CASA GRANDE — PinalCentral and the Casa Grande Dispatch have a new sports editor, though most of you probably know her already.
Brian Wright, who has expanded PinalCentral’s coverage of local high school sports steadily the past five years, has decided to pursue some opportunities in San Diego. His last day was Friday, and we at PinalCentral would like to thank him for his contributions and wish him well in all future endeavors.
Stepping into his place will be Maria Vasquez, who is no stranger to the Pinal County sports scene. She has been working here since March of 2017, when she was a freelance sports reporter. She was hired full-time in June of 2018 to cover Eloy and Arizona City news while maintaining a strong presence in PinalCentral’s sports coverage.
But more than that, Vasquez is a born-and-raised Casa Grande local. In fact, she has never lived anywhere else. After graduating from Casa Grande Union High School in 2011, she attended the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University but commuted to downtown Phoenix from Casa Grande every day.
A known softball fanatic, Vasquez got her footing in sportswriting by covering the Sun Devils as a media relations intern and earned her journalism degree in 2016.
Since joining PinalCentral, Vasquez has grown as a reporter, having to learn the ins and outs of community journalism such as covering local politics and schools. She became the face of media coverage in Eloy but maintained her interest in sports, putting her writing and photography skills to use in covering several teams vying for state championships.
In addition of her stories and photos, Vasquez also co-hosted, along with Wright, PinalCentral’s weekly sports video, Friday Night Spotlight, as well as the sports history podcast Retro Rewind.
With her knowledge of the local sports scene stretching from Eloy to San Tan Valley and Apache Junction, Vasquez was an easy choice to fill in. By accepting, she has become the first woman sports editor in the history of the Casa Grande Dispatch and is a credit to the hometown that she now serves.
What was life like for you growing up in Casa Grande?
I was much of a homebody as I grew up with the notion, as many kids here do, that there’s nothing to do around here.
What inspired you to get into journalism in college?
Ever since I was little, I’ve just always enjoyed watching sports. I never really had a Plan B when it came to what I wanted to study in college. My mom says that I’d watch games on TV, see the reporters and say that would be me one day.
What have you learned about what it takes to be a good journalist these past three years?
Not everyone is going to be happy about the stories you cover, and that’s OK, because this job isn’t about making everyone happy.
What are some of your favorite memories covering sports in Pinal County?
There’s a lot that stand out, so I’ll give you my top 3. Just this past year it was covering the Santa Cruz football team winning the state title, and that whole experience in itself was pretty memorable because it’s not every day that you get to cover a championship game.
Obviously being the softball nut that I am, the Vista Grande girls have been the highlight of my time covering sports out here. But I’ve said a lot about them already in the past months, so this should come as no surprise.
But a close second would have to be covering CG Union volleyball back in 2017. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about the sport or even how to take photos of it, and I can’t thank two of the moms, Teri Redd and Shay Charles, enough for teaching me what was going on.
Were you surprised to get the job as sports editor?
Yes, I was. My path here has been a bit unorthodox. When I first started as a freelancer it was more like OK, go cover this game and let’s see what you can do. From there I was a temporary spot news reporter and eventually I became the Eloy reporter. Again, not having any idea of how to cover government meetings or anything else outside of sports.
So, when I was offered the sports editor position, I really did ask, “Are you guys sure about this?” I mean, you don’t really start off as a freelance reporter thinking you’re going to become the sports editor for that paper in less than five years.
What are you hoping to accomplish with the sports section in the coming years?
I’m a softball fan, so this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Hopefully I can bring readers the same excitement in other sports as I do with softball. It’s no surprise that sometimes our schools struggle throughout the season, but I hope to bring some positive coverage to our local teams even during those difficult times.
What do you think is special about sports in Pinal County?
I definitely have to say the people. Not just the athletes, but the coaches and the families.