Over the last six years, the Chandler and Saguaro football teams have risen to national prominence, winning a combined nine state championships.
From 2016 until 2018, both schools won three straight state championships. Saguaro played in 4A, and Chandler in 6A.
In 2019, the AIA introduced the Open Division to football playoffs. In the Open Division, the top eight teams, regardless of division, are bumped up to play one another as they compete for the Open Division Championship.
And since 2019, Chandler and Saguaro have filled five of the six championship game slots.
What has caused these two schools to perennially compete for state championships? The first reason is coaching, according to multiple sources.
Jason Mohns is head coach at Saguaro, and Rick Garretson is head coach at Chandler. The coaching staffs at each school feature former NFL and college players, which lends prestige to the programs.
Because of the open enrollment in Arizona, high school student athletes are able to choose to attend whatever high school they want. For talented high school football players at different schools, as well as eighth graders, the coaching they will receive at these schools draws them in, especially if it brings the promise of a possible college scholarship.
“Jason Mohns doesn’t have to recruit. He’s turning away kids,” said Conrad Hamilton to Sports Illustrated. Hamilton is the head coach of the Desert Mountain varsity football team.
The second reason for these programs’ success is the emergence of youth football programs.
Eight years before Mohns became head coach of the Sabercats, he created the Argonauts. The Argonauts are a group of youth football teams, ranging from 8 to 14 years old.
Programs like the Argonauts can allow high schools to identify future talent. Three Saguaro Varsity assistant coaches are Argonauts coaches, helping to blend the youth and high school teams together.
For Chandler, the Gilbert Youth Football and Cheer program could serve the same purpose. Before becoming varsity head coach in 2019, Garretson coached the Gilbert Dawgs, part of the Gilbert Youth Football and Cheer, for three years.
The final reason for these teams’ success is the booster programs at both schools. Booster programs allow teams to raise money by taking donations or selling sponsorships. The Chandler Booster Club provides a plethora of things for the team, including pre-game meals for the freshman, JV and varsity. They also give weekly treat bags to varsity players.
Sports Illustrated reported that, “Saguaro just installed a $300,000 film room, compliments of its own booster club (which has an annual budget of $275,000).”
New facilities and amenities that players use and receive also helps to draw talent in.
All three of these factors have led to Saguaro and Chandler rising to the top in Arizona. What ultimately matters however, is the tradition of winning of the Sabercats and Wolves.
Chandler and Saguaro have already matched off this season, on September 23. Chandler won 31-21. It remains to be seen if they will play again in the Open Division playoffs.