By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
Depending on your rooting interest, Bartt Underwood became the first Centennial High School coach inducted into the Arizona HS Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame — or the seventh Cactus High School coach to earn that honor.
Underwood stated labels do not matter to him. His induction into the hall June 7 was more about the players, coaches and administrators he has been able to work with.
“This honor wasn’t about Centennial or Cactus. It was about being lucky enough in my 24 years of coaching high school softball to have some great coaches on my staff and some great players that demonstrated what being a “team” player is all about,” Underwood stated in an email. “I relish the years I coached at Centennial (1992-2010) and had some great teams and great memories, but I’m doing the same since coming to Cactus (2012-current). I have a great staff and have had some very good players that have made the change a welcomed one.”
Underwood said he was on the golf course in November when he received the call from AHSACHOF executive chairman Dave Silcox informing him of his induction.
Induction night at Gila River Arena had a Cobras kind of feel to it. Former Cactus (and Peoria) boys basketball coach Ken Troutt was part of the 2017 class.
And the Cactus Advanced Building Trades classes under the direction of Richard Smart built a new display case for the Hall of Fame coaches, which will be displayed at the arena.
“The ceremony was very special with all my brothers and sisters, brother and sister in-laws, high school buddies, college teammates, former and current players, former and current assistant coaches, teaching and coaching buddies and most importantly, my son, daughter and her husband, my first grand child and the one person that makes it all possible my wife, Denice, all in attendance, It can’t get any better than that,” Underwood stated.
For the record, the other five current or former Cactus coaches in the Hall of Fame are — Jack Altersitz (boys soccer), Larry Fetkenhier (football), Jim Graham (girls basketball), Jeff Griffith (softball) and Paul Williams (girls track and field).
That’s right. Underwood is also the second coach on the team in the hall. When he started at Cactus in 2012, Underwood convinced six-time champion Griffith to come back to the Cobras as an assistant.
Their teams did battle for years after Underwood built the Centennial program to contender status. Cactus narrowly edged Centennial in the 2003 and 2004 4A state title games.
Then Centennial moved up to 5A-II and lost two more competitive finals in 2006 and 2007 — to Sunrise Mountain and Tucson Sunnyside, respectively.
The Coyotes broke through in a 32-5 season in 2010, beating Sunnyside 5-1 in the final. Cactus made deep playoff runs in each of the last five seasons, claiming second in Division II in 2016.
“Knowing that there are fellow coaches out there that believe that I was worthy enough even to be considered let alone inducted, says it all. My former principal at Cactus, Tad Bloss was the influencing party behind all of it,” Underwood stated. “There are worthy coaches out there that should be in the HOF, but someone on their behalf needs to step up and complete the nomination process or those names will never be brought forward.”
Underwood’s teams have won 71 percent of their games. His tenure also includes 13 region titles.
Twelve former players now coach softball at the high school or college level. And their mentor has no intention of hanging it up after receiving his Hall of Fame ring.
“My goals for Cactus, Centennial or anywhere else I have coached haven’t changed in 35 years of coaching high school athletes. I believe to build anything you have to have passion in what you are doing, be disciplined in your efforts, and convince your players to put their teammates before themselves,” Underwood stated. “Would I like my team to win a few more state championships? Of course I would, but I have no set time table. As long as I can surround myself with good people (assistant coaches), have players with great work ethic and positive attitudes then I know I am going to really enjoy the next season and as long as I can say it is fun then I want to keep doing it.”