As happens every year, during the off-season there were a lot of head-coach changes taking place at high school programs around the state. Some of those were significant enough to generate media attention.
For example, Eastmark High School, a new school opening in Queen Creek, made news when it hired Scooter Molander to lay the foundation for its football program. Molander is a well-known name in local prep football after spending 12 years directing the tradition-rich Brophy Prep program in central Phoenix, taking his teams into the state playoffs each year. He won state championships in two of his first three years as the Broncos’ head coach, an achievement especially relevant for Eastmark, which will be looking for early success.
And Chaparral High in Scottsdale gave the media something to write about when it hired Troy Gerlach to take over one of the most storied baseball programs in Arizona, but a program that has been in a state of constant flux the last couple of years. Up to the 2018 season, the Firebirds program had just two head coaches. But they have gone through that many coaches since then, with Nick Steward taking over the 2018 program and Tom Abram serving as interim head coach last season.
The first two coaches, Jerry Dawson and Sam Messina, led Chaparral to 10 state titles. There will be high expectations for Gerlach, who must take a program that went 13-14 last year and try to return it to the glory years.
There were plenty of other coaching hires that drew some attention. But a couple of those, at out-of-the-mainstream programs, will get far more scrutiny this season than some of the higher-profile hires.
Both of these occurred on the hardwood.
Earlier this summer, Safford High School announced the hire of Sheri Camarena as its new boys’ basketball coach, and Walden Grove High School (near Tucson) hired from within to move Jennifer Meza from its girl’s basketball program to the boys’ program.
Yep, both are women. Both will be directing boys’ basketball programs. And both hires will involve controversy.
Winning will be the common denominator that enables both new coaches to begin breaking down a barrier that has existed forever. It’s always been assumed that women wouldn’t be able to adjust to the men’s style of play, and probably wouldn’t be tough enough to mete out the discipline needed to handle high school boys.
They will likely need some toughness in their new jobs. Safford’s boys’ team finished 14-14 last season, while Walden Grove finished 8-17.
It will probably be less of an issue for Meza to step into the boys’ program since she’s been a fixture around the school since taking over the girls’ hoops program five years ago, and also coaches the girls’ volleyball team. Her marriage to a local man brought her to Arizona from New Mexico where she spent a couple of years coaching high school.
However, her selection to run the boys’ program, which has been a .500 type of team for the last four years (15-11 the best season in 2015-16), raises a few questions. Meza’s girls’ teams have been posting losing seasons the last couple of years and won just three games last season.
Camarena’s background includes success as a player – four-year letter winner in high school and All-American at Western New Mexico – but not as significant as a coach. In a release issued by Safford at the time of her hire, the school summarized that part of her career by saying she had been “coaching children at a variety of different levels and sports over the past 15 years.”
She is currently the school’s varsity volleyball and tennis coach.
It will be interesting to see how this “experiment” works out. But, however it turns out, the schools should get come credit for going out on a limb to give it a chance.