SAN TAN VALLEY — It’s the latest Twitter craze that’s taken over high school football across the country: the National Helmet Tournament.
Arizona was one of 48 states that participated in the fan-voted tournament for the best high school football helmet design.
The Combs Coyotes were the winners in the AZ Helmet Challenge and will represent the state in the national tournament.
More than 250 helmet designs were entered into the state challenge, which was divided into eight brackets. Fans had 24 hours to vote for their favorite design.
“Little by little, the community just got into it, and there we are winning the bracket and then making it to the final eight teams,” Combs coach Travis Miller said. “It just kept going and going and the next thing we know, we won. It was awesome.”
Combs defeated Tucson Palo Verde to make it the Elite Eight, which featured Gilbert, Sahuarita Walden Grove, Bagdad, Mohave Valley River Valley, Parker, Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor and Florence.
“I’m not going to lie,” Miller said. “Every time we won, I’d text our coaches and go, ‘Man. We won again.’ We had fun with it, and our community got so involved with it, we had all these teachers sending it out on social media, we were sending it out all over the place, reaching out to past alumni, and it turned into a big community thing. It just gave everybody something fun to do.”
Miller said the Coyotes have a unique-looking helmet, from the Coyote design on one side and the letter C on the other side, because it was designed by a member of the community and isn’t a ripoff of other established logos.
When the school first opened, the Coyotes used the same design as the University of South Dakota. While the school had official signed paperwork to use a logo, the only problem with that was that the paperwork was for the University of New Mexico not the University of South Dakota.
“It was found out later on, and we were required to create a new logo,” Miller said. “There was a gentleman in our community that was helping with the baseball program and he offered to create the Coyote logo, so that logo is unique to us.”
It took a couple of years before the Coyote logo appeared on the helmet. Prior to that, it was just the letter C on one side and the athlete’s jersey number on the other, a common motif among high schools.
Once the Coyote was designed, the coaching staff decided to blow up the logo so it could be seen on the helmet.
“It’s unique to us,” Miller said. “Nobody else has the combination and that design in the country.”
In a time when all sports were shut down due to COVID-19 and graduating seniors lost the opportunity to have a traditional graduation, the helmet challenge was something positive for Combs.
“It’s just been one negative thing after another negative thing after another and to be a part of something positive and to be a part of something uplifting really is a gem,” Miller said. “It’s huge for our community and our school, our kids felt pride in something, our teachers, the parents in our community felt pride in something like, ‘Wow. We get to participate in something, and we won.’ It’s just uplifting for our community and our kids to finally get a win.”
Combs went up against the Sandra Day O’Connor Eagles for the title, and both schools were docked votes due to suspicious voting patterns.
The organizers of the helmet challenge noticed an unusually high number of votes coming in for both schools. One of the rules set before the tournament started was that if this happened, it would be considered as buying votes and the number of votes that came in during that timeframe would be subtracted from the final count.
After the subtracted votes, it was a narrow margin of less than 100 votes, as the Coyotes claimed the mini helmet trophy as the AZ Helmet Challenge Champs of 2020.
“It’s a maroon and gold helmet that had the state of Arizona on it and the pitchfork behind it,” Miller said of the trophy. “Me being a Sun Devil alum and Sun Devil fan, I think it’s awesome so we’re going to display it proudly in our trophy case here at the high school.”
Miller said fans should expect to hear about the helmet challenge throughout the season, when the Coyotes take the field wearing what was voted the best helmet in the state.
“You want to be humble in victory but at the same time you want to announce your accomplishment and highlight the positives,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back to football, and I hope that the football season actually resumes on time and we have a full schedule. At the end of the day, we cannot wait to just get on the grass and start working and getting ready for football. While this was a good filler, we all pray that we can get back to football and start on time.”