GBAC tournament kicks off summer football

The tournament, held at Mesa High School, featured more than 40 teams from across the Valley. Each team played a minimum of four games, which included pool play with a chance to move on to the championship. (Dave Minton/Tribune Staff)

High school football programs from all over the East Valley and state have begun the transition from spring to summer, with team workouts on a near daily basis and various 7-on-7 and big man tournaments.

These events, typically held at various high schools, have exploded in popularity in recent years with local colleges jumping on board to host high school programs. The summer circuit of tournaments helps teams prepare for the full season in the fall. It builds team chemistry. It allows quarterbacks and receivers to work on timing and defenses to play fast and quickly recognize an opposing offense.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on all the tournaments in 2020 and most last year. But they’re now back in full swing. And it started in Mesa on Memorial Day weekend with the Gotta Believe Athletic Club’s annual high school championships.

“From a high school perspective running this tournament with the guys we have involved, it’s the best,” Mesa coach and founder of Gotta Believe Athletic Club Chad DeGrenier said. “IT’s been nice to see the competition, the sportsmanship, all those things that kinda got lost but hopefully it’s all coming back to center.”

DeGrenier is in his 12th year hosting the camp. In previous years, it was held at Fear Farm in the West Valley or Scottsdale. This year, however, he aimed to show off the upgrades to Mesa’s athletic facilities.

Some pool play games were played on Mesa’s new turf field. The big man competition was held on the football team’s practice field just behind the east bleachers. Other games took place on the baseball fields. There were more than 40 schools involved.

“You come out of spring ball and you’re kind of tired of practicing against yourself,” American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek coach Ty Detmer said. “It’s good to get out with other teams and see what the new look is because everyone changes from year to year. It’s an opportunity to get the boys out, compete and see what you’ve got to work on from there.”

ALA – Queen Creek was one of the Open Division teams from last season involved in the tournament.

Hamilton, an Open Division semifinalist last year and runner-up the year before, brought two teams to the GBAC tournament. The maroon squad, its varsity team, went 5-1 on the day, advancing deep into the final bracket before losing to Northwest Christian.

The results, however, aren’t at the forefront of the minds of coaches during tournaments of this caliber. They want their players to enjoy the competition.

“We just work on what we do schematically,” Hamilton coach Mike Zdebski said. “Win, lose or draw, we just use this as an opportunity to work on what we are going to do in the season schematically. We just want to get better.”

Basha, a team on the rise the last two seasons, returns all its key starters from last year’s Open Division team. While some of them were absent from Saturday’s tournament, the Bears still managed to run the table and go a perfect 7-0 on the day to win the tournament title.

Junior quarterback Demond Williams looked to be in midseason form with his deep ball and overall pocket awareness. He knows it will become more challenging when facing a full defense. But nonetheless, he was happy to get a chance to throw against other teams for the first time this summer.

“It’s really about building our team chemistry,” Williams said. “I feel like that’s something we lacked last year. We’re a family this year, we all have the same mindset and the same goal.”

Like others, Basha plans to take part in other tournaments this summer, most notably at the two biggest universities in the state.

Mountain Pointe is one of those that will take part, beginning with Arizona on June 6 and Arizona State on June 9. The Pride will also attend Higley’s 7s passing league beginning June 14 and Flight Club on June 25 in Maricopa, a mega-tournament hosted by Arizona Varsity’s Chilly.

“We started late because we wanted to let out track guys get finished,” Mountain Pointe coach Eric Lauer said. “We are still auditioning some guys for a part so it’s nice to get this first one under our belt. Now we will go back to the drawing board to get guys in the right position and we’ll get our work in with 7-on-7.”

DeGrenier said he will continue to host the GBAC tournament for as long as teams continue signing up to compete. He enjoys providing an outlet for high school teams to get geared up for the season.

And they appreciate him for doing it.

“I love doing this,” DeGrenier said. “I can go home and say we had a great tournament with great teams and had great refs. At the end of the day, kids got better. That’s why we do this tournament.”