Chandler Sports Hall of Fame celebrates latest induction class - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Sports Hall of Fame celebrates latest induction class

March 1st, 2022 development
Chandler Sports Hall of Fame celebrates latest induction class
Sports and Recreation

By Zach Alvira, Sports Editor

N’Keal Harry’s favorite memory from his time at Chandler High School came in the 2014 state championship game at State Farm Stadium.

Knowing the Wolves had the game secured, he stood on his team’s bench with quarterback Bryce Perkins and athlete Chase Lucas. The trio faced the crowd in their Nos. 1, 2 and 3 jerseys and raised their hands in the air. The crowd erupted in the stands. Chandler’s players erupted on the field moments later when the championship was officially theirs.

Moments like that made Harry an icon in Chandler and the state. What he went on to do after that cemented his legacy as one of the state’s greats, despite his young age.

Another chapter in his legacy was written on Saturday, Feb. 19 at Hamilton High School as the 24-year-old joined six others — Dr. Camille Casteel, Valley Christian’s Greg Haagsma, Hamilton tennis coach Phil Gonzales, Hamilton alum Cole Luke, Perry and Findlay Prep basketball standout Markus Howard and Basha softball great Sierra Rodriguez as the 17th class to be inducted into the Chandler Sports Hall of Fame.

“Just all the hard work I’ve put in throughout the years – all the blood, sweat and tears – to see it all come to fruition, it’s a blessing,” Harry said. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”

Harry’s legacy began at Chandler as a junior, where he caught 30 passes for 657 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a senior he was ranked as the top wideout in the country and enrolled at Arizona State.

He is currently in the top four all-time for receptions, yards and touchdowns at ASU. He was named a freshman All-American and a three-time All-Pac12 performer. Harry declared for the NFL Draft after his junior year at ASU and was selected in the first round in 2019 by the New England Patriots.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder had always dreamed of not only representing his family, but Chandler and Arizona State. He’s done that well and added another chapter to his legacy by being inducted into the Chandler Sports Hall of Fame.

“Being in a setting like this, I’m getting inducted with some of the guys I grew up with,” Harry said. “It takes you back and it really lets you remember what it took to get to this point.”

Harry and Luke were the two football players inducted into the Hall of Fame this class. Luke, who was a standout cornerback at Hamilton, helped lead the Huskies to the 2012 state title.

He received several high caliber offers from programs and decided on the University of Notre Dame. In his career for the Irish, Luke became top three all-time in single season passes broken up with 11. He also ranks in the top 10 for most career pass break ups.

Drafted in 2017, he signed as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers and made his NFL debut two years later. He also spent time with the Washington Football Team in his career.

Luke and Howard were the two not able to be in attendance for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Howard attended Perry before transferring to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, where he became a top recruit in basketball. He went on to star at Marquette and was a two-time All-American, set the school’s all-time career scoring record with 2,761 points and averaged a staggering 27.8 points per game as a senior.

Howard went undrafted in 2020 but signed with the Denver Nuggets, where he has played for two seasons. Just like his older brother Jordan in 2019, he’s now part of the Chandler Sports Hall of Fame.

“When I’m watching basketball, softball or football and they said things like, ‘N’Keal Harry, Chandler, Ariz.,’ it’s just tremendous,” Casteel said. “I’m so glad they are successful and I enjoy every minute of it.”

Casteel admitted she was in shock when she was told she would be part of this year’s induction class. She was never an athlete and preferred watching and supporting them rather than joining them in play.

But she was and still is an icon in Chandler. And under her direction, schools in the district won 94 state championships.

She officially retired as superintendent in 2020 following a 25-year stint in the position and 59 overall in the district, where she began as a teacher. Yet she can still be found on a sideline for several district sporting events.

“All of those young students and athletes, what they have accomplished is remarkable,” Casteel said. “It was such a wonderful run and I still enjoy attending the games.”

Casteel said she remembers vividly the accomplishments of Gonzales, who was inducted alongside her last week. He got his start in the district a decade after Casteel, when he was hired to lead the Chandler tennis program in the 1980s.

When Hamilton opened in 1998, he moved down Arizona Avenue to build that program from the ground up. He did it with success.

Under his direction, Hamilton has competed for two state championships and has been in the semifinals five times. He also coached back-to-back doubles champions. Gonzales announced this year would be his last as a coach.

Just like Gonzales, Haagsma has also built an impressive resume as a coach at Valley Christian.

He began his work at the school coaching girls basketball and baseball. He transitioned to boys basketball and has since become one of the winningest coaches in the state with more than 650 wins under his belt.

He’s led the Trojans to six state titles and two runner-up finishes. He also serves as the school’s athletic director and in 2021 was named the 3A Athletic Director of the Year.

Valley Christian is currently the top seed in the 3A playoffs and the favorite to win it all, which would give Haagsma his seventh title as coach.

Winning a state title is special for any coach or athlete. For Rodriguez, it is still her favorite from her time at Basha.

The standout softball player led the Bears to back-to-back titles in 2008-09 before leading Yavapai and Phoenix College to junior college national championships in back-to-back years. While at PC, she batted .535, which is still top five all-time in program history.

Rodriguez went on to star at Arizona State before joining the Mexican National Team and led them to their first Olympic appearance in 2021. She’s accomplished many feats but still vividly remembers the two state titles and representing her hometown on softball’s biggest stage.

“It’s amazing to see your name not only in the spotlight but to say, ‘I’m from Chandler, Ariz.,’” Rodriguez said. “I enjoy representing the city and everyone that comes from it.”

The ceremony also honored all six of Valley Christian’s championship basketball teams and Kerry Croswhite, the beloved Chandler swim coach who passed away in 2020 due to complications with COVID-19.

Mark Tucker, a former All-American at USC who played in the NFL and has been a longtime assistant coach at Hamilton and Phoenix firefighter, was also honored.

Yet again the event put all the talent Chandler has in its past on display, with many more to come.

“It’s an honor to look back at everything I have accomplished and what all of us have,” Rodriguez said. “And there’s no better place to be honored like this than in Chandler.”