J.F. "Pop" McKale

They Fought Like Wildcats Centennial (1914-2014): Success at Tucson High paved way for McKale to impact Arizona’s history



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General history
J.F. “Pop” McKale
The games
Comparisons then and now
Wildcats nickname
Military service


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Excerpt from L.A. Times, Nov. 8, 1914, authored by Bill Henry:

“Arizona’s cactus-fed athletes, despite heroic efforts on the part of their two halfbacks, (Asa) Porter and (Franklin) Luis, went down to defeat before the Occidental Tigers yesterday afternoon, the tally with all precincts heard from being 14 to 0 in favor of the Tigers.
Confident of rolling up a big score, the Tigers took the field with grins on their faces, but before the game was 10 seconds old they knew they had a battle on their hands.
The Arizona men showed the fight of wild cats and displayed before the public gaze a couple of little shrimps in the backfield who defied all attempts of the Tigers to stop them.”

This site will conduct a countdown in a 100-day period, leading up to Arizona’s 2014 football season-opener with UNLV on Aug. 29 at Arizona Stadium. The 100 Days ‘Til Kickoff countdown will include information daily about the historic 1914 Arizona team that helped create the school’s nickname of “Wildcats” because of how they played that fateful day against Occidental.


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Tucson High School’s yearbooks in 1913 — it published three a year back in the early 20th century — indicate that Badgers coach J.F. “Pop” McKale and his teams were the equivalent of the University of Arizona’s sophomore and second teams.

That’s like suggesting Tucson High School’s football team could compete with Arizona’s sophomore class or second team on the depth chart today.

Football has changed entirely from 100 years ago, when Arizona’s “Varsity” became the “Wild-Cats”. Teams had rosters of about 20 players back then. No elaborate plays were used (mostly running plays were called). The physical nature of players were similar from high school seniors to college sophomores and juniors because of the antiquated weight-training means.


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The 1913 Tucson High School football team with J.F. "Pop" McKale the head coach standing in the upper right-hand corner (The  Tucsonian, Tucson High School Yearbook)

The 1912 Tucson High School football team with J.F. “Pop” McKale the head coach standing in the upper right-hand corner (The Tucsonian, Tucson High School Yearbook, May 1912)

The domino effect: If Tucson High is not competitive, Arizona likely does not hire McKale, who was only 24 when he moved to Tucson from Wisconsin in 1911. If Arizona does not hire McKale, does it play Occidental tough in 1914, earning the nickname “Wildcats” that has stuck until today? The interaction between McKale and the dying John “Button” Salmon, in which Salmon conveyed McKale the message, “Tell the team to Bear Down”, would not have happened in 1926.

The root of Arizona’s athletic program and creation of traditions such as the Wildcat nickname and “Bear Down” slogan lies with McKale’s success at Tucson High, especially against Arizona’s second-tier teams.

McKale’s football, basketball and baseball teams at Tucson High were so competitive against Arizona that a rivalry existed between the schools. It was more of rivalry than Arizona experienced with Tempe Normal (ASU) when McKale was hired.

Caption here

The 1914 Arizona football team that earned the honor of being named the first “Wildcats” was composed of (front row, left to right): Verne La Tourette, George Seeley, Leo Cloud, Richard Meyer, Asa Porter. Second row: Franklin Luis, Lawrence Jackson, Ray Miller, J.F. “Pop” McKale (coach), Turner Smith, Harry Hobson (manager), Orville McPherson, Albert Crawford, Ernest Renaud. Back row: Albert Condron, Emzy Lynch, Charley Beach, Vinton Hammels, Bill Hendry, George Clawson, Harry Turvey.
(AllSportsTucson.com graphic/Photo from University of Arizona Library Special Collections)

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The Tucson High yearbook (called the “Tucsonanian”) published in November 1914, at the time McKale led Arizona’s “Varsity” against Occidental, mentioned that with their former coach at Arizona, “There has been a much better feeling between the University and the High School this year. We have had several scrimmages with the Freshmen and the Varsity, each time holding them to a small score”.

Right tackle Bill Hendry, a senior captain for Tucson High School in 1913, started for McKale and Arizona’s “Varsity” as a freshman in 1914.

Tucson High was 1-1-1 against Arizona’s sophomore and second teams in 1913. The Badgers beat the Arizona sophomore team 6-0. The teams also struggled to a scoreless tie. In Tucson’s season-finale and last game under McKale, the Badgers lost 3-0 to Arizona’s second team on Thanksgiving Day 1913.


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Right tackle Bill Hendry followed J.F. "Pop" McKale from Tucson High in 1913 to Arizona in 1914.

Right tackle Bill Hendry followed J.F. “Pop” McKale from Tucson High in 1913 to Arizona in 1914.

The Tucson High yearbook account of the loss on Thanksgiving:

“Bill Hendry was the star until he got hit in the head, and was knocked out. James Drown and Dick Meyer were out of the game because of injuries. James had his hip put out of joint and Dick Meyer had some ligaments torn from his right shoulder. James got in the game at the last part with his hip taped and went right through. … (Unidentified) Brown, the U.A. quarter-back drop kicked a goal from the fifteen yard line, winning the game in the fourth quarter.”

The account of the 6-0 victory over the Arizona sophomore team:

“Our first real game was with the U.A. Sophomores, who came down to the High School’s rocky grounds and went back with bumps all over their backs, and with the score of 0.”

The Tucsonian’s description of the scoreless tie:

“Our boys worked well against the 165 pounders. They had a hard wall to buck against but “Jimmy Drown”, our famous halfback, showed them what little boys can do. Bill Hendry, as tackle, held the Sophs to perfection.”

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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