daily symptom reporting and temperature checks.

According to the AIA, the guidelines for athletic activities are based on the White House Phases for “Opening Up America Again.”

“The recommendations will require adjusting for schools, coaches and  athletes, but during these times everyone will have to monitor and adjust to keep everyone safe,” Hale said. “As we do that, guidelines will be ever evolving as more information is brought to light.”

John and Mary Lou Smith (left) are the names behind a scholarship facilitated by Maricopa Community Foundation and this year presented to (top) A'Shayla Anderson, Jiselle Diaz, (center) Kanthikan Kanjana, (bottom) Breanna Fitch and Regan Elsberry.

Thanks to the generosity of one local family, the Maricopa Community Foundation has awarded $12,500 in scholarships for 2020 to seniors who live in Maricopa.

This year, five individuals have been awarded the John E. and Mary Lou Smith Scholarship, facilitated by the Maricopa Community Foundation.  Each scholarship awarded is for $2,500 and will help the following students reach their goals of higher education at colleges and universities of their choice:

  • Ashayla Anderson, a Mountain Pointe High School senior who will be attending Northern Arizona University
  • Jiselle Diaz, a Desert Vista senior who will be attending Central Arizona College
  • Regan Elsberry, Maricopa High School senior who will be attending Brigham Young University
  • Breanna Fitch, Maricopa High School senior who will be attending Northern Arizona University
  • Kanthikan Kanjana, Maricopa High School senior who will be attending Arizona State University

John and Mary Lou Smith, longtime residents of Maricopa provided funds to establish a scholarship fund in their name.  When the State of Arizona purchased the property that was Rotary Park, the Smiths donated a portion of the money from the sale to start the scholarship program.  Both of the Smiths have been involved in the development of Maricopa for a number of decades.  Mary Lou was a key figure in the development of the present library and supporter of the building of the new library.  We all owe the Smith’s a big thank you for their continued support of our youth in the community.

Foundation Board President Courtny Tyler said, “Now that the Foundation is organized, we are excited to be able to work with other community members who are interested in establishing endowments. Scholarships continue to make a difference in the lives of students and families in our community today and for generations to come.”

Congratulations to all of the Maricopa Community Foundation’s 2020 “John E. and Mary Lou Smith Scholarship” recipients.


Photo by Kyle Norby

A Maricopa group of teen dancers choreographed by a high school student won an Arizona High School Musical Theatre award.

A rousing portion of Maricopa High School’s February production of “Newsies” this year, the “Seize the Day” troupe won the Best Dance Ensemble award, announced Saturday in a virtual ceremony.

The show was choreographed by then-junior Taya Johnson, a member of both the drama and dance sections of the Performing Arts Department at MHS. She brought both worlds together to create a capering gang of New York newsboys.

“This is my first time choreographing a whole show, which has always been a dream of mine,” Johnson said during rehearsals, “because I’m taking my two favorite things – it’s dance and it’s acting together – so that’s really fun.”

“Newsies” leans heavily on energetic dancing. When director Alexandra Stahl gave Johnson the reins as her student choreographer, Taya went down the hall of the MHS Performing Arts Center to recruit her fellow dancers.

In the production, the dancers, led by senior Riley Bell, mostly played extras until the music started and then moved seamlessly through the actors to front and center. The actors, most with little dance experience, did not hide behind the dancers but learned and executed Johnson’s choreography for a unified performance.

The show itself was a top-five finalist out of 15 high school productions. Chandler High School’s “All Shook Up” to the trophy. Nine other schools were unable to stage their musicals before coronavirus closed schools for the year.

“Newsies” had finalists in six categories.

Freya Abraham

Freya Abraham, a graduate of Maricopa High School, has been named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, considered among the highest recognition in the country.

She is one of just three Arizona representatives on the list of 161 outstanding high school seniors from across the nation. Her selection was announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects honored scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.

Abraham was the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at MHS. She posted the highest GPA in the school’s history and became its most-decorated scholar.

Each Presidential Scholar can select their most influential teacher for a special distinction, and Abraham chose Bernadette Russoniello, who was her DECA advisor and is now the College & Career counselor for MHS. She will receive a personal letter from DeVos.

Of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 5,300 candidates qualified for the 2020 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT or ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers, other partner recognition organizations or the National YoungArts Foundation’s nationwide YoungArts program.

“These exemplary young people have excelled inside the classroom and out,” DeVos said. “And, while they are facing unprecedented challenges as they graduate from high school into a world that looks much different than it did just a few months ago, their determination, resilience and commitment to excellence will serve them well as they pursue their next steps.”

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large, 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education.

Arizona’s other Presidential Scholars this year are Rithvik Reddy Musuku of Gilbert, attending BASIS Chandler, and Jake Okun of Scottsdale, attending Desert Mountain High School, and is the Career and Technology scholar.

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Seniors will pick up their diplomas curbside on Thursday. Photo by Kyle Norby

Maricopa High School is sticking with its May 21 graduation date, but it will be very different than imagined.

With COVID-19 causing the postponement of the traditional ceremony, the school looked for ways to celebrated the seniors and also get them their diplomas before they head off into the world. Thursday, the new graduation plan gets started at 10 a.m. as MHS releases videos on the district YouTube page and on the MHS graduation page.

Valedictorian Freya Abraham, Salutatorian Haley Lemon and Principal Brian Winter recorded their messages to the Class of 2020 to be part of the videos.

Then, at 10:30 a.m., the school will begin the distribution of diplomas in a drive-by setting. The campus had a similar distribution of senior awards this month.

MHS hosted a similar drive-by event this month to distribute senior awards. Photo by Kyle Norby

Seniors and their families can drive through the bus lane off Taft Avenue next to the student parking lot to pick up their diplomas. They are encouraged to wear their caps and gowns. A backdrop will be available in the student parking lot for quick photos. Otherwise seniors and parents are encouraged to stay in their vehicles.

Diplomas will be handed out in alphabetically groupings.

Last Names A-F: 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Last Names G-L: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Last Names M-R: 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Last Names S-Z: 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Deana McNamee comes to Maricopa High School from Winslow. (submitted photo)

Two new principals have been named in Maricopa Unified School District.

Deana McNamee of Winslow will take over Maricopa High School for the coming year, replacing Brian Winter. Elizabeth Allison, currently a teacher on special assignment for MUSD, will replace Randy Lazar at Pima Butte Elementary. Lazar resigned in April after seven years.

“I was drawn to MUSD by the small town feel of the community and the diverse population it serves,” McNamee said.

McNamee is a member of Navajo Nation and has held several positions at Winslow Unified School District, including assistant principal at the high school. She said it was important for her to relocate to a community that “that not only celebrates diversity but also promotes inclusiveness.”

She has been a high school art teacher and academic counselor, among other positions. The Winslow district in Navajo County has an enrollment of about 2,000. Enrollment at Winslow High School is about 650. MHS enrollment is around 2,200. Both high schools are carrying a C rating.

MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said McNamee’s background was important to her has well.

“I am excited to bring someone of Ms. McNamee’s background and experience in school improvement to our District,” Lopeman said. “Her track record demonstrates a commitment to student success and desire to develop systems and processes to support diversity. I am confident that she will respect the traditions and history that make MHS a wonderful place to work and learn while collaborating with the staff and families along the way to greater success.”

Allison will be taking the helm of MUSD’s top-rated school. It has an A rating from the state and an A+ designation by the Arizona Educational Foundation. Pima Butte has an enrollment of about 650.

“I am honored and excited for the opportunity to serve as principal of a school with a long history of academic excellence and strong community relations,” she said. “I look forward to working with the staff and community on identifying new opportunities to build upon the strengths of Pima Butte Elementary.”

Before becoming a TOSA for Pima Butte and Santa Rosa elementary schools in 2018, she was an assistant principal at Toltec School District in Eloy.

“Ms. Allison is an outstanding educator who has the skills, experience, and historical knowledge to be an extremely effective school leader, and I am excited for the Pima Butte community,” Lopeman said.

Joey Russoniello is a state finalist for best lead male. Photo by Kyle Norby

Three Maricopa High School theater students and the backstage crew have been named finalists in the Arizona High School Musical Theatre Awards.

The awards ceremony, usually held with great fanfare and performances at ASU Gammage, will be a virtual event May 23 at 7 p.m. to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak prevented nine participating high schools from performing their spring musicals this year.

MHS Theatre Company staged its spring musical, Newsies, a little earlier than usual this year and make the cut.

MHS sophomore Joey Russoniello, who played Davey, is a finalist for best lead male. The Arizona students who win for male and female leads will be sent to New York City to participate in the Jimmy Awards.

Julie Goodrum is a finalist for best supporting female. Photo by Kyle Norby

Senior Julianna Goodrum is a finalist for best supporting female. Haley Raffaele is a finalist for best vocalist. The dance ensemble for the “Seize the Day” number was also named a finalist in a category that used to be best dancer.

MHS Tech Theatre is a finalist for best lighting.

Senior Haley Lemon is up for an ASU Gammage Leadership Award.

Semifinalists are drawn from throughout state, with a panel of judges deciding the finalists and then the winners. Most categories have four or five nominees. However, best lead female has 10 finalists, and best lead male has 11.

MHS Theatre Company’s other semifinalists were Emma Schraeder as best lead female and Jae Luna as best supporting male. Tech Theatre was a semifinalist for best set, best sound, best costumes and best hair and makeup.

Haley Raffaele. Photo by Kyle Norby
Newsies Dance Ensemble. Photo by Kyle Norby

An Adopt-a-Senior page for upcoming high school graduates has spread joy around Maricopa.

The first week we created it, the support of this community was infectious.

With more than 600 graduating high school seniors living in Maricopa, the announcement that schools were closed for the year due to coronavirus and there would be no standard graduation ceremonies was stinging for the community.

Three women, all mothers of seniors attending Maricopa High School, wanted to make sure the teens weren’t “swept under the rug.” They started a Facebook page, “City of Maricopa Adopt a Senior 2020,” to give them a little extra support and love.

Jodi Levy launched the page April 21 after chatting with her friend Kasi Johnson. Christina Dryden, who met them on the MHS Parents page, came on board, and all three became administrators as the page quickly drew 635 members.

They opened it to all high school seniors in town, no matter what school they attended or if they were homeschooled. At least one of them is handling the page at all times, answering questions and watching for duplicate entries.

“These kids, this is their milestone,” Levy said. “They’ve worked so hard to get to that graduation day for this to be taken away. I mean, it’s nobody’s fault. It happens. They just need to be shown, ‘We understand what you’re going through; we’re here for you.'”

Parents or friends or the seniors themselves can post a photo and information about a senior to be adopted. Other community members can then look for names that are “not adopted” and claim them. That means private messaging the poster and finding out what is wanted or needed by the senior.

Surprises have included snacks, gift baskets, balloons, yard signs, gift cards and more.

“The parents post the pictures once they get their little surprise or whatever their adoptee has brought to them, and it just melts your heart to see what this page is doing for these kids who thought they lost everything,” Johnson said.

They have seen people who don’t have kids in school come on the page to adopt one or two, or more. They have seen friends adopting friends.

Levy said the circumstances hit some seniors harder than others and sometimes hit parents harder than the kids.

“Everyone, no matter what your story, we’re here for you,” she said. “We see what you’re going through. We’re so proud that you guys got to this moment and you’re just pushing through in this crazy, freaking time.”

The page has kept pace with the number of “adoptees,” and Johnson said they are trying to reach more seniors.

“I just sob. The first week we created it, the support of this community was infectious,” she said. “Everybody was jumping on board. Seniors were getting adopted multiple times. Some had two, three, four people that adopted them. Just to show them that they love them and see their reactions.”

Dryden said the situation is bigger than just being able to walk across a stage and get a diploma. Each senior has had their individual challenges and struggles and accomplishments to reach the graduation milestone. Some have serious medical conditions. Some have terrible family situations. Some have had serious academic struggles. Some are the only child in their family, and parents were left with a mountain of disappointment.

“Every kid’s got a story and a history to their journey,” Dryden said.

Levy said they want to have a big push on the page on graduation day, whatever form that takes, to show the seniors how much they are appreciated.

“We just wanted to lift spirits for these seniors,” Dryden said. “That’s what it amounts to.”

High school seniors across the country saw their final year implode as COVID-19 stripped away many of the spring events that normally put a big exclamation point on the achievement of graduation. But that hasn’t stopped these outstanding seniors from pursuing their goals. So far, they have earned over $7.7 million in scholarships. At Maricopa High School, 440 seniors have special honors and distinctions and 165 are senior award recipients.
MHS’s virtual Senior Awards Night video: https://youtu.be/UZ3wb1fKK7Y

Freya Abraham
Maricopa High School
The valedictorian of MHS Class of 2020 spent all her school years in Maricopa. Her career goal is to be a pediatric neurologist, working in healthcare advocacy and public policy. She has earned the highest GPA in MHS history and was named the mathematics and AP Student of the Year. She also earned the most local, state and national honors in school history.
How are you achieving your career goal? Attending University of Arizona as a Baird Scholar, attend best possible medical school for neurology. I participated in Banner Health volunteer, T-Gen Bioscience Leadership Program, Maricopa STEM club, job shadow medical professionals, Project Puente Microbiology intern [anticipated], many hours spent researching and applying, JSA director of expansion (policy exposure) and DECA (marketing and presentation skills).
Greatest achievement: National and state scholarships and awards including National Merit finalist, Presidential Scholar candidate, Coca-Cola semi-finalist, Flinn semifinalist. Winning second place in the world for Business Marketing Services at DECA’s 2018 International Career Development Conference, being on the international stage and making friends from across the country.
COVID-19: I’m not frustrated with anyone or anything in particular, except maybe for myself for paying for things too far in advance. It’s hard to believe in the intensity of my losses when I see death counts rising and the struggles of healthcare workers worldwide. I feel blessed to have the option to stay home with my family and be safe; I didn’t realize that was a privilege before.

Riley Bell
Maricopa High School
A Maricopa native, Riley is a noted dancer who performed with the MHS dance and theater troupes this year. She received an Academic Excellence award. She plans to become a hospital pharmacist.
How are you achieving your career goal? I plan to attend CAC to finish my general studies, then transfer to U of A. From there I plan to do pharmacy school.
Greatest achievement: Assuming the role of president of MHS’s dance company and choreographing countless dance pieces throughout my high school career. My favorite memories from high school are a collection of the hours and hours of rehearsing for recital with my dance family.
COVID-19: With the cancellation of the remainder of our senior year, I regret not taking advantage of the time I had left; I wish I would have cherished it more. The biggest sting is not having a “senior-spring recital.” I have been preparing myself for years for my last time on stage and I was not ready to say goodbye.

Cassandra Bonah
Maricopa High School
A Maricopa native, Cassandra participated in student council and plans to be a general physician for low-income and marginalized communities and eventually run for public office to encourage healthcare reform.
How are you achieving your career goal? Obtain a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a minor in law and society at NAU to eventually attend medical school. I currently take AP and Honors courses to prepare myself for the rigor and intensity of university and medical school. I also spend my time volunteering to help low-income communities through church.
Greatest accomplishment: Being awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Dream award. It felt nice to be recognized in the name of someone I respect and admire so much. My favorite memory has been Mr. MHS. I was a part of the student council committee for it and seeing it all come together was just amazing.
COVID-19: It was difficult at first to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my senior prom or walk the stage at graduation due to COVID-19. However, it’s nice to see the Class of 2020 in MUSD, as well as all over Arizona, recognizing one another and supporting each other through this. It’s comforting to know that we’re all in this together.

Brielle Duff
Sequoia Pathway
Brielle has lived in Maricopa less than a year after moving from Kentucky. She is graduating from Pathway as salutatorian of the Class of 2020. She is pursuing a career in music.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have been accepted into Western Kentucky University’s music program, which I will be attending in the fall, and I am dedicating myself to my music.

Greatest achievement: Overcoming the obstacles in my life that held me back from my potential. It felt freeing and satisfying. If I had stayed in that situation, I would still be trapped in my own belief that I couldn’t achieve anything worthwhile with my life. Now I am on my way to making an impact.
COVID-19: It has hindered me from getting the benefits of classroom learning, but it has allowed me more time to spend with family and work on my career interest. While losing educational hours is a loss, the virtual learning has allowed me to work on my own schedule and increase my self-discipline.

Roberto Esqueda Quintana
Maricopa High School
Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Roberto has lived in Maricopa 11 years and played four seasons of MHS football. His career goal is to help preserve buildings for centuries to come.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have applied for many scholarships and have started diving deep into the field and what I will have to learn in college. Attend ASU and get my degree in architecture.
Greatest achievement: Being able to succeed in Honors and AP classes while being a multi-sport varsity athlete and having many
hours of community service throughout my high school career.
COVID-19: It is quite sad; a lot of things were taken from me, but I have no doubt in my mind that we will pull through and find a way to please everyone.

Yasmeen Hanania
Maricopa High School
Yasmeen has spent all her school years in Maricopa, moving with her family from California when she was 4. She plans to attend ASU W.P. Carey School of Business to be an entrepreneur and study political science to enter government.
How are you achieving your career goal? I have interned with City Hall before and have campaigned for my State Officer position with Arizona DECA. I also am taking marketing and have participated and helped run Market Day at Maricopa High School and have presented my business idea to entrepreneurs to get advice and connections to start my business.
Greatest achievement: Becoming a state officer for Arizona DECA, representing District 9 and being able to be a part of an organization that has helped shape me and has prepared me for my future and being able to give back to my members and hold conferences and events for them. Also qualifying for ICDC the last two years and getting glass at State.
COVID-19: We have worked so hard and accomplished so much and the fact that all the rewards we get for our accomplishments that other graduates were able to get have been taken away by a disease is extremely devastating, but I understand that it is for our safety and that the Class of 2020 is still going to be the best graduating class.

Angello Hernandez de la Peña
Maricopa High School
Gianni discovered computer programming in middle school and now has set his sights on becoming a software engineer at a large company. What he’ll be doing, he said, depends on whether he goes to graduate school. He was named MHS science Student of the Year and was admitted to Harvard College.
How are you achieving your career goal? I will study computer science at Harvard and possibly pursue Artificial Intelligence for graduate school, depending on my interest by that time. I also plan to minor in history or political science. I have already learned to program in Python, C++ and Java. 
Greatest achievement: Being accepted to Harvard. Other than that, I would say my greatest accomplishment has been my acceptance to and participation in the SAMS summer program at Carnegie Mellon last year. The program helped me immensely through the college application process and made me even more excited to pursue computer science in college.
COVID-19: School shutting down has made it difficult to stay motivated about my classes. Being stuck inside all day without any in-person contact with my friends takes a toll after a while. I’m also disappointed I won’t be able to see my friends speak at graduation or walk on stage. However, I understand this is all being done to protect the safety of ourselves and others. I hope the situation clears in time for the next school year to begin and our city is not hit heavily by the pandemic.

Haley Lemon
Maricopa High School
A 12-year student in Maricopa, Haley has had a diverse high school experience and has diverse plans for her future. She was named the drama and theatre arts Student of the Year and is the salutatorian of MHS Class of 2020.
How are you achieving your career goal? I am going to NAU in the fall and the plan is to begin with an associate degree studying in the fields of English, studio art and/or forestry. I will then serve a mission with my church and return to school to complete my bachelor’s and go from there. I am a person who feels obligated to constantly be working on myself. I work hard to do my best morally, academically and creatively in all areas of my life, and I hope that effort is enough to give me the opportunities of growth and experience I would like to have in life.
Greatest achievement: I was amazingly lucky to be able to be both the president of the internationally recognized MHS Theatre Company and the salutatorian of the Class of 2020. I consider both of these opportunities in such high regard I cannot pick which one is greater.
COVID-19: I think it has made me realize something very important about how I should treat the rest of my life. When I first realized my senior year had basically ended, I wrestled a lot with the knowledge that the show I was waiting months to direct was cancelled, that I would get no chance to give a speech to thousands of people like I had dreamed of, that I wouldn’t get the senior week I was so excited for and that no one else in my class would either. I realized the titles were pointless, but the effort I put into them and the growth I received from them wasn’t. I did what I could, and though the physical rewards I don’t get to experience, I do get to go into the rest of my life knowing I have the capacity to always try my best and be personally successful just for my own peace of mind.

Juan Marquez
Maricopa High School
A native Californian, Juan and his family moved to Maricopa in 2019, and he found a way to excel in a new school for his senior year. He plans to attend Grand Canyon University while working for Proof Pest Control.
How are you achieving your career goal? My career goal is to find something that makes me happy, so I don’t work a day in my life. I am practicing yoga, reading books on interesting topics, and searching for my heart’s desires.
Greatest achievement: Becoming Mr. MHS, joining the wrestling team and being able to start at a new place and still do good. My favorite memory from high school is the interaction between students and all the smiles and laughs that took place.
COVID-19: It hasn’t stopped me. I’m still having a blast. There is always a good side and bad side. It matters what you look at and become.

Leah Peterson
Sequoia Pathway
A native Maricopan, Leah is the valedictorian of her class at Pathway. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which inspired her to set her career goal toward being a nurse.
How are you achieving your career goal? When I was diagnosed, I spent some time in the ICU and it gave me insight and made me feel very thankful for the nurses who watched and took care of me as well as reassuring me in a hard time. I hope to be this way to someone else in the future. The steps I am taking to reach this is going to a university. I have been accepted into Grand Canyon University and will start classes that will prepare me for being a nurse. I was also accepted into their Honors College which will provide me many opportunities as well.
Greatest achievement: Becoming valedictorian of my graduating class. School has never been easy for me, and I have had to work really hard to get to where I am. My advice for others would be no matter what your goals are just try your best and work hard at it. You won’t be disappointed by the results.
COVID-19: It has affected my senior year tremendously. It’s sad that I may not see my classmates again and may not have a prom or graduation or be able to have the same experiences as other senior classes before me. I hope I will be able to have a graduation when things get back to normal. 

Elijah Quinto
Maricopa High School
A standout on the color guard auxiliary for his school’s marching band, Elijah came to Maricopa five years ago. He plans to teach high school science and wants to be part of a professional-level color guard. He was named one of just six Winterguard Arizona scholarship recipients.
How are you achieving your career goal? Finishing high school and starting CAC classes in fall of 2020.
Greatest achievement: Being promoted at work to become a shift lead at Dutch Bros. My favorite memory of high school would be all the times during band and band competitions. I think getting a caption in our auxiliary section was my favorite part.
COVID-19: I unfortunately let go of high school after we learned our winterguard season would be cut short due to COVID-19, therefore I lost hope in all aspects of life in terms of finishing the last year of my formal education. I know, however, that I will still strive for my own education in the future and if that means online school, then we must change our norm.

Alex-Ann Velasco
Maricopa High School
A self-described Army brat, Alex-Ann came to Maricopa her sophomore year. With a wide array of talents exhibited at MHS, she plans to hone her studies to become an obstetrician.
How are you achieving your career goal? Studying biomedical science in the Honors College at Northern Arizona University. I will use my biomedical science degree to meet all my prerequisite requirements for medical school.

Greatest achievement: My costume designs competing at the Central Arizona Festival of Theatre and qualifying to compete at the International Thespian Festival. Also, reading “The Flea” by John Donne in my sophomore honors English class or getting on the roof for the first time as the Fiddler in last year’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.
COVID-19: Events like graduation, senior awards night, cap decorating, prom and even dress shopping were things I looked forward to for years. I understand it is better to take extra precautions for our safety than to risk anyone getting seriously sick or worse. But it is still a bummer to check your phone after a shower to see more has been canceled in what seems to be the blink of an eye. We worked hard for years to earn all the fun senior activities that we no longer get.

This story appears in part in the May issue of InMaricopa.


Under normal circumstances, Arizona high school athletes would be prepping for state competition right now, trying to earn a spot in tournament play or qualify for the championships.

Geared up with a full coaching staff and hard-working athletes, Maricopa High School track and field had to put on the brakes. With only one major meet under their belts, the Rams, like every other team in the state, were knocked out of competition by the coronavirus outbreak.

It shuttered schools and training facilities and then the entire season. For seniors hoping not only for a last hurrah but also a chance at athletic scholarships, it was a huge monkey wrench.

“Zanaa Ramirez has a good shot to make it to the NCAA level,” head track coach Corey Nelson said. “Katherine Gores has a good shot to make it to the collegiate level.”

Before the season collapsed, both had personal bests in the big Aztec Invitational at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe. Gores, a javelin specialist, placed second with a throw of 99-7. Ramirez, who is also on Nelson’s club team, placed eighth in the 400-meter dash in 1:03.57.

“I’m a little frustrated,” Ramirez said. “We were doing really well so far, and my teammates worked really hard.”

Also not knowing she was wrapping up her senior season, Daijah Scott had personal records in the 100-meter dash, finishing 13th in 13.35, and in the 100-meter hurdles, eighth in 17.63.

While Ramirez was finishing ninth in the 800-meter run, fellow senior Coreyuna Mitchell-Shephard was running a personal record 2:56.43 in 42nd place. She also PR’d in the 400 at 1:08.64 to finish 31st. Meanwhile, senior RyAnn Liermann was Maricopa’s top finisher in the discus in 14th place with a throw of 76-7 and in shot put in 21st place with 25-5.5.

Gores was 12th in the triple jump in 29-1.75. Senior Chloe Luiz was 19th in the girls’ pole vault at six feet. Amoni James was 37th in the long jump in 11-3.

The boys’ track and field team had fewer seniors competing, but they were getting workouts. Steel Lewis was 12th in the pole vault with a vault of 11-0. Quinton Stapleton was 44th in the 3200-meter run and 49th in the 1600. Kian Carroll was 46th in the 3200.

Friday would have been their final warmup before the state championships, the major Hohokam Invitational at Westwood High.

“That’s when we start putting down fast times, qualifying for state and we’re at our best potential,” Nelson said.

He came into the season with a full staff of two throw coaches, a miler coach and a team manager. Now they are turning their minds toward the 2020-21 school year, and Nelson, by expertise a sprint coach, is picking up cross-country coaching.

Over in MHS softball, coach Jason Crawford has submitted his resignation at the end of this school year. The girls were off to a strong start with a 7-3 record. They had outscored their opponents 68-32.

The seniors were doing their part on a team that was strong across all grades.

Keilee Keys-Carrillo was batting .452 with five runs batted in through 10 games. Kayla Occhiline had her average at .364 in seven games played. Kiana Miller-Gomez had five RBIs.

The MHS baseball team had a 4-5 record for the abbreviated season. Senior Austin Rapp was batting .368 with seven hits. His classmate Parker Hunsaker batted .304, scored 11 runs, had seven hits and four stolen bases. Jackson Lindseth scored eight runs for his final season.

While girls’ tennis boasted no seniors, the boys’ team leaned on three in its short, 1-3 season. Noah Panter had a singles record of 2-2 and 1-3 in doubles. Ethan Atkinson and Angel Urbina Noriega were 0-4 and 1-3.


Resources for students in need don’t intend to stop operations during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Copa Closet, a resource of basic needs for K-12 children that is sponsored by Maricopa Unified School District, is still in operation and eager to help, according to Amber Liermann, a Maricopa High School counselor who operates the program with the help of volunteers.

“We provide the basic needs of students. That includes food, clothes, hygiene products and school supplies,” Liermann said. “School is the greatest protective factor for children, period.”

While social distancing is in effect and most operations are done virtually at the public-school level, Copa Closet is coordinating with the MUSD district office.

“If the need is identified, the district is using their resources, including Copa Closet, to meet those needs,” Liermann said. “The only thing that’s changed is that we’re not accepting donations at this time, and that’s because the school is closed.”

While Copa Closet has stayed operational during COVID-19 to help students in need, plans for the future and returning to normalcy are underway for the program. The program is expecting to see more volunteers once COVID-19 has passed.

“We already have some things in place prior to (COVID-19). We have gloves and hand sanitizer, which were already part of our program before any of this happened,” Liermann said. “Our volunteers used gloves, we’re encouraged to wash our hands and sanitize, so those will stay in place, and those supplies are provided by the school.”

Since its opening in 2018, Copa Closet has moved on from the use of cupboards to using three-fourths of a classroom at MHS. The program has seen more and more student volunteers, particularly from National Honors Society and JROTC students.

The program has since become a chartered club at MHS, upon student request during the current school year. Liermann anticipates more volunteers and increased motivation once COVID-19 precautions are lifted and students return to school buildings.

“Our donations will increase, student participation will increase, and that will continue to increase because we see students who come in and they may need something, but so many times those students will say, how can I participate? How can I help?” Liermann said.

Copa Closet has also seen support from MUSD’s administration as well as donations from the Maricopa community and local churches. The program partners with Jim Shoaf of Maricopa Pantry, F.O.R. Maricopa, and “Our Children Matter.”

Even before coronavirus, the impact of the program was very personal.

“This really tall, thin boy came in quietly,” Liermann said. “He was looking at jackets, and he found a black hoodie-kind of jacket, and he just turned around and gave me this huge spontaneous hug, and just walked out. Neither of us said anything to each other, but the smallest donation, to these students, you can see on their face that it’s not small to them.”

Copa Closet would like to thank the community of Maricopa for all their generous donations and support over their years of operations.

Call MUSD at 520-568-5100


To continue to grow our local coverage of COVID-19’s impact on Maricopa in the difficult weeks to come while continuing our day-to-day newsgathering, we are partnering with the Local Media Association’s foundation to ask our readers to help with a tax-deductible donation at GiveButter.com/inmaricopa.

MHS Principal Brian Winter (submitted photo)

After two years as principal, Brian Winter is leaving Maricopa High School, where he had previously been athletic director, dean of students and vice principal. It is the second time he has departed the district.

Winter, who lives in Gilbert, landed a job as the principal of Gilbert High School for the 2020-21 school year. He was approved unanimously by the Gilbert Public Schools governing board April 2. He said the 2.3-mile commute to work was a factor for him.

“It was a very, very, very difficult decision,” Winter said.

Winter worked for Maricopa Unified School District during the 2011-12 school year, and then left for Millennium. He returned in 2016 as an administrator at the high school and then became principal in 2018 after MHS had a tumultuous year in the front office.

When he took over as principal, a focus was to change the perception and culture at Maricopa High School. He said Maricopa has great people serving “very, very, very amazing students.”

“I really believe we have made some positive gains,” Winter said. “It is a business, and we’re competing for kids.”

Among them was rising from a solid C to less than two points from a B, seeing the graduation rate rise 10% and keeping more students in town instead of on buses to East Valley schools. He said that includes top athletes now understanding they can get a first-rate education at MHS.

“I think Maricopa is a shining jewel down here,” said Winter, working from his office on campus during the school closure for COVID-19. “It has just so much potential for greatness.”

With the dramatic growth in MHS enrollment, he has been responsible for hiring many staff members and is still actively involved in filling positions. He’s been pleased with the results and said he is proud of their achievements.

“This is the strongest staff that I have seen,” Winter said.

He hopes his position is filled before the end of his contract in June because he wants to be involved in the transition before he uses some vacation days. That is complicated by the current closure, and he sees a lot of work ahead to prepare for new leadership.

“I’m a grinder,” he said. “I like to roll up my sleeves and work hard.”

by -
Photo courtesy Maricopa Historical Society


Before it was relegated to its current status as the 600 building, the library at Maricopa High School was the office. Between 2000 and 2006, high school enrollment grew by more than 250 students to 876. Since then, more buildings were added to campus, including a new front office. The parking lot was also paved. At the end of 2019, enrollment was more than 2,200.

2020 photo by Raven Figueroa

This item appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

The Class of 2020 gathered for a photo earlier in the school year before COVID-19 forced them apart. Submitted photo

“I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation.” – Alex-Ann Velasco

Taliya Johnson is a Maricopa High School senior who, like everyone else in her class, was looking forward to the final weeks of her senior year.

“I think the hardest part was hearing that we’re not going to have an actual graduation,” Johnson said. “We’re all kind of losing motivation, because that was our motivation. It was kind of heartbreaking.”

High school seniors reflect on everything they will be missing now that schools have been closed state-wide for the rest of the year due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The closures, announced by Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, came after an uncertain timeline of spring break extensions and forced schools to move curriculums to online platforms.

While some students are adept in the changing environment, cruising through online classes, others are beginning to struggle in time-management and focusing on schoolwork.

Many left materials for projects and assignments in the school building, unsure of when they can return to campus to retrieve their belongings. Some wonder how they’ll return textbooks before the end of the year. Overall, seniors lament on all the things they will be missing as a result of closures as part of COVID-19 precautions.

Student Voices

Freya Abraham

Freya Abraham: “It’s hard to believe in the intensity of my losses like prom, graduation, yearbook signings, etc. But it’s also hard to see the death counts rising and the struggles of health care workers. I think that the closure is unfortunate, but necessary. I hear the empathy our teachers and organizers have with students, and that makes it easier.”
Freya is the valedictorian for the class of 2020 whose career goal is to be a physician.

Haley Lemon: “I had a dream of speaking at a graduation ceremony; I wanted the opportunity to say what I believed to a massive group, to try to say something that would inspire people to care for others … Now that is all completely swept away.”
Haley is the salutatorian for the class of 2020.

Angello “Gianni” Hernandez de la Pena: “It came up very sudden, but I told my friends when spring break started, ‘We’re probably not coming back.’ And that’s what happened. Without graduation and without prom, it’s kind of sad. Our course work has reduced a lot. I’ve lost a lot of motivation. It’s hard to stay motivated with courses online.”
Gianni was accepted to and will be attending Harvard College.

Zanaa Ramirez: “I’m a little frustrated. We were doing really well so far, and my teammates worked really hard.”
Zanaa is a leader on the MHS track and field team, which had its season canceled.

Alex-Ann Velasco: “Knowing I won’t get (graduation), working super hard for the stoles and medallions and cords from the different programs I was in – like NHS, theatre, all these programs that were going to give me things to wear at graduation specifically, I’m not going to be able to wear those anymore.”
Alex-Ann qualified for nationals in the theatre/performing arts competition, which was cancelled due to travel ban.  

Taylor Russo

Taylor Russo: “I feel for my friends who are part of the baseball team, they didn’t get to finish their season. I would definitely be really upset if I wasn’t able to finish mine. I got to have my senior night, I got to have my last game and everything because this happened right when the season finished.”
Taylor was the MHS soccer captain during his sophomore, junior and senior year.

Taliya Johnson: “Missing the last dance recital made me the most upset. The last dance recital is the last time dancing with your team, your family. You get a rose at the last recital, on senior night. It’s a big thing for everyone in the company. Going to dance was the thing I looked forward to every day.”
Taliya is a member of the MHS Dance Company’s Performance Group, whose final dance was canceled.

Lexi Hicks

Lexi Hicks: “The thing I was looking forward to the most was definitely graduation, prom, senior ditch day and senior week. I don’t live with my parents so I was extremely excited to have them come down and watch their oldest daughter graduate. I was excited to decorate my cap with my friends and even take prom pictures with them.”
Lexi’s family is from Chicago, Illinois. She had already purchased a prom dress, tickets and graduation memorabilia.

Destiny Campbell: “I am a member of Student Council. This being my last year, I won’t get to fully enjoy all of the end-of-the-year celebrations that Student Council holds for seniors. I was looking forward to senior week, prom and graduation.”
Destiny will be the first member of her family to graduate high school.

Taliya Johnson

A Message from Teachers

Even with the uncertainty, loss and changes, many students have referenced the support and structure teachers are giving, as much as they can, from their newly virtualized courses.

“Your milestones may have been postponed, but you haven’t been. Continue to learn, and grow, and reach, and strive, and change, and be.”

Teachers in the English department at MHS wrote a letter to their Class of 2020 students, posting the letter on social media.

“This is a generational turning point,” the letter read.

The letter to students was signed by senior English teachers Aidan Balt, David Blanchard, Juan Garavito, Laura Lomayesva and Talitha Martin, who have all converted to teaching online along with the rest of the school for the remainder of the school year.

“It has been a major shift and is very difficult to keep track of everything changing for many classes,” Lemon said. “Many teachers have been reaching out to their students in addition to all this and they have all been super kind in trying to help us make the best out of this situation.”

MHS Student Council members, earlier in the year. Submitted photo

Final frustrations

Many students have reached the conclusion school closure is necessary for public safety but back-up plans should be applied for the senior class.

Destiny Campbell

“I understand why they did what they did; everyone’s safety should be a priority,” Campbell said. “but I feel that everything else should not have had to have been canceled.”

While many students understand the need for school closures and social distancing, it doesn’t stop them from feeling the loss of their last moments in high school.

“I feel personally guilty,” said Velasco. “I know people are dying and in really bad situations. So, I feel super guilty that I’m upset about losing a senior prom and not getting to walk at graduation, when I know there are serious things happening in the world around this disease, but I’m still upset about it.”

It is still uncertain when students may be able to return to the building to gather personal items or to return textbooks/other school materials.

“I feel like the class of 2020 has handled this pretty well,” Russo said. “I feel like it could have gone a lot worse, and we’ve all taken it in stride.”

Performance Company, last semester. Submitted photo

Gianni Hernandez de la Pena

While the Class of 2020 was grappling with the repercussions of school closures, one Maricopa High School senior received very good news last week. Harvard College informed Angello “Gianni” Hernandez de la Pena by email he had been accepted.

Harvard College is the undergraduate college within Harvard University, the second-ranked institution of higher learning in the nation.

Career and College Coordinator Bernadette Russoniello said Gianni is the school’s first admission to a “top-tier academic university” in her 20 years at MHS.

Hernandez said his application to Harvard was one of a string of applications he completed this year. He had several options to accept other opportunities that were closer or less of a challenge.

“Oh, I’m going to Harvard,” he said.

Originally from California, Hernandez was in fifth grade when his family moved to Tortosa. Attending Desert Wind Middle School, he learned computer programming and was hooked. His course of study remains computer science.

“If I’m being honest, when we think of Harvard, we think that’s where Mark Zuckerberg went,” Hernandez said. “I know they have a good computer science program.”

In accepting him into the Class of 2024, the Harvard admissions office stated, “Our admissions committee considers each application with great care, voting to admit those who will make the best use of the opportunities at Harvard. We admire all you have accomplished, and we believe that Harvard is a particularly good match for your talents and interests.”

He didn’t get quite that far down the announcement Thursday before he was celebrating loudly with family All he needed to see was the bolded word “Congratulations!” under his name to yell for his brother and hug his mother.

“I was happy, very happy,” he said. “What you’d expect.”

Given the circumstances, it may be awhile before he can set foot on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but he can take a virtual tour online.

Though the rest of this school year is winding up to be a wash, with courses finished online, Hernandez had proved his chops last year by earning a spot in a summer program at Carnegie Melon University. He earned 10 college credits focused on computer science, calculus and game development. He later became a National Merit scholarship finalist.

Corey Nelson. Photo by Victor Moreno

He may have come late to track and field, but Corey Nelson has kept going and going … and going.

In his second year as head coach of Maricopa High School’s track and field program, after two years as its sprint coach, Nelson has coached kids to gold medals while continuing to compete at the Masters level himself.

Nelson has been training for the USA Track and Field Arizona State Championship that was planned in late May and then the USATF Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships in North Carolina in July. He was trying to raise funds for the World Masters Athletics Championships in Toronto, Canada, but those events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic that made older participants particularly vulnerable. Then he watched the novel coronavirus demolish the high school track and field season as well.

On the masters’ circuit before coaching at MHS, Nelson was a three-time gold-medal winner in the 2014-15 season in the 35-40 age bracket.

He’s been running track more than 20 years.

He had a gift. He made it look effortless.

“I was a late bloomer. Didn’t start track until I was a junior in high school,” Nelson said.

He was a football player at Rancho Cotate High School in Northern California and known for getting in a little trouble during the off season. The head coach less than subtly suggested he try track to keep in shape and out of trouble.

“So, I said, ‘OK I’ll try it.’ I turned out to be pretty good at it, so I stuck with it,” he said. “And learned how to sprint. Learned how to breathe, how to use body mechanics, and the rest is history.”

Matt Transue was a friend and teammate at Rancho Cotate.

“Even in high school, we all knew Corey had something special,” he said. “He had a gift. He made it look effortless.”

Transue and the other throwers on the team would stop what they were doing and gather along the track to watch Nelson run the 200.

“The [runners] would come off the corner, and everyone else would be grinding and grunting, and he looked as though it was just a job. He had such fluid motion, he looked as though he had just woken up. He was amazing.”

Transue said Nelson was confident with “a glow around him” but did not have the swagger of arrogance he saw in many high-performance athletes.

Nelson set school records in the 200 and 400 and was a state qualifier in the 400. Then, at Santa Rosa Junior College, he set a school record and earned All American honors.

He’s a lot more talented than even his accolades tell.

He then went on to Boise State University, where he played football and had a blazing-hot track season in 1999. He still holds the BSU record in the 400 (45.36) and is tied for second all-time in the 200 (20.57). He made Nationals in both events and was named All American in both. Nelson was also the Big West Conference Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

Photo by Victor Moreno

Amy Christofferson, his sprint coach senior year, said Nelson was one of the most talented athletes she ever worked with.

“He’s a lot more talented than even his accolades tell,” she said. “He doesn’t always believe in himself.”

That is something she suspects came through the pecking order of junior-college track. Christofferson said trust quickly built between them. He became like one of the family.

After college in 2000, he qualified for the Olympic trials and was on the 4×400-meter relay championship teams in the Penn Relays and the Texas Relays.

He briefly went back to football. After signing with the Seattle Seahawks, he was injured and released. In the XFL he was a wide receiver for the Las Vegas Outlaws in 2001. The next year, he played for the Amsterdam Admirals and the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe.

Then he qualified for the Olympic trials again in 2004, chasing a dream that never quite died.

“He never quits,” Transue said. “He never gives up.”

When Nelson moved into professional ranks, Christofferson and her sons would show up to cheer him on. After he was done with football, Nelson returned to Christofferson for training.

“I was fortunate to go onto the professional ranks and have a medium-sized career,” Nelson said.

He was an indoor national qualifier in 2003, 2004 and 2005. On the pro circuit, he called it “dash for cash” as athletes tried to earn enough to at least earn their keep as they traveled internationally.

With USA Track and Field, he rubbed shoulders with childhood idol Michael Johnson nearing the end of his career. He was teammates with the great John Capel, Tyree Washington, Terrence Trammell, James Davis, Antonio Pettigrew, Dennis Mitchell and Derek Brew. They qualified for the Penn Relays and won gold in the 4×400 at the Drake Relays.

I coach people how I would like to be coached.

Christofferson was not surprised to see him become a coach (he was an undergraduate assistant sprint coach), and she continues to give him advice in that realm.

“He’d come to me and say, ‘How did you do this? After one year, I’m worn out,’” she recalled. “You have to have patience. You’re going to find a lot of diamonds in the rough.”

Nelson reiterates Christofferson’s advice that a coach cannot write a program for one athlete that everyone else will fall in line with. She had to give him different challenges than she did other athletes she trained.

He became a sprint coach at his alma mater back in California and then was head coach for a couple of seasons at El Molino High School before moving to Arizona and coaching sprinters again at Independence in Glendale.

“I coach people how I would like to be coached,” he said. “I communicate everything, maybe too much.”

But he was also feeling the competitive bug.

“I get the itch every year,” he said. “I’d call up my old coaches and say, ‘I still got it. I’m running with these high school kids and I’m beating them.’ Of course, nowhere near where I was.”

On the USATF Masters circuit, competing in the 35-40 age category, Nelson earned silver in the 200 indoors and gold in the 400 indoors during the 2013-14 season. Then he won gold in the 200 and 100 in the Grand Canyon State Games and the 200 in the Arizona State Games the next year.

Dempster Jackson, founder of the AAG Elite Club that became Phoenix Elite, pulled Nelson into the club to run the 200 and 400.

“He was an exceptional athlete,” Jackson said. “I thought he had a lot of gas left in the tank.”

Club track gives high-level athletes who have to train on their own the opportunity to compete. The club would get free training, travel, and fitness and massage therapy. In exchange, the athletes would train those in the youth program.

“It was a symbiotic relationship,” said Jackson, a former Masters champion.

He said many of the athletes in the club were a little younger with some attitude. Nelson, he said, calmed that down. “He had a good deal of discipline. He was always open to coaching and collaborating. It was very beneficial to have him on the team.”

Guy Muhammad, now coaching Pima Community College, trained Nelson five years ago with Phoenix Elite.

“He’s committed, he’s dedicated, he’s knowledgeable. He competes at a high level,” he said. “As a coach he’s very much the same. The kids I’ve gotten from him have been very coachable.”

Those kids include Pjai Austin, who is excelling in competition for the University of Arizona.

He’s teaching and he’s still doing it himself. That’s awesome.

Sherry Dunn, who has two sons running for Nelson, said kids who achieved under his coaching have gone on to even higher competition, including Austin and Jacob Cowing, who were state champions with MHS’s 4×100 relay team two years ago. Cowing now plays football for University of Texas-El Paso.

“He’s someone who’s willing to work with the children,” Dunn said of Nelson. “If you want to work, he’s going to help.”

Dunn’s son Mister Chavis, an MHS junior and member of the West Coast Striders, has a good shot at making a college team in track and football, according to Nelson. Dunn said her kids have responded well to Nelson’s fairness, structure and demand for accountability. “You know how there are some people in life you don’t want to disappoint? He’s one of them.”

She said Nelson listens to her concerns in helping Mister reach his goals.

“Those kids respect him,” she said. “He’s teaching and he’s still doing it himself. That’s awesome.”

Don Abram is head coach of the girls track team at McClintock High School. He’s been training runners 33 years. He coached Nelson in his efforts with USA Track and Field.

“He was a really, really good, but to maintain that and live a life is really hard,” Abram said.

He saw Nelson still had the bug and the passion to compete.

“He’s a hard worker, maybe a little bit too hard on himself with a kind of chip on his shoulder,” Abram said. “He has that unfulfilled demon in him about the sport. It’s a good demon. That’s why he’s doing Masters. “

Coming to Arizona, Nelson said, was all about chance.

“We had a dart board with Arizona, Nevada and Oregon,” he said. “We said, ‘Wherever the dart lands that’s where we’re moving.’ So, Arizona.”

“We” is Corey and his wife Danielle Nelson, whom he has known since they were in junior college together. They drifted apart when he went off to Boise but “circled back around” about six years ago. They have two children.

While Danielle is part of the administration of the Phoenix Premium Outlets, Corey is teaching and assisting in the special education department at MUSD.

Starting in 2014, he gradually took on four coaching roles, all of which he continues today. He formed a nonprofit track club called the West Coast Striders to train runners from elementary-aged kids to adults. He became a sprint coach at Mesa Community College. After two years as sprint coach for MHS, he became head coach in 2017 as well as a soccer conditioning coach. This year he was also the assistant coach and defensive coordinator for Sequoia Pathway’s football team.

Sueann Chavez’s daughter Gianna runs in the 11/12-year-old bracket for the West Coast Striders after telling her parents one day she wanted to give running a try. Chavez said it was quickly obvious the club was a good thing for her kid, who expects to reach new levels this year.

“Corey and his wife Danielle, it’s hard to find that kind of commitment,” Chavez said.

Gianna, a student at Legacy Traditional School, competed in the USATF Hershey Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships last summer in the 800 and 1500.

At the same time, he has returned to training for the Masters circuit. He recently moved into the 40-45 bracket, where he dominated.

The thing about age, Nelson discovered, is the much longer recovery times. He was referred to Fast Athlete USA in Tempe and its isokinetics training as a way to adapt to the change. That includes a circuit of all-hydraulic equipment.

“At first, I thought he was standoffish and quiet,” owner Lara Clark said. “Then when you get to know him you learn he’s in a zone when he’s training. He’s in his own head.”

She said the Fast Athlete staff “really likes Coach a lot.” Though the facility is mostly focused on youth athletes, it sees its share of adults like Nelson training for elite competitions along side Olympic hopefuls or free-agent football players.

Whether you’re a miler, whether you’re a sprinter, whether you’re a jumper, whether you’re a thrower, there are just so many different events you can experiment with and find your niche.

Submitted photo

Zanaa Ramirez, 18, was one of the first athletes to join the West Coast Striders. She is now a senior at MHS and one of the top point-earners on the girls’ team in the 400 and 800. She has been running cross country since attending Butterfield Elementary.

When Nelson became the sprint coach for MHS, Ramirez was a sophomore distance runner and had no interaction with him. “The other kids really liked him,” she said.

But he had been watching and saw her natural potential for different distances.

“He set me aside, and we had a conversation during one of the meets,” she said. “He told me I was a really good athlete and he could help if I was willing to trust what he had to say.”

With the Striders last year, she earned a spot in the USATF Hershey Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships in the 800. For MHS, she hit her personal best time 2:29.63 in winning the Southeast Valley Championships.

“One thing about tracks is there are just so many events,” Nelson said. “Whether you’re a miler, whether you’re a sprinter, whether you’re a jumper, whether you’re a thrower, there are just so many different events you can experiment with and find your niche.”

Zanaa’s mother, Inez Ramirez, said Nelson was “really determined to give these kids exposure that they didn’t have in Maricopa. If he doesn’t have a certain resource, he’ll find it for these kiddoes.”

The fact Nelson continues to compete helps them identify, she said. “He’s going through the same training, the same problems. They can see he’s not all talk.”

Jovanni Fontes also competes for Nelson at MHS and for the club team. He said Nelson’s philosophy of “Quality over quantity” helped him improve tenfold.

“He has taught me how to give it all my all and when my body feels like it’s at its limit,” Fontes said. “I’ve learned it’s only a portion of what I can really do.”

They are taught to arrive with the mentality of “We will do our best. We will be great, and we will win,” Fontes said, explaining it spills over into everyday life.

“But arguably the most important thing he has taught us that it is OK to have an off day, to have a bad race, to feel not OK,” he said. “You just have to get back up again, fall forward and use that momentum to drive you because only we can choose to be great.”

Nelson also emphasizes academics comes first.

“To put themselves in a position for success, they have to be academically eligible. If you’re ineligible, obviously you’re not in position for success,” he said. “Secondly, consistency. They have to be at practice as much as they can if not everyday and be consistent with the routine and be progressional. Last but not least, have fun. If you’re not having fun, then you’re probably not going to win. If you’re not going to win, you’re probably not going to have success.

“Winning’s not always a gold medal. A PR is a win. A season-best is a win. Staying healthy the entire season is a win. Gaining teammates and friends is a win. Gaining a social group is a win.”

He taught me not to cheat myself, not to quit myself.

Ebony Griffin, 16, is a junior a Maricopa High School. She runs the 400, 200, 4×200 relay and 4×100 relay. She moved to Maricopa from Oklahoma her sophomore year and was excited to get more training for her running.

“He seemed very quiet and straight-forward,” she said of Nelson. “He’s very hands-on. I improved very much.”

Griffin and her teammates say they set their own goals, and Nelson works with them to achieve those goals.

“He’s helped me overcome some of my fears,” Griffin said. “Definitely taught me to keep trying and trust the process.”

Coreyuna Mitchell, 18, an MHS senior, moved to Maricopa from Michigan last year and also had the stress of adjusting to a new school and new people. But she found new friends on the track team, where she runs the 400, hurdles, 4×400 relay and 4×800 relay.

“He takes a lot of things seriously, but he’s a very good man. He cares about us a lot,” she said. “He’s a very caring man. He taught me not to cheat myself, not to quit myself. He’s amazing.”

When Nils Thibeaux brought his three sons to West Coast Striders, he brought with him a wealth of experience himself coaching baseball, basketball and track.

“Track’s been a big part of our lives for eight or nine years,” Thibeaux said.

He was immediately impressed with how detail-oriented Nelson was. He spoke to the Striders about physical adjustments and balanced upper body strength, using techniques even Thibeaux did not know about.

“I thought, ‘Hey, this guy’s a professional,’” he said. “He’s a great track coach. And he’s still running track himself.”

Several parents said the fact Nelson is still competing and working on goals makes an impression on his athletes. And not just kids.

Frank Juarez, who ran cross country at South Mountain High School and Phoenix College, now has two of his kids running for the Striders and a third hoping to join when he is 8. His children attend Heritage Academy, where there is cross country but not track.

“I didn’t know his experience. My first impression was that he knows what he’s doing,” Juarez said. “He’s organized and structured. He seems to get the most out of them.”

John Hill is the father of Jaemin Hill, 14, a student at Heritage Academy. Jaemin competes in the 100 and 200 with the Striders.

Hill said no one even had to point out who the coach was, because he could tell by the way Nelson carried himself and interacted with the athletes. Hill, who coaches club basketball, said he was impressed with the organizational discipline of the Striders.

“He and the other coaches demand effort and single-minded focus each and every practice and yet do so in a supportive, encouraging and motivating way,” Hill said. “Even in a sport that is often individually based, he successfully creates a team atmosphere.  The coaches, peers and culture of the program push each child to want to get better. And if you listen and follow him you will get better.”

When Jaemin started feeling some aches and pains, Hill noted, Nelson told him to back off for three weeks or so instead of pushing him to do something unhealthy.

“The little details separate winners and losers in track more than any sport, where a hundredth of a second can be the difference in winning and losing, and coach Nelson is all about those details,” Hill said. “It’s not so much about doing everything perfectly as it is the process of each and every day doing things right, doing all the little things right, and building on that in the endless journey to be the best you can be.”

Ailed Cota, a junior, runs for Nelson at MHS and with the West Coast Striders in the 800, 1600 and 3200.

“Track overall has made me improve on myself and my motivation,” she said. “He works on us to get better and get better times. That’s helped me a lot.”

Meanwhile, because he is a self-described shark that doesn’t sleep, Nelson also gained certification to officiate Arizona Interscholastic Association meets that don’t involve Maricopa and another certification to officiation at the USATF level, including NCAA and professional meets.

“I may not have made an Olympic team, but I might officiate one,” he said.

This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Zoie Zimpleman (student at MHS) playing Luck in "Tavern in the Woods."

What: Little Tavern in the Woods premiere
When: April 3, 6 p.m.
Where: Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center
How much: $5/door; MHS students and staff can purchase pre-sale tickets during lunch.
Info: @littletaverninthewoods (Official Instagram Account) 

Transforming itself from a generic student club to a movie studio, 804 Film Co. is ready to premiere its horror short film Little Tavern in the Woods.

The Maricopa High School students who comprise 804 Film Co. plan a special event April 3 at the Performing Arts Center.


“We’re calling it ‘the Little Tavern in the Woods experience,’” said the club’s co-president, Kaden Rogers, who also directed and co-wrote the film and assisted in the editing.

They plan to create a creepy “Haunted House” feel to the foyer of the PAC before the audience moves into the theater.

“We’re going to make every single second of it entertaining,” Rogers said. “Once you step out of your car, you’re entertained by us.”

He sums up the plot as “human taxidermy.” The owners of a Wisconsin tavern that has been bypassed by society stew in their anger until they come up with a psychopathic way to get customers back in the tavern.

Only one member of the club is in the cast – Zoie Zimpleman plays the granddaughter of the tavern owners, Desert Wind teacher Joe Szoltysik and Butterfield Elementary teacher Liz Zimpleman. Volunteers Kristi Lawrence and Charlie Rogers play a pair of hikers who come across the tavern.

Many of the students in 804 Film Co. were part of the cast and crew of Kindness Equals Calm, which won the student-film awards at Show Low Film Fest and Copa Shorts Film Fest two years ago. Their success inspired them to form a student club when they advanced to high school.

When they received grant funding, their movie-making took off.

“We re-named, re-chartered and basically restarted,” Kaden Rogers said.

804 Film Co. members (from left) Joseph Abel, Kaden Rogers, Lexie Nordhoff, Bailey Rigby, Jaylene Shavers and Audrey Duguay. Submitted photo

They named the film company after the classroom where it all started. They now have about 14 members. The grants gave them access to new equipment and best practices in sound, lighting and camerawork.

“Wanted it to be more like a movie studio,” Rogers said. “We wanted to function like any production company would function. We wanted it to be more professional in a production sense.”

The result was a student-film-club version of a producer in the person of Lexie Nordhoff, who is co-president.

“Initially, I joined film club because I wanted to be more involved on campus, and I had friends who were part of it,” Nordhoff said. “Though I had little knowledge of the film-making process, I always found interest in areas such as advertisement and business.”

Rogers says he comes to her with creative ideas, and she takes the production reins and tells him what the club can and cannot do. That allows the students to operate more like a business than as a club.

“Months later, as one of the club’s co-presidents, I have discovered and further explored my passion for leadership and helping others,” Nordhoff said.

Kristi Lawrence playing Faith in “Tavern in the Woods.”

The idea for Little Tavern in the Woods came from a short story Szoltysik wrote years ago as a transrealism exercise. He and Rogers brought it to the club members as an idea for a film plot, and everyone had equal say in how it would go forward.

That started in January 2019.

Joseph Abel, secretary of the club, is the director of photography and was the one who had to learn to work with the new equipment. Denver Bryant was primary editor, and Bailey Rigby was assistant director.

(L-R: Denver Bryant, Jaylene Shavers, Brenna Fulton, Lexie Nordhoff, Kaden Rogers, Joseph Abel)

While their previous film production often ran off the cuff, “This one was very mapped out, with shot lists and schedules, because we had a lot more people involved. It was a very big group effort,” Rogers said.

They built a set in the gym of Desert Wind Middle School, thanks to volunteer Steven Hull, and shot during fall break and on weekends. They also shot on location at Lynx Lake.

“Pontowoc Lake” AKA Lynx Lake in Prescott, Cast and crew traveled there for an on-location shoot

When they worried they did not have enough funds to complete the set, they started a GoFundMe account and met their goal within a day as friends and family pooled $650 for supplies.

They would like to get back on the festival circuit and later release it on YouTube for free.

“We don’t really care if we’re making money from it; we just want people to watch it,” Rogers said.

The film starts at 6 p.m. and runs less than an hour. Tickets are $5 at the door.

“Little Tavern In The Woods” set built by volunteer Steve Hull. Submitted photo

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Pjai Austin (University of Arizona)

Maricopa High School graduate Pjai Austin recently finished the indoor track season at University of Arizona, where he led the Wildcats in his three events.

A sophomore, Austin hit personal bests in the 60-meter dash, 200-meter dash and long jump. He had three wins in the long jump during the season.

His top time in the 60 was 6.73 at the NAU Friday Night Duels, where he came in seventh. His top time in the 200 was 21 seconds flat, good enough for second place at the Texas Tech Invite. His best long jump effort was 25 feet 3.5 inches (7.71 meters), a first-place finish at the Texas Tech Shootout on Valentine’s Day.

Austin graduated from MHS in 2018, when he still went by Phillip or P.J. and set the school record in the long jump. He was also a member of the 4×100 relay team that won gold at the state championships.

U of A is now preparing for the outdoor season, which begins March 20.

Maricopa High School varsity baseball head coach Brad Vericker. Photo by Kyle Norby

With baseball season under way, no one is more excited to play some ball than Maricopa High School’s new varsity coach, Brad Vericker. Having been a volunteer coach for MHS previously when he worked in fuel and oil sales, he is now a full-time teacher at the high school and was eager to get back on the field when Maricopa varsity’s coach Andrew Pollak stepped down after many years.

Starting his baseball career at Corona Del Sol High School in Tempe, Vericker went on to play college and professional baseball. Watch the video below to get to know more about Coach Vericker:

The Rams started the season by going 2-2 in their home tourney, the Tomas Pinon/Matt Huffman Memorial Tournament, last week. They defeated Tempe, 12-5, and McClintock, 7-5, before losing to Mesa, 12-1, and Seton Catholic, 13-5.

Monday, MHS started the regular season with a home loss to Paradise Valley, 8-2. Junior Johnathan Leyva and sophomore Kahleb Bell each had two hits. Senior Parker Hunsaker scored both runs for Maricopa. Bell started the game on the mound and took the loss.

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Rockford University

A graduate of Maricopa High School has been named Baseball Position Player of the Week in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference.

Christian Garcia, a junior at Rockford University in Rockford, Illinois, had a big opening week for the Regents’ baseball team and was named Regent of the Week prior to the conference award. Garcia, a 2016 graduate of MHS, hit .615 with a .688 on-base percentage and a 1.385 slugging percentage to lead Rockford to a 4-0 start.

Garcia opened the weekend with four-hit performance that included two home runs, three runs scored and four runs driven in. He then concluded the weekend by going 3-for-4 with a home run, a double, a run scored and three runs driven in. For the week, Garcia tallied eight hits, three home runs, one double, five runs scored, eight runs driven in and three walks.

This marks the first time Garcia has been honored by the conference with a weekly award during his collegiate career. He transferred to Rockford from Mesa Community College. He is majoring in sports management. Rockford University is a private, four-year university and plays in NCAA Division III.


Engineering was introduced to Maricopa High School's CTE offerings this school year. Photos by Joycelyn Cabrera

Levi Watlington wishes it could have happened much earlier in his academic career.

The Maricopa High School senior is an aspiring computer scientist and a student of the school’s inaugural engineering course.

“If I were to go into a different field, like an engineering field, I think this would really help me,” he said. “We built a bridge out of toothpicks. Engineers need to account for suspension and how much weight is going to be on the bridge. We made catapults; it’s a pretty fun class.”

Engineering finished its first semester at MHS as a Career and Technical Education course. Students are taught different elements of engineering, including electrical, mechanical and software. The program is available in three sequences: Engineering I, Engineering II and Engineering III.

Aian Pableo teaches the course twice a day. Pableo, originally from the Philippines, got his master’s degree in electrical engineering before coming to the United States to pursue teaching. He teaches college and high school level classes.

“I’m still adjusting, I’m still learning,” he said. “I’m happy when students learn something from me, when they say, ‘Ah ha!’”

Michelle Poppen is the CTE director and a vice principal of MHS.

“Engineering can help to build on [critical thinking] skills, bring the math skills into a practical realm,” Poppen said. “One of the nice things about CTE is to apply what’s being learned in the core subject areas and then being able to apply those skills into real life experiences.”

Levi Watlington

While not the only subject taught in class, circuitry was an in-depth unit the students learned during their first semester with Pableo.

Sophomore Charles Lyndell dreams of becoming an inventor. He said the accomplishments of Thomas Edison inspired him to pursue inventing.

“I’ve learned different kinds of ways to measure electricity, volts, currents, resistance and some different ways to draw blueprints and ways to read how much electricity there is in something,” Lyndell said.

MHS provides 12 CTE programs for students. After surveying the students on campus last year about what programs they would like to see, engineering and fashion design were among the top choices.

Sophomore Kyle Draper said what he learned in his engineering class ties into his after-school robotics club.

“I go and sit down and I learn a new concept. One time we learned about circuits, and it was always very fun to figure out how electricity works and how the circuits are.”

Kyle, still unsure of his future career, said he is looking into chemical engineering.

Charles Lyndell

The engineering program is a new opportunity for students at MHS to prepare for their careers after graduation.

“This is a foundation; it’s basics for them,” Pableo said. “If they were to push through to college for an engineering degree, this would help them.”

After finishing his first semester teaching an engineering course at the high school level, Pableo said he is ready to adjust his teaching style according to feedback he gets and mistakes he’s made.

“He’s one of my favorite teachers,” Watlington said. “He’s laid back, but also we get our work done and everyone likes him.”

This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

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Payson Hacker (submitted photo)

Maricopa High School senior Payson Hacker has signed a letter of intent to play soccer at Fort Lewis College. An injury knocked her out of this season, but she scored 17 goals her previous two seasons on the MHS varsity team. She was also named to the All-Region Second Team two years ago.

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Danae Ruiz (ERAU)

Maricopa’s Danae Ruiz is again leading her college basketball team to the Cal Pac playoffs.

Ruiz, 22, a 2016 graduate of Maricopa High School, is a senior guard for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. Saturday, she scored a career-high 34 points for the Eagles in a win over Pacific Union College to end the regular season.

The Eagles were 23-4 overall and are seeded second in the California Pacific Conference bracket of the NAIA.

Ruiz was the team leader in scoring with 13.75 points per game, which is eighth in Cal Pac. Last season, she was the conference’s player of the year. She is majoring in forensic psychology.

Her free-throw shooting is 79.3%, ranked third in Cal Pac.  Her 330 point total is sixth. She is seventh in 3-pointers and eighth in steals. Ruiz has 54 steals, 54 assists and 98 rebounds.

Embry-Riddle takes on University of California-Merced in the conference playoffs Saturday in Prescott.

Important decisions for its second high school come before the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board this week.

The board could hire an architect and construction manager as well as a project manager for the construction of another school to alleviate an over-capacity situation at Maricopa High School. Those items are on Wednesday’s consent agenda.

Also on the agenda, albeit under executive session, is the selection of a school site. District spokesperson Mishell Terry said that information is “not quite ready” to be made public.

MUSD created a selection committee of qualified people to make the recommendation for construction manager at risk and architect/engineer. By policy, at least one member was a senior management employee of a licensed contractor and one was an architect or engineer.

The committee reviewed the proposals that resulted from the request for qualifications and made a short list of finalists before forwarding a final recommendation to the board. While those recommendations are not yet public, the administration is asking the board to approve Facilities Management Group as the project manager.

FMG has been a guiding force for the district on its expansion for more than a year.

The construction personnel and the site are to be paid for with state School Facilities Board funds. The MUSD board is to consider the recommendation from its Land Selection Committee regarding an appropriate site for another high school and then authorize the negotiation with the owner of the property.

Last year, SFB earmarked $22.3 million plus funds for up to 40 acres for the project.

The board meets at 6:30 p.m.

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Saneya Cowing heads a ball that bounded into the net during the playoff game at Campo Verde.

The Maricopa High School girls soccer team kept a lid on second-ranked Campo Verde much of the game Saturday but ultimately fell 3-1 in the state championship bracket. Seeded 15th in the round of 16, the Rams had the Coyotes scoreless until late in the first half. Campo Verde had the 1-0 lead at the break, but MHS tied the score off a bouncing header from senior Saneya Cowing.

The Coyotes broke through and scored twice more in the final 20 minutes, however, to move on to the quarterfinal. Maricopa’s season ended with a 9-7-1 record overall but with high expectation for the coming seasons as the team is laden with sophomores and freshmen.

Cowing and sophomore McKinley Hacker were both in the 5A San Tan region’s Top 10 in scoring during the season. Sophomores Lexi Rowe and Anna Kramarczyk were Top 10 assists leaders. Next year, the MHS soccer teams move to the 6A Desert Southwest region.

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McKinley Hacker, shown scoring earlier this year, had two goals against Marana Thursday.

After a tough closing week of the regular season, the Maricopa High School girls’ soccer team downed Marana in the 5A play-in tournament to advance to the state championship bracket.

The 4-1 win over the Tigers came after the Rams lost two games by a combined score of 9-0. The girls rebounded with aggressive play, however, and scored three in the first half on a chilly evening north of Tucson.

Led by sophomore McKinley Hacker’s two goals, Maricopa pulled off a slight upset. The Rams were ranked 17th while the Tigers were 16th. They both had 7-5 records.

In net, freshman Jessica Taylor had eight saves.

Sophomore Anna Kramarczyk scored a goal and had an assist. Senior Saneya Cowing was credited with a goal, and junior Jezelle Magallanes had an assist.

With Maricopa, there are four 5A San Tan teams in the 16-team championship bracket.

The Rams are now seeded 15th and will face No. 2 Campo Verde, which defeated Maricopa 4-1 during the regular season. Campo Verde had been top-ranked until being defeated by Casteel in the last game of the regular season. Casteel is now the No. 1 seed in the bracket.

Maricopa plays Saturday at 5 p.m. at Campo Verde High School, 3870 S. Quartz St., Gilbert.

For the second year, students at Maricopa High School are hosting Art for the Heart, Maricopa’s community art festival selling creations to benefit the American Heart Association. Displaying her art and helping organize the event is Assistant Director Lexie Nordhoff, a 15-year-old student-artist working with graphic design teacher Maria Pour.

Raven Figueroa at the inaugural Art for the Heart in 2019.

What: Art for the Heart Fine Arts & Crafts Festival
When: Feb. 15, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Copper Sky Lake, 44345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Info: 520-568-8100, ext. 4136, Art4HeartAZ.wixsite.com/home


Lexie Nordhoff. Photo by Brady Stamps


The daughter of Teri and Steve Nordhoff, she has lived in Maricopa since she was 5 years old. Through her art, she also explores human psychology, but she has displayed other skills as well. Two years ago, she was the MUSD Spelling Bee champion, and she is on the MHS swim team.

What to know about Lexie Nordhoff

Residence: The Villages
School: Maricopa High School
Year in school: Sophomore

How did you first learn you had an artistic talent?
When I lived in Indiana, my parents owned a pottery store, and I began painting pottery at a young age. This was the beginning of my artistic career. I loved the smells and tactile experience of painting ceramics. My parents always supported my artistic endeavors. As I grew older, I moved away from painting the various bisque structures to painting on canvas.

What is your favorite medium?
Watercolor. I enjoy the freedom and ease of the medium, even when I make a mistake with watercolor, I can incorporate it into the piece. The medium is often difficult to manipulate, which has made me become a stronger artist than I was without it.

What is your favorite genre?
I appreciate surrealism; it allows me to remove myself from my preconceived notions of art and escape from reality.

Describe your favorite piece of art.
One of my favorite pieces is rather strange. It is a Monet piece titled “Pheasants and Plovers.” What I enjoy about this piece is it’s wispy and ethereal; it draws you in and captivates the audience with its peculiarity.

With which of your own works are you most pleased?
My favorite piece that I created is a surrealistic/pop-art portrait of a girl with a hand coming out of her mouth. It is titled “Pink Ladies,” which is a street term for barbiturates, which are highly addictive sedatives. This is a part of my sustained investigation based on indulgence. My work has explored many types of indulgences from gluttony, materialism, infatuation, abuse, cosmetic alterations and even celebrity culture and the negative effects that come with fame. The hand coming out of her mouth represents the struggles being masked by drug abuse.

Outside of art, what are your hobbies/interests?
Leadership, which I pursue with the MHS Graphic Design CTSO, being their vice president, and community services, which I accomplish as being the assistant director of the Art for the Heart Festival.

What do you plan to do with art as an adult?
I would like to pursue my passion for psychology. Art therapy is an avenue I want to explore. Art is a reflection of one’s psyche, the internal toil, happiness and things that we keep from others. That’s what a therapist helps others with.

This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.