Patterson’s Perspective: Can we consider Gila Valley High School athletics a dynasty? Part 1

Column by Lee Patterson

First things first.. I don’t consider myself a writer. For 18 years I’ve been the sports radio guy and now I’ve been asked to write more with due to the merger with It’s been an interesting transition for me but I’m okay with that and hopefully you are as well.

I’m not sure everybody realizes how good the athletic programs are in the Gila Valley. I’m not just saying Thatcher football who has won back to back State Championships. That’s an easy one and everybody knows about that, and yes those still count towards the Gila Valley sports dynasty but there is much more.

In this column I will take an in-depth look at every single State Championship that has ever been won by Fort Thomas, Pima, Thatcher and Safford in a 4 part series. First up is Safford High.

Safford High

Football – 2


Both of these were 4A State Championships. Dick Pottle was the man at the helm for both titles.  The Dogs beat Winslow and Flowing Wells in their two titles.

Volleyball – 21

1968,1969,1970,1971,1972,1973,1974,1975,1976,1977,1978,1979,1980,1982,1983,1984,1985, 1986,1988,1989,1990

Norma Bellamy was the Head Coach for all 22 State titles. You wonder why they’ve named the gymnasium at Safford High after her? Now you know. 11 titles in 4A and 10 in 3A.

Boys Golf – 3

1981,1992, 2000

Pottle added a Golf title in 1981. Joe Burnside led both squads to State Titles, 8 years apart

Boys Basketball – 5

1927, 1972, 1985, 1986, 1994

In 1927, Safford beat Gilbert High 19-18 to win their first ever boys championship. The team was coached by Ben Damberg. John Bonefas’ 1972 team went undefeated. They were the first of the next 3 State Championship teams to be undefeated. Joe Burnside coached the 1985 and 1986 squads to undefeated records as well. Burnside would win his 3rd hoops title in 1994.

Girls Basketball – 2

1978, 1983

Bonefas would again be a state championship coach when he guided the ’78 team to the Gold Ball. Jack Carrell coached the 1983 team to a victory over Snowflake.

Wrestling – 8

1977, 2005, 2006,  2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016

There are many more individual champions in this span but the Bulldogs won 7 of their 8 team titles under Herman Andrews Jr. Safford actually won the first ever 4A team title as Tom Jones led the Dogs to a win over Gilbert in 1977.

Baseball – 4

1994, 1995, 2000, 2008

Rich DeRidder coached the Bulldogs to 3 state titles before handing the reigns over to current coach, Robert Abalos, who coached the 2008 championship team.

Tennis – 10 (Girls 8, Boys 2)

1939, 1940, 1942, 1945, 1984, 1985, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2007

Safford tennis was dominated the early days of High School tennis. Coach Thelo Motes coached Safford girls to titles in ’39, ’40, ’41 and the ’45 boys teams to State Titles. Joe Burnside added two more titles on the tennis courts in 1984 and 1985. Duane and McKay Despain as well as Rhonda Sears all picked up a state trophy as well.

Track & Field – 32 (Girls 18, Boys 15)

1928, 1930, 1931, 1947, 1976, 1977,1978,1979, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2008

Norma Bellamy wasn’t just a great volleyball coach, she also coached the girls track team to 4 State Titles in ’76,’77,’78,’79. Since 1981 all of the track state titles on both the boys and girls side belong to Herman “B.B” Andrews, the man the track is named after at Safford High. Dale McNickle also picked up two championships in 1930 and 1931.

I’ll do the quick math for you. That is 87 state championships that belong to the Safford Bulldogs. Bellamy and Andrews are already in the National Coaching Hall of Fame in their respective sports and have venues named after them.

Some of these numbers surprised me, some didn’t. I know that life long Gila Valley residents probably knew about many of these state titles or have heard stories about them told by their family and friends but it was fun digging into the past.

Next week we will jump in the storied programs at Thatcher High School.