The Phoenix Union High School District has a rich history in boys basketball.
The early 1980s in particular featured an outstanding cast of players and coaches, notably at Phoenix Union (before it closed), Phoenix Alhambra, Phoenix South Mountain and Phoenix East.
The gyms were packed to the rafters. You would be hard-pressed to find a better brand of basketball anywhere else.
Some of those great teams were at South Mountain. Before they became the Jaguars, they were the Rebels.
In the moments leading up to the games at Seventh Street and Roeser Road, the players would clap and yell in unison, “Rebs!’’ and the fans would join in. The sound would get your blood flowing.
There were stars such as Terrell Clayton, Vernon Johnson, Tony Battiest, Clearthur Lane, Manny Hendrix and Byron Evans.
The Big Man orchestrating it all from the coaching chair was Don Petroff.
His size was intimidating enough, well over 6 feet and with a goatee, played college ball in his home state of Michigan. And he had a booming voice to go with it.
He didn’t overdo it with the voice, however. He picked his spots and new when to use it to get the attention of the players and even the officials.
Beneath that exterior was a wonderful guy. He loved his players and loved teaching them the importance of academics and other things in life. He required his players to get at least a C average.
Petroff’s coaching rivals, Royce Youree at East, Argie Rhymes at Phoenix Union and Phil Kemp at Alhambra, knew they had to have their teams at the top of their game when facing South.
Petroff’s crowning achievement came in 1983, when the Rebels defeated Tucson Pueblo for the big-school state championship. He also led South to state runner-up finishes in 1980 and 1984.
Sadly, Petroff passed away on Oct. 31 at the age of 71. He leaves behind a loving wife, children, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.
Services will be private. Donations can be made to Hospice of the Valley at www.hov.org.
Don, you will be remembered fondly for your achievements in academics as well as athletics and how you helped dozens of students turn the corner from adolescence into adulthood.