February 15, 2006 - It's two days before the big game. For some, it's the biggest game of their young lives.
As the boy's soccer team of Catalina Foothills High School lightly stretches before practice, head coach Julie Walters pulls them together and breaks the bad news.
The Falcons' Class 4A Division I state title game against Sabino High School - a school located less than 14 miles down some windy Catalina Mountain roads - will not be relocated to Tucson and instead will be played as scheduled in Tempe.
The announcement incites a collective groan from players and reporter alike. From somewhere out in the parking lot, he's sure his truck sighed along with them.
But this isn't another winded gripe about Tucson playing middle brother to Phoenix when it comes to hosting the majority of major sporting events held in the Grand Canyon State.
Walter's news, or lack thereof, can only mean one thing: road trip. After all, when life throws you a lemon in the sports world there's only one thing you can do: find someone with a lime and make Lemon-Lime Gatorade.
Why do it? Why would one willingly subject themselves to living out of their car for two plus days, surviving on fast food in places such as Casa Grande, where late at night you can see a disruptive loiterer hauled off to a different kind of Big House?
Why log hundreds of miles on desolate desert roads where even satellite radio waves don't dare go, only to nearly lose a hand to frostbite and have the closest thing to a shower be a brief stop to apply deodorant in your car while parked just outside of the Arizona Cardinal's new stadium in Glendale?
What would posses someone to drive from Glendale Arena to the ASU Soccer Stadium and back to Glendale Arena - collecting a colorful slew of admission bracelets along the way - in a matter of four hours.
There's got to be a reason behind the madness.
You could say it's the price you pay for being a one-man sports department. Others may just discern that you've got more issues than the EXPLORER storage shed.
The answer probably lies somewhere between. Or, the answer can be simple.
In today's society, we take our sports seriously, almost too intently at times. It can cause athletic amnesia, where we forget why we even began playing in the first place.
That's where high school athletics enters the picture, with an opportunity to witness sports in as close to its purest form as possible. Here, there is no one playing for contract incentives or vying for a sneaker deal.
And when it comes to high school sports, there is no bigger stage than the state playoffs.
It's about traversing the bowels of Glendale Arena to get to the floor of the wrestling state championships, down near the locker rooms where the Phoenix Coyotes weren't, but at times it sure smelled like they were.
You do it to hear the same Arizona State Soccer Stadium public address speaker fruitlessly announce to four different freshly crowned state champs and their traveling throng of student-fans to keep the playing field clear.
Or to see big Cliff Engelhart of Mountain View High School lay a 275-plus pound, sweat-soaked bear hug on his father after taking the state heavyweight title in the Class 5A Division II.
That's sports at its finest.
Who cares if it's a two-hour ride back to Tucson, even if it is a trek that makes your eyes bleary somewhere near the ostrich farm at Picacho Peak and gets you back to your bed well past the bottom of the midnight hour?
Players and reporter are willing make the trip.
When talking to the likes of Andrea Crowe, a senior on the Catalina Foothills state champ girl's soccer squad, the ride back sounds like the best part - if you win.
"Dance party on the bus ride," said a giddy Crowe in the moments after winning a state title. "That's what we've got going, after that who knows?"
Now you may know why Foothills girls soccer head coach Charlie Kendrick doesn't smile much. Especially considering the Falcons didn't lose once on the road all year.
They all win differently and, naturally, they all party differently. To be there to see that makes it all worth it.
Big Cliff doesn't know exactly how he's going to celebrate his state title, but, like Crowe, he knows exactly how he's going to start the post-party. And no one can really blame him. His wrestling days are over and he has no problem with that. No longer does he have to worry about making and watching his weight.
"We're going to eat at the Iron Skillet, a fat burger; that's all I know," yells the scrunch-faced big man, while pretending to hold an invisible burger the size of your face up to his.
I'll take mine with no onions.
Christopher Wuensch is a staff writer covering sports. He can be reached at 797-4384 ext. 112 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.