It doesn’t look much like it used to, but the Sollenberger Classic is still with us.
Gone are the glitz and glamour of years gone by, when the top teams from Arizona and Nevada would meet in a game that had become the traditional kick-off to the high school football season in Arizona, alternating sites between the two states.
The event was created to honor Barry Sollenberger, the former historian for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) who unexpectedly passed away in 2005 at the early age of 60.
Last year, the event still included a double-header format that had been added in 2011, but this year it has been pared down to a single game, similar to when Chandler High and Mesa’s Red Mountain High School were the teams selected to play in the inaugural game in 2006.
The 2016 match-ups were between Phoenix teams Brophy Prep and Pinnacle High in the opener and west-side teams Desert Edge High School and Centennial High in the evening’s ‘marquee’ game. Desert Edge came in as the reigning state champion in Division II and Centennial had captured the 2015 D-I state title.
This year’s Aug. 19 game will again feature Brophy and Pinnacle as the only two participating teams. Pinnacle is coming off a 6-6 season in 2016 and the Broncos finished the season 8-4. Brophy reached the quaterfinals of the 6A playoffs, while Pinnacle was eliminated in the first round.
The site was moved last year from the larger, high-profile venues in the Valley to Coconino High School in Flagstaff, where it will be played again this year.
In the past, the event had been showcased at Arizona State University‘s Sun Devil Stadium for the inaugural event, three times at University of Phoenix Stadium, and once at Phoenix College. When it was hosted in Nevada, it was played at the University of Nevada and at Fertitta Field, an impressive state-of-the art stadium on the campus of Bishop Gorman High School, which fielded one of the top teams in the nation.
The event disappeared in 2015 after nine years of giving high school football fans an early peak at the elite teams from both states, and in some cases a nationally-ranked opponent, as organizers paused to take a look at making changes following turmoil that created a lot of uncertainty in recent years. But it returned last year in a format that is keeping the competition limited to Arizona teams.
In 2011, the event found itself without a home when organizers were told just two months before kick-off that the field at Northern Arizona University, where the game was scheduled to be played, would be unavailable because the Skydome would be undergoing renovation work.
In 2012, the relationship between the Nevada and Arizona governing associations got testy when the AIA chose not to invite the Nevada reigning big-school champion, Bishop Gorman.
In 2014, Gorman was invited to return, along with state title runner-up Reed High School, to fill the two slots in the double-header. That turned out to be a disastrous decision as both games were blow-outs, with Gorman beating Brophy, 44-0, and Reed dismantling Mountain Pointe High School, 66-13.
So 2015 became a season to step back and reflect on what was needed to bring the games back to a simpler format, but something competitive the fans could enjoy. The answer was to begin a transition back to the event’s roots.
And this year it appears to be coming full-circle.
But that would probably be fine with Barry Sollenberger. This event was supposed to be about celebrating his memory, not creating a celebrity showcase.
If Brophy and Pinnacle can provide well-balanced competition in an exciting contest that keeps fans interested, it will be all that was ever asked of the event in the first place.