The New England Patriots have nothing on the East Valley’s top high school extracurricular programs. As the world-champion football team aims for its third Super Bowl victory in four seasons on Sunday, sports commentators debate whether the franchise deserves the status of "dynasty."
Dynasties are rare.
Nevertheless, dozens of high school clubs, classes and teams across the East Valley have competition results that would make the Patriots envious.
So, with the focus on dynasties this week, Tribune education writers surveyed East Valley high schools from Fountain Hills to Chandler in an effort to find 12 of the best and most consistent programs outside the sports arena.
HORIZON HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR
Horizon High School choirs led by co-directors Katherine Kouns and Jaque Marum have performed in Chicago, in San Francisco and even on a cruise ship in the Bahamas. This June, an elite group from Horizon, in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, will head to Normandy, France, for the annual commemoration of the D-Day invasion. Perhaps more impressively, 20 of 40 singers on this year’s All-State Show Choir came from Horizon, which maintains seven separate groups and 300 members.
"There is a reputation among the students that they are part of something special," Kouns said.
CHANDLER HIGH SCHOOL FFA ORGANIZATION
Chandler High School’s FFA program includes about 300 agriculture students who excel at the state and national level. The floriculture team won a state championship in December and will now compete in Louisville, Ky. Chandler FFA students also collect awards in parliamentary procedure and other events.
"We perform at a high level year after year," agriculture teacher Matt Lewis said.
MOUNTAIN VIEW HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIC DECATHLON
Academic Decathlon scholars at Mesa’s Mountain View High School have won 12 state championships in 20 years. They have also finished in the top 10 in the nation 11 times.
So when regional competition begins this weekend with the theme "Exploring the Ancient World," Mountain View’s 2005 team will have high expectations.
"I’m so excited," said team member Anne Marie Norgren, who has spent 16 hours a week studying astrology and ancient societies. "There is so much out there to learn."
Mountain View coach and physics teacher Curt Canaday said that is the goal of the program — to get students excited about learning.
DESERT MOUNTAIN HIGH SCHOOL MARKETING
Desert Mountain High School students know how to market themselves. The school has won several state business and hospitality awards since 2000, including three first-place awards in food marketing management and quickserve restaurant management in 2004.
They have also earned firstplace awards for a Phoenix Coyotes Marketing Plan and developing other strategies.
APACHE JUNCTION HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR ROTC
The Naval Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps has stood out at Apache Junction High School since about 1996. Recent honors include first-, second- and third-place awards in Valley competitions. And two recent graduates received full tuition scholarships for their participation in the program. Retired Marine Maj. William Parker said he’s confident at least two more graduates will receive scholarships this year. Student cadets said their hard work is rewarded by trips to Hawaii and San Diego military bases, but that’s not why they come to school early and stay late.
"It’s just fun here," junior Kyle Lovett said.
McCLINTOCK HIGH SCHOOL SYMPHONIC BAND
McClintock High School’s symphonic band has earned a national reputation for excellence over the past 18 years. The Tempe group has performed in Florida, Colorado, California and Washington, D.C. During spring break the group will travel to Hawaii.
Of the 52 festivals the band has participated in under the direction of Mike Willson, the group has received 50 "superior" ratings. The band also has done exchange programs with bands from Australia and will host a group from Sydney in March.
DOBSON HIGH SCHOOL WE THE PEOPLE
Students at Mesa’s Dobson High School know the U.S. Constitution.
The school has won the state We the People championship and advanced to the national competition in Washington, D.C., eight of the last nine years. Dobson students also won the national title in 2002 and finished in the nation’s top 10 the last two years.
We the People coach Joyce Godfrey — who helped build the program along with former coach Abby Dupke — said the team has earned Dobson a reputation for being in the know about U.S. history, political science, constitutional law and current events.
With Godfrey retiring, students on Dobson’s 2005 state championship team are eager to bring home a second national title as a gift to their departing coach. They will get the chance April 30 to May 3.
FOUNTAIN HILLS HIGH SCHOOL DANCE
Fountain Hills High School’s performance dance company is a "pretty big deal around here," principal Patrick Sweeney said. Besides performing at high school events, the troupe performs all over Fountain Hills. And this spring, the dancers have a trip planned to New York. Performers are selected through an extensive audition process, and only the best are chosen, Sweeney said.
"It’s pretty prestigious to belong," he said.
CORONA DEL SOL AND DOBSON HIGH SCHOOLS YEARBOOK
Yearbook adviser Margie DiCesare started at Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School in 1985 — the same year Micki Remos took over the yearbook program at Mesa’s Dobson High School.
Since then, yearbook students at both schools have consistently raked in top national awards, including Gold and Silver Crowns from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and Pacemaker awards from the National Scholastic Press Association. Books from both schools have been ranked in the top 15 in the nation.
Corona del Sol yearbook editor Terra Vibber, an 18-year-old senior, said her classmates have grown used to the excellence and are no longer easily impressed.
"It might be a Gold Crown book and they will still complain about it," she said.
HIGHLAND HIGH SCHOOL MARCHING BAND
Gilbert’s Highland High School marching band has snatched up just about every accolade bestowed on high school marching bands. But the group’s biggest honor came this Thanksgiving, when Highland was one of just 10 high school bands to perform in the 78th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Band members put in long hours of practice to earn "superior" distinctions in Arizona, California and Nevada, but students said all the hard work is worth it.
"It’s fun because we’re good," senior Rebecca Rogers said.
DOBSON HIGH SCHOOL SPEECH AND DEBATE
Speech and debate teams at Mesa’s Dobson High School have won 17 state titles and produced more than 60 individual state champions since 1987.
The school has also qualified a state-record 122 entries to the National Forensic League National Tournament since 1986, has had nine national quarterfinalists, six national semifinalists, seven national finalists and three national champions.