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Our sports guy shares stories from the world of high school football, local baseball and stuff from that school up north



This issue of the Tucson Weekly is so chock-full of great stories, so jam-packed with thought-provoking discourse, so overflowing with information and analysis about what's going on in our region that it would be a shame to overwhelm you with yet one more column that causes you to reconsider your outlook on life.

Instead, here are some short-and-sweet notes and nuggets. You know, thoughts about things. Better to offer small portions of info than a meal-sized load of knowledge. Wouldn't want you to ruin that New Year's resolution to binge on commentary.

Most surprising resignation ever

There aren't many high school coaches still around from when I started covering preps here in the mid-1990s. But I figured that one guy who became a head coach for the first time in the late '90s would be a lifer.

That's why I was shocked beyond belief when I heard last week that Nemer Hassey was stepping down as football coach at Cienega High School. The move won't occur until after the 2014 season, at which time he'll become the school's principal. It will allow the only coach in Bobcats history some closure with one more class of seniors.

Hassey coached at Sahuaro from 1998 until 2000, when he left TUSD—hmm, doesn't that sound familiar?—to be part of the Vail district's first high school. He spent a year getting the football program up and running (while also serving as the school's athletic director and math department head) before Cienega began play in 2002.

He never had a losing season, taking the Bobcats to a state title game and many postseason appearances. Even his most recent squad, which was by far his worst, went 5-5 by winning four straight at the end. They'll be good in 2014, which is probably why Hassey lobbied so hard for one more season.

If he could, Hassey would coach football and be the principal, as he did as coach and assistant principal the last few years. But that plan wouldn't fly, so he had to make a choice.

I was really surprised he didn't go with football, but at the same time I find his decision admirable, and a testament to how much he cares about kids. Instead of shaping 50 or 60 kids for part of the year, Hassey gets to help Cienega's 1,800 students all year long.

United League Baseball

Hey, remember professional baseball? You know, that thing we took for granted each and every time it wanted to hang out with us in Tucson? Can you believe that after how badly we've treated it—we never once gave it flowers— that pro ball might want to have another go at a relationship with us?

People associated with the independent United League Baseball have talked with Pima County about renting Kino Stadium this spring and summer to field an expansion team, one that could play up to 72 games here. That's assuming such a crackerjack operation would be able to make it through an entire season.

There's not a lot of info out there about United League Baseball. In this case, the most comprehensive source of data is Wikipedia.

The ULB has been around since 2006, though three of the four existing franchises trace their roots back to other such indie leagues. All of these teams are in Texas, though the league apparently wants to expand to other states and considers Tucson a viable spot for a new club.

I know, I laughed out loud when I first read this, too.

If such a team did end up coming to Tucson—I put the odds at 20 percent—it would be on par, talent-wise, with the most recent version of the Tucson Toros, which played at Hi Corbett for two seasons in the Golden Baseball League before the Tucson Padres moved into Kino.

Speaking of the Padres ... er, I mean the El Paso Chihuahuas, they're scheduled to begin play April 3, with their first home game set for April 11. Crazy as it sounds, there's an outside chance that the first home game (and who knows how many others) could be played in Tucson if the downtown El Paso stadium isn't ready for the start of the season.

The El Paso Times reported last week the stadium was two-thirds done, though it also quoted the team's general manager as saying construction was on a "tight timeline" to be ready for the opener.

The franchise has an agreement with Pima County to play in Tucson, if needed, for one more season.

So, basically, we've got two suitors that are kinda, maybe interested in us. And odds are we'll be horrible to both.

Sun Devil Stadium renovation

The UA's stadium upgrades were a rousing success, with both the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and the north end zone seating area praised. The work was done mostly through donations to the school's athletic department, along with revenues from the wildly profitable men's basketball program.

Further renovations are planned for McKale Center, where a new video board is already installed and more than $25 million has been raised in just the past few months for the rest of the $80 million project.

ASU has its own grand plans for a stadium redo, but considering that school's lack of such efforts before (and not being the only game in town, as is the case with the UA), I'd call what the folks in Tempe want to do as ... ambitious.

In its Momentum Campaign, ASU is trying to raise $50 million to go along with $210 million the school itself is going to fork over to update Sun Devil Stadium with better seats and concession areas, more leg room, a new video board and other amenities.

There were also supposed to be canopies over many of the seats—particularly the ones that don't sell well during early season afternoon games—but that part of the plan was scrapped. A previously approved project to reduce seating at the stadium is supposed to start next month, while the bigger changes wouldn't begin until 2015. And the team would keep playing there during renovations, just as the Wildcats did while televised games at Arizona Stadium showed no one sitting in the north end zone.

There are also a couple of heavy-handed hype videos on ASU's website, if you feel so inclined to watch. Take note that all of the highlights shown involve victories over Arizona. And you'll also hear how enjoying Sun Devil football is part of the alumni's "inheritance," which requires them to "pay it forward."

Good luck, guys.

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