As the 2010–11 school year comes to a close at Salt River Junior High and High School, Athletic Director Shawn Lytle looked back on the success of the student athletes, the growth of the programs, and working to keep academics as the focus for the students.
After the girls varsity basketball team won the state championship in 2010, making their mark in school history, in 2011 wrestler Lloyd Lewis won an individual state championship in the 215-pound weight class, while Hosteen Begay-Smith finished in sixth place in the 189-pound weight class.
“I think the championships show that the Community has a lot of good athletes and this is a place where students can come to be good student athletes and be able to showcase themselves,” Lytle said. “And to be able to do it this quickly is just a testament to our coaches, and proves that with longevity and backing and getting kids to come out and work hard, we can do a lot. It really had been a great accomplishment for the school.”
To have such success with a total enrollment of about 168 students, Lytle said, indicates that the school’s athletic programs are succeeding.
“The majority of our junior high baseball boys had never played baseball and it’s the same thing with junior high football,” he explained. “Up until about three years ago, the Community never had fast-pitch [softball] for girls, it was all slow-pitch. It is important for us to work on developing the younger junior high players so they can feed into the varsity sports.”
Lytle said the sports teams at the junior high level allow everyone to play, but they also want to teach players how to be competitive so they understand what it is like to compete when they get into high school. He said they try to get everyone in every game.
“The participation level changes every year depending on how many kids are interested in that particular sport,” he said. “About five years ago, we started having sixth-graders come play with the junior high football players. In basketball and volleyball, we had two teams.”
This year most of the kids who played junior high baseball did not have gloves or cleats, and if those kids went to another school they would not be able to play.
But at Salt River, Lytle said, they gathered extra gloves and cleats because they didn’t want kids not to be able to play just because they didn’t have the proper equipment. He said they try to help out the kids as much as they can.
This year Salt River High School did not have a baseball team due to a lack of interest, but Lytle said the kids who do want to play will more than likely be playing summer ball (not affiliated with the school).
“Hopefully we can revive the baseball program again next year. We had ninth-graders interested and more eighth-graders coming up next year, so hopefully it will grow,” Lytle said.
Lytle also hopes more Community kids will choose to attend Salt River High School. When he first began at Salt River, there were more than 1,200 students who left the Community to go to the Mesa schools.
“Our school is built for 500 to 700 people, and we would love to have all those students here,” he said. “There are a lot of negative perceptions of the school from a long time ago and how it used to be. It is really different now.”
Lytle said a couple of programs have been implemented in an attempt to help improve the eligibility of the student athletes. Study hall began at the start of the year for all athletes prior to the start of practice.
In addition, this year Lytle said they instituted something called “warning check.” On Tuesdays the kids would take around a sheet to their classes and the teachers had to write either “W” (for warning) or “OK.” Students earning a C, D or F in a class get the “W.” The students turn the paper into their coach the following Tuesday after school so that all coaches know which students have academic warnings. Now the kids can’t say they “don’t know” how they are doing in a class.
Students have until Friday to turn in the work and make up tests or assignments.
If they have an F they are ineligible to participate in sports for the entire week, and if they have a D and their grade point average is above a 2.0, then they are still eligible to participate.
Lytle said this gives the students an opportunity to get their grades up and still participate.
Another point in favor of Salt River High School is that beginning next year, the Mesa high schools are going to be charging $250 per sport and the SRHS does not charge.
“Hopefully Community kids know they have an opportunity to come here and represent the Community and do great things,” Lytle said.