Homecoming 2021, My First in 47 Years

Sandy Merz Life in the Classroom, Sports

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On Saturday, September 28, 1974, Gerald Ford was president. Rock Me Gently topped the pop music charts, The Longest Yard would soon be number 1 in the box office, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was enjoying a 10 week run on top of the New York Times fiction best seller list. Also on that day, the sports section of the Silver City Daily Press reported that:

Fighting Colt running back Anthony Austin fired a 45 yard touchdown pass to Eugene Martinez with 58 seconds remaining Friday night to give Silver City a spectacular 19-13 homecoming victory over Morenci, Arizona.

I played in that game, but until checking right now in the scrapbook my mom kept for me, had no lasting memory except that we had won. And that was the last homecoming game I attended for 47 years – until Friday, October 22, 2021, when our Catalina Foothills High School Falcons played the Amphitheater Panthers.

A pep rally was held during the last period that day. It began with the standard principal’s comments about appropriate behavior and the not so standard instruction to keep our masks on. A choir group came out to sing the national anthem. A request for quiet was mostly complied with, but as the singers sang the first word the standing, silence fell over the audience, followed by hands on hearts participation that was total and present.

After, classes competed in cheer-offs, clubs were introduced, there was a sack race, and senior athletes from all sports were introduced. Players strutted, danced, or wormed across the court before running to their teammates for jumping chest bumps and high fives.

Two of my students represented the girls volleyball team in the whipped cream pie eating contest. I don’t remember if they won, but I do know that if you must play against the Catalina High School Falcons Girls Volleyball team: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

At the game, several football players, two pom team dancers, a cheerleader, and more band and flag team members than I can count are also my math students. Participating in their outside lives, even if only as an observer, means a great deal to me.

The dancing, cheering, and halftime show were magnificent, as always. The game was tight. Each team traded scores until deep in the fourth quarter. It seemed to me that we were tackling better and making more big plays – including one of my students stripping the ball from their quarterback – than I had seen.

In the last minute, we were winning, but the Panthers mounted a drive that could lead to a tie or loss for us. For broader context, in our 2 – 4 record at the time, one win and two losses were decided by a single play, and I was nervous, I was very nervous.

The Panthers earned a first and goal, and on a following play with only seconds on the clock, there was a pile up near the goal line. No one knew whether the Panthers had scored or whether we had held. Then someone nearby said, “Wait! They fumbled! It’s our ball! IT’S OUR BALL!!

And so, we won. On Monday, another student of mine told the story in class. During the pile up, nobody realized the ball had been knocked loose, until, “It just rolled into my arms, and I was like…” At this point he recreates hugging the ball for dear life.

Our record moved to 3 – 4 and last Friday, after destroying Rio Rico’s homecoming 42 – 3, we’re 4 – 4 and could make the playoffs if we finish the season with two more wins.

If you know much about Michelangelo, you’re familiar with his “Unfinished” works. In each an incomplete form emerges from the surrounding marble. In their own way they are as wonderful as his more famous David. I will never have a student as perfect as David, nor would I want one. Not when I can spend every day in wonder as I watch my students’ futures emerge from the matrix of their young lives. And cheer them along in real time.


I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I've moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I'm a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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