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Remembering a legend: Cochise County loses an ‘irreplaceable’ coach, educator in Mike Hayhurst
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TOMBSTONE — Southern Arizona high school football coach Mike Hayhurst, described by former players as irreplaceable, legendary and humble, died on May 31.

He was 79.

Jeannie Hayhurst, Mike’s wife of 53 years, said her husband was diagnosed with cancer in October.

With a career that spanned 52 years, Hayhurst coached at Benson, Marana, Casa Grande, Buena and Tombstone high schools, touching hundreds of lives along the way.

Born and raised in Tucson, Hayhurst attended Northern Arizona University and started his teaching career at Benson High School.

Hayhurst also owned and operated a small cattle ranch, served on the Upper San Pedro Partnership, and was a member of the Hereford Natural Resource Conservation District, an organization that promotes environmentally responsible practices.

Reflections from former players

“I am a product of Coach Hayhurst, as are countless other former players that he influenced in his coaching career,” said Joe Thomas, who is head football coach at Buena High School. “He was far more than a coach. He was a mentor, teacher, father-figure and leader.”

Thomas is a 2002 Tombstone High School graduate who played football under Hayhurst all four years at THS.

“When I came in as a freshman in 1998, it was also Mike’s first year coaching for THS,” Thomas recalled. “During his years there, he became the face of Tombstone’s football program. He was not only a highly respected coach, but instilled life skills in his players. He wanted all of us to be good people, and demonstrated that through his coaching style. I owe my coaching career to Mike Hayhurst.”

After high school graduation, Thomas attended Pima Community College, then Northern Arizona University. He returned to the area from NAU and was hired as Hayhurst’s assistant football coach for five years.

“Mike wanted me to get experience as a head coach, so after five years as his assistant, he resigned in 2011 and recommended me for the coaching position. I coached for Tombstone for three years, then applied for the head coach position at Buena,” said Thomas. “If he had not given me that opportunity at THS, I would not have been hired as Buena’s head coach. He set me up for my coaching position there, and I’ll never forget that.”

After Thomas left Tombstone for Buena in 2015, Hayhurst returned to THS as the school’s head coach through 2018.

Jerome Rhoades was hired following Hayhurst, but resigned after two seasons, making way for another former Hayhurst player in Dominik Bonilla, a 2012 THS graduate.

“I will be stepping in as head football coach for the 2021 season,” said Bonilla, who worked as an assistant coach at Buena under Thomas during the 2020-21 school year.

“When the opening at Tombstone came up, Joe Thomas encouraged me to apply for the position. So, I applied and was hired. They actually brought me on to work as a paraprofessional a few months ago, and I was able to meet the football players and establish our spring football plan. I’m looking forward to starting the 2021 season.”

Bonilla said he will always remember Hayhurst as a father figure and as someone who advocates for kids.

“He is irreplaceable, an inspiration,” Bonilla said of his former coach. “I played for Coach Hayhurst all four years of high school. My older brother, Michael Bonilla, also attended Tombstone High School and played football there from 2006 to 2009. All of us loved Coach Hayhurst. I can’t say enough about him. He always guided us in the right direction.”

Superintendent shares stories

“After a 50-year career of working with kids, there are people from all over the state who were impacted by Mike,” TUSD Superintendent Robert Devere said. “While I attended different conferences, there were people who would seek me out to tell me a Mike Hayhurst story. Those stories were about Mike as a person, as a coach, a teacher, a mentor, rancher and as someone who really cared about kids.”

Devere also mentioned how Hayhurst enjoyed sharing his passion for ranching with his students by introducing them to his own Brookline Ranch. Hayhurst purchased the small cow-calf operation, located on the Babocomari River between Whetstone and Tombstone, in 1988.

“Even while out working his cattle, it was not unusual for Mike to have one or two of his football players on the ranch with him where they learned about horses, cattle, branding and a whole number of things. The kids learned a lot from Mike, far more than football. He also taught high school science classes for the district for a few years. He was a strong science teacher.”

Hayhurst served on the TUSD school board, with some terms as board president.

“Because state law prohibits employees from serving as board members, Mike continued to coach football as a volunteer,” Devere said. “Serving on the school board was so important to him that he coached for a number of years without being paid.”

Hayhurst was hired as football coach in 1998, before the new high school was built. Concerned about the condition of the old school’s football field and the fact there was no sprinkler system on the property, Hayhurst rounded up his football players and they installed a sprinkler system on the old field.

After the new high school was completed in 2006, the football team continued to use the old school’s field for a few years, Devere said.

“Sometime around 2008, Mike decided it was time for the new school to have a football field. The school district couldn’t afford to do the work, so Mike rounded up football players and other volunteers and transformed a rough stretch of dirt into what is now our football field,” Devere said. “He brought in his own equipment, prepared the area and he and the football players installed a sprinkler system. They also laid down the sod as a community-wide event with Mike and his football players leading the way.”

Thomas remembers the football field work project as well.

“I was teaching a PE weight-lifting class on the day they brought the sod in,” he said. “I saw the work that went into that effort, and feel wholeheartedly that the football field at Tombstone High School should have been named after Coach Hayhurst years ago. And now — with his recent passing — that football field should be named after this legendary Southern Arizona high school football coach.”

Much more than a coachLucinda Earven, a local equine veterinarian, has served on the Hereford Natural Resource Conservation District with Hayhurst since 2011.

“We both shared water concerns, and it was through the NRCD that I got to know Mike Hayhurst,” Earven said. “At that time, he was also a member of the Upper San Pedro Partnership.”

Through her role as a veterinarian and experience on the NRCD, Earven said she has seen firsthand how Hayhurst has worked at being environmentally responsible when it comes to his ranching operation.

“Like a lot of Southeastern Arizona ranchers, Mike was always very concerned about protecting the region’s natural resources through responsible grazing practices and protecting the San Pedro River.”

While owning a cattle ranch was Mike’s dream, Jeannie Hayhurst said found the whole ranching experience rewarding.

“I love animals, taking care of orphaned babies and watching them grow up,” she said. “Brookline Ranch was a wonderful experience for our children and grandchildren. They learned to appreciate the outdoors and enjoyed riding and caring for animals.”

Mike and Jeannie have three grown children: Patrick, Teri and Jana. Following in his father’s footsteps, Patrick is a high school football coach in California.

“I played football under my dad at Marana High School from 1984 to 1988,” he said. “I’ve been a wrestling and football coach for about 33 years.

“Several of my father’s former high school football players have had careers as coaches and others have remained friends with him through the years. Some of them include Fred Comaduran, Mitch Hoops, Gary Mauldin, Joe Thomas and Danny Batten, to name a few. It’s my hope that through these friendships, my dad’s legacy in coaching will continue on.”

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Arizona Supreme Court hears lawsuit against county board of supervisors
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Justices of the Arizona Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week on a two-year-old lawsuit filed by a Sierra Vista resident against two current Cochise County supervisors.

David Welch sued the Cochise County Board of Supervisors in February 2019 after current supervisors Ann English and Peggy Judd appointed the third member of the board — Pat Call — as justice of the peace for the Sierra Vista Justice Court.

Welch claims the appointment violated state open meeting laws and that Call — who is no longer justice of the peace — transgressed the state’s conflict of interest law leading up to the vote. Welch’s complaint also claims Call participated in a discussion earlier in the Board of Supervisors’ meeting to forego an application process for filling the vacancy, and then participated in a closed meeting prior to English making the motion to appoint him to the position.

The Board of Supervisors filed for dismissal of Welch’s complaint in March 2019, arguing, among other things, that a citizen doesn’t have standing to bring the court action challenging Call’s appointment because that citizen was not directly affected by that action; and that any claims they violated the open meetings law was remedied when they ratified Call’s appointment in an open meeting.

A Greenlee County superior court judge granted the county’s motion to dismiss Welch’s claim, saying that Welch “failed to show distinct and palpable injury or particularized harm.” The judge, Monica Stauffer, also agreed that the county’s public ratification meeting, “cured any issue of open meeting laws improprieties at the March 14, 2019 ratification meeting.”

When Welch appealed Stauffer’s decision, he won at the Arizona Court of Appeals level and the latter remanded the case back to Stauffer’s courtroom. The case was heard by Stauffer after Cochise County court officials said they wanted to avoid a conflict of interest.

In essence, the Court of Appeals stated that Welch does have a right to sue because he is a citizen and a taxpayer, and, the fact that the county supervisors ratified Call’s appointment publicly does not negate that the actual appointment of Call was made in a closed meeting.

After the Court of Appeals issued its decision, the Board of Supervisors filed a motion asking the Arizona Supreme Court to review the matter.

Thursday morning the two issues argued before the seven Supreme Court justices were: 1) “Is citizen or taxpayer status, alone, sufficient for a private claimant to be ‘affected by’ an alleged statutory conflict of interest or open meeting law violation such that standing to sue is conferred?”; and, 2) “Does statutory ratification moot a private claimant’s open meeting law challenge to a governmental decision that was effectively ratified in accordance with Arizona’s open meeting laws?”

Attorneys for both sides — Cochise County and Welch — each had 20 minutes to argue their cases. Attorney Jim Jellison represented the county and David Abney represented Welch. Abney shared some of his time with Mike Catlett, the deputy solicitor general and chief counsel of special litigation at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Jellison posited that Welch was not directly affected by Call’s appointment, an argument that has been made since the lawsuit was filed. He mentioned that Welch was never present at the county Board of Supervisor meetings where the issue was discussed.

But Abney said who better than Welch— a taxpayer and resident of Cochise County and Sierra Vista — would have the right to challenge the Board of Supervisors?

Questions posed by at least two of the Supreme Court justices seemed to take the same view.

“If not Mr. Welch, then who gets to come forward and say ‘What happened here is wrong’? “ asked Justice William G. Montgomery.

Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer went further, asking Abney if an 18-year-old unemployed resident of the county could file such a complaint.

Abney did not answer that question, but said he is wondering what the remedy in the case will be since Call is no longer justice of the peace. Call did not run in the November election for the position. Kenneth Curfman is the current justice of the peace.

The justices did not issue a ruling in the case. Arizona Supreme Court spokesman Aaron Nash said there is no set timeline for a decision.