Thursday, March 30, 2023

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Guest Column | Oldest facility in the Valley substandard service

By Jarvis Williams

It is basketball fever in the Nation. And I had it. It was the most enjoyable and heartbreaking experience at the same time. I was rooting for all the reservation teams. In a basketball sense, it felt like it was the Rez against the rest of the world.

I was wearing my Mustang shirt and even had my Mustang mask. We arrived at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and the memories of watching the Phoenix Suns as a kid came flooding back to me. Then I walked into the coliseum.

It has been at least 35 years since I last walked into the coliseum. I remember that the air conditioning was working, the concession stands were open, and the bathrooms were working. We watched the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers play. It was a fun, memorable experience.

Fast forward 35 years, and I am back at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum for a similar reason, basketball. This time it was for my hometown team, the Monument Valley High School Mustangs boys varsity team that had won the right to compete in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Class 3A State Basketball Championship tournament.

There were other reservation Class 3A high school teams, such as Window Rock, Chinle, and Alchesay. As a result, there was about to be a mass exodus of fans from the Navajo and White Mountain Apache reservations to the coliseum.

On Friday night, the coliseum was filled to near capacity. The capacity for the venue is 14,870. I would venture to say there were at least 10,000 fans in attendance. At $15 a ticket, that’s $150,000 for one night. The games on Saturday night were about the same. Therefore, the coliseum made at least $300,000 for the weekend to host the AIA state tournament games for Class 2A and 3A schools.

The AIA knows that the reservation high school fans travel really well, which means when there are four teams from the reservation, there’s a high likelihood that the venue may be at capacity.

This has been the case for the last 20 years. From the NAU Skydome in Flagstaff to the Toyota Center in Prescott, the former America West Arena, and finally, to the former Arena. All great facilities, but it makes one wonder why we have been given to the oldest facility in Phoenix to play in.

The games were great. The athletes played great. But. As a fan, the venue could have been better. The concessions had long lines. The bathrooms ran out of tissue. The air conditioners felt like they did not work. It was so hot!

Let us not forget to mention the traffic jam to leave the facility because there was only one way that we were allowed to leave. In all the other venues, we didn’t have that issue. There was always more than one exit.

The online coverage of the games was terrible, and that is putting it nicely—the online complaints of frozen screens and constant interruptions left fans upset and in the dark.

The best online coverage came from SportsZone from the White Mountains. The coverage assignment should have been given as it has the best camera operators and commentators. They know the players and the teams as they have followed them all season. The National Federation of High School Associations should stick to setting up tourneys and leave the game coverage to folks that know what they are doing.

I just want to say that the AIA is failing parents and communities with the inability to provide adequate facilities to showcase the talent of our Native athletes. We spend thousands of dollars at these events, and in return, we receive substandard service. We receive this while they sit back and collect the thousands of dollars from families wanting to see their kids play the best competition in their division.

The AIA has done better in the past. Perhaps the leadership at that time understood the value of Native teams and their fans. The athletic directors should direct this column and print complaints of bad coverage online, then hand those over to AIA leadership. This cannot continue.

The Chinle Wildcat Den staff can do a better job than the AIA did. The other thing I disagreed with was the section for what seemed reserved for the non-Native fans. We had to compete for seats and show up hours before the game we wanted to see, while fans sitting in that section could show up minutes before the game they wanted to see and gain a seat close to the floor.

I recommend moving the 3A State Tourney back to the NAU Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff. The AIA can provide a venue worthy of our 3A athletes and fans.

The AIA needs new leadership or someone better to set up the venue for the Class 2A and 3A fans. A better venue for fans would also translate to better facilities for the athletes.

Will the AIA leadership respond to our complaints? Nope, they will feed us the standard lip service, “We are doing our best, and we just want the best for your athlete and team.” That means, “We really don’t care what you say, and you just need to deal with what we give you.”

The AIA will not admit that it provides a second-rate service while collecting thousands of dollars from dedicated fans from communities that provide the athletes they are set up to serve. The next thing AIA will do is split up the 3A North so that games are with schools that don’t receive many fans. Wait, they tried that already. It failed.

Perhaps, it is time for the 3A North to split from the AIA and create our own Native Schools Championship that includes teams from the Navajo reservation high schools in New Mexico.


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