By Sam Conner
The Winslow High School dreams of a state football title died on the field at Mesa Community College on Nov. 21, but the Bulldogs showed that they are back and are going to be a team that whoever has title aspirations must deal with. This is the second straight year that the Bulldogs have reached the semi-finals and this year they could have won it with a few breaks. There were some top quality seniors who played their last for Coach Matt Gracey, but there are more than a few bullets left in his gun.
It is going to be hard to replace a John L. Sullivan, a neighbor of mine who is also arguably the best defensive player in the state. John may not have the size some colleges are looking for, but he has the heart and the determination that wise coaches should never underestimate. He is going to be sorely missed.
Jeremiah Johnson has been one of my favorites since he was a stellar sophomore defensive back. He developed into a fine quarterback and never lost a step on defense. This is another player whose contributions exceed anything one judging by his physical dimensions would expect.
The Prosser twins, Warren and Spencer, have also been special. Warren’s return after a doctor had pronounced his playing in the tournament doubtful was a huge boost for the Bulldogs.
For those opponents who look at the graduation lists and see those names along with Trey DeWitt, Adam Reeves, Mark Spencer and other magnificent Bulldog seniors, there are reasons to continue to fear this program.
Sophomore Jordan Payne is one of the most talented skilled position players WHS has seen in years. He will be of the caliber of a Steven Martinez, who led Winslow to the semi-finals in 2002.
Juniors Lucas Armenta, Carlos Quezada and Orlando Vargas play tough on both offense and defense. All four of these talented Bulldogs are all around athletes who excel in at least two other sports. There are others on this roster that contributed mightily this year and will do so again.
Coach Gracey and his staff, especially defensive guru B. J. Little, will still be at work and their products will just continue to get better. WHS fans can get ready for a steady diet of regional championships and runs at state titles. The foundation has been laid and the future looks bright.
I would like to send a big “thank you” to the Sullivans for sharing the tapes of all three Winslow play-off games. It added to my appreciation of how good this group of Bulldogs was. It also left me wondering how an official could call the offensive pass interference penalty that nullified a touchdown that would have given Winslow the lead in the Show Low game. To make matters worse, the official may have not known the rule. Unless I am badly mistaken, that penalty should not have included loss of down as was enforced.
Former Arizona State basketball coach Ned Wulk died of cancer on Nov. 15. Wulk was 83 and also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He was also one of only four coaches to record more than 400 wins at one college. During his tenure at ASU (1958-1982), Wulk’s teams recorded 406 wins and lost only 272 times.
The Sun Devils earned NCAA Tournament berths nine times under Wulk and got within one game of the Final Four on three occasions (1961, 62 and 75). He came to ASU from Xavier in Ohio where he had compiled a record of 89-70 and was two for four in NIT appearances. His major accomplishment at Xavier may have been a 6-0 record against mighty Kentucky.
Wulk served in the U.S. Army in World War II and had reached the rank of captain by the end of hostilities. He was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart during the conflict.
The Sun Devils of the Wulk era include numerous players who went on to play at the next level. That list includes Art Becker, Joe Caldwell, Lionel Hollins, Lafayette Lever, Freddie Lewis, Alton Lister, Kurt Nimphius, Byron Scott and Rudy White.
Perhaps the Sun Devil and former Wulk player that most impresses this writer was Royce Youree. Youree went on to become one of the best high school and junior college coaches ever to practice his profession in Arizona. He, like many of Wulk’s players, is a living testimony to the man’s good work.
Unfortunately, Wulk was relieved of his coaching duties after a rare losing season. His team finished 13-14 in 1982. The college administration cut his career short only five victories from the magic “500” number. He finished with an over all college record of 495 wins and 342 losses.
If memory serves correctly, his “sin” was refusal to fire a subordinate when requested to do so. If that is correct, then being a loyal employer and friend was his failing. That doesn’t sound like a “flaw” to me. Attempts by former players and friends to have him hired to coach during one of the frequent times ASU was in transition between coaches following his departure fell on deaf ears. He deserved better.