Crismon High School just opened its doors to students on July 27 and building the right athletic culture for the Rattlers is already top of mind for Athletic Director Barry Cromer.
Crismon High School is the third high school to join the Queen Creek Unified School District and they are starting with grades 7-10. Crismon’s sophomores were given the choice of remaining at their previous school or moving schools for the last three years of high school.
The campus is still in phase one of its three-phase construction, but once finished the campus is expected to range over about 80 acres with top-of-the-line academic and athletic facilities. Even in its unfinished state Crismon’s athletic facilities are up there with some of the best high schools. A turf stadium field is going to be built adjacent to the current stadium field for the football and soccer teams.
Since Crismon’s oldest students will only be sophomores many of the fall teams will just be playing freshmen and JV ball. Although Cromer did say the individual sports such as golf, track and field, and swim will compete at the varsity level, along with the football team.
“…we might not win the first year and that's okay. If we go lose every one of our games, that's fine, we're looking to start the culture and build. We want to make sure that kids have a great time, enjoy it and want to come back and put in the extra work for it,” Cromer said.
Starting an athletic program from the ground up takes more work than anyone at Crismon could’ve imagined, but it allows the athletic staff and coaches to mold the program in their own way and create a culture that they believe will translate to success for years to come. It also gives players the chance to make Crismon’s first mark on the athletic scene in town and along with the coaches, they are the ones responsible for building a winning culture.
“Everything is brand new. So, everybody that's coming here, all the new students, they see that, and they know, ‘Hey, that's something that we can start, we can get going and we can make it how we want it to be,’” Cromer said. “And our coaches are the same way, so, we brought in some good coaches and the idea is like, ‘Hey, I'm going to bring you in, we're going to do this together.’”
The athletic program is still in its infancy, but Cromer is already prioritizing transparency and communication with his coaches. He emphasized how his coaches are some of the best in the area and his job is to provide them with the support they need and otherwise, stay out of the way.
With the coaches all sharing the same goals as the athletic director, they have the freedom to establish their team’s culture, something that can often last far beyond a coach’s time with the team. That freedom to build their team and program the way they see fit is a big reason why many coaches made the move to Crismon.
“My ex-father-in-law…started Red Mountain High School (football), so, he did what I'm doing right now. His son…started Perry (football), so he's been through it. After seeing them do that, once I became a head coach, I'm like, ‘I want to do this,’” Crismon head football coach Corbin Smith said. “It's just perfect timing. It's just always something that I wanted to do.”
Smith is a coach’s son, his father, Larry, coached NCAA Division I football at Tulane, the University of Arizona, USC and the University of Missouri. Smith also played Division I football at both USC and the University of Iowa.
For the past five years, Smith had been coaching at McClintock High School, before stepping down at the end of last season. He said when the opportunity came to coach at Crismon and build the program his way, he jumped at it. Starting Crismon’s football program means Smith can set the foundation for all the future teams to come while also developing the program into a winning one.
“This program will, is and will always be built around the foundation of being accountable,” Smith said. “Being men of character, being respectful at all times, being the hardest workers in and out of the classroom and being leaders, being leaders on campus…we're constantly enforcing that.”
The football team will be one of few at Crismon playing varsity in the fall. Smith said that there are only about 10 sophomores on the squad, with freshmen making up the majority of the team. They’ll be playing in 3A this coming season, but Smith said as the program continues to grow and as players gain experience playing against bigger, older players, they’ll soon be ready to move up to 4A and then soon after that, 5A. By that time, Crismon’s seniors will have played double the varsity minutes of most of their opponents.
“There is going to be a big learning curve and you know, we have a 3A schedule, there are tough teams in 3A. There are tough teams in 4A, 5A, 6A, 1A, 2A doesn't matter, there are always going to be good ones,” Cromer said. “Our schedule, just to say for football, we play some 6A schools, but we play some 3A schools, we play a mix in between just so we can find some games. We're going to compete, you know, we might get beat, we might win and that's okay, we're going to learn how to be able to do this.”
That was another focus of the coaches and staff at Crismon, taking the time to develop athletics in a way that will lead to long-term. Cromer said if they take the time to build each program properly then success will naturally come.
“Winning is a byproduct of a lot of other things that have to happen…this is going to be the long route, we're not going to shortcut this thing. So, when I get close to retirement age…it's already done. There's longevity, you know. We're not, we're not rebuilding, we're just retooling type of thing…there's 10 years worth of stuff you can try to get down to one year, it's just not going to happen.”
Cromer said he has a three-year plan with his coaches, where he’s not as focused on how many wins and losses each team has, but more so on how many kids want to participate and return year after year. He said that the participation and excitement of players is the best way to measure the successful development of the athletic program.
“(We hope) we always have tryouts, we always have numbers in our sports and every seventh-grader coming in, they're excited to be here and if they're coming in as a freshman, they're excited, they want to get here,” Cromer said. “I would love to see the community come in and fill the stands for all our games, whether it's a Friday night football game, whether it's Tuesday night or Thursday night basketball or volleyball matches, to come in and see our student section going crazy…If that's where we're at in five years then we're doing what we need to do.”
Part of the way Crismon plans on facilitating high participation numbers is by prioritizing the player’s happiness and part of that is by allowing kids to pursue as many sports as they wish. In fact, at Crismon most athletes will be encouraged to play more than one sport. At many schools, coaches of different teams don’t like sharing players because of injury or scheduling concerns, but Crismon wants athletes to stay fit year-round and most of all, enjoy their high-school experience.
“We wanted coaches that believed in multiple sports. We want our students to enjoy high school because you only get these four years. Some might say four years is a lot, but it’s not it flies by.”
Along with excellence on the field, Crismon’s coaches are all about academic excellence. Just as much as they prioritize the athlete’s enjoyment of the game the coaches also plan to make academic success a major focal point for all players. Cromer said at Crismon they are more concerned about developing well-rounded people than championship athletes, although ideally the two will go hand in hand.
In the opening stages, Crismon High School and Cromer have taken all the right steps from facilities to coaching hires to ensure every team at Crismon is set up for long-term success. It’s not something that can be rushed though, as Cromer said, the winning will come naturally if the programs are built properly.
As construction continues, Crismon athletics will begin competing across the board starting in late-August and early-September, with the first home football game scheduled for Nov 2, according to the AIA (Arizona Interscholastic Association).