Since 1892, Tucson High has been involved in rivalries that were so epic, the games would have to be hosted at college stadiums to accommodate the crowds. Playing a rivalry game for homecoming usually gets the intensity among rival alumni turned up to a near boiling point.
If you were to look back far enough into Badger history, you will learn about a time when Tucson High was competing with and beating, the University of Arizona, Tempe Normal, New Mexico State and other universities, with regularity.
Sam Blakeley (1951-1955) played as a center and kicker for Badger teams with Patrick “Pat” Flood, Jason “Red” Greer and among others during a time that established them as a football powerhouse at a national level. Although Tucson High was competing for state titles regularly long before that, going back to the days of Pop McKale (who was from Wisconsin and gave the Tucson High it’s colors and mascot to match), it wasn’t until the 1950’s that THS started becoming nationally ranked and a truly dynastic program.
“During my day, Amphi was really the only in town rival we had and those were some pretty hardnose, scratch and claw games,” Blakeley told me as we observed the beginning of a Badger practice for homecoming this week. “Tucson High and Amphi were really the only high schools in town at that time. Pueblo and Catalina opened up around the same time and when Salpointe opened up in the 1950’s, that’s when you started to see more fierce competition among Tucson area high schools. Salpointe started doing well almost as soon as they opened their doors.”
Politically and culturally Tucson and Phoenix have traditionally had a competitiveness toward one another. Both cities fought over being the state capital. They have competed for resources, for infrastructure, etc. Sports served as an avenue for that cultural rivalry to be played out. Passions, feuds and disdain were genuinely felt and the young men of each town were playing for the pride of their city. Tucson High, until the mid 1950’s, were unrivalled in the southern part of the state and were the flag ship school to represent Tucson when battling it out with Phoenix area programs.
Blakeley would recall the single greatest rivalries for THS during his time as a Badger, were with Phoenix area schools like the Mesa Jackrabbits, Phoenix Union (closed in 1982) and North Phoenix High School (now known as North High School).
During Blakeley’s time at THS, the Badgers and Amphi Panthers rivalry was so huge, games between the two would have to be held regularly at Arizona Stadium. Players for those teams would go on to play for college programs such as Army, Navy, Notre Dame, Illinois, Arizona and many others. Blakeley himself played a year as a Wildcat for Frank Sancet as a freshman.
When the Tucson Metro area began growing at a faster rate, high schools began opening up two at a time around Southern Arizona. Naturally, rivalries began growing among Tucson area schools and the storied contests Tucson High had with Phoenix area schools for state titles and national recognition, were becoming fewer and far between. Tucson High began rivalries with Pueblo, Sunnyside and Salpointe. The hatred between Amphi and Tucson has somewhat been tempered in recent years and as the Blue Devils have enjoyed state title success of their own, the hostility among fan bases from both Tucson High and Sunnyside has been heating up over the last couple of generations.
When it comes to the Blue Devils and Badgers today, perhaps the students and student athletes from Sunnyside and Tucson High are not old enough to remember or appreciate the history between the two schools. The teaching and administrative staffs, alumni, their parents and grandparents, however, more than likely have their deep rooted allegiances. They are likely to have one parent who went to Sunnyside, Pueblo or Amphi and another perhaps a Badger alum. Generations of one entire side of a student’s family went to one school and perhaps played their hearts out on the field or on the court, while their children attend the rival school that are the source of so many memories. Imagine a heartbreaking loss that still stings after so many years or a sweet victory that to this day, still hold over their rival alumni.
All Sports Tucson’s own Andy and Javier Morales‘ father Hector Morales was inducted into Tucson High’s Hall of Fame. Four of Hector’s children attended rival Sunnyside. My father, Jose Roman Sr., played baseball and ran in cross country for Sunnyside. My mother and I went to Tucson High. The bickering in our house was relentless during rivalry week throughout my upbringing.
Tucson High (3-3) hosts Sunnyside (2-4) for homecoming tomorrow night at Gridley Stadium with a kick off set for 7pm. Both teams have allowed opponents to score about the same amount of points on their respective defenses. The Badgers have had the more potent offense to this point, having twice as many points forced as the Blue Devils on the season.
In rivalry games, both head coaches Justin Argraves of Tucson and Roy Lopez of Sunnyside would agree, records and statistics can be thrown out.
Born a Wildcat fan, lifetime fanhood was solidified when he was able to meet Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Brandon Sanders, Chuck Levy and Ontiwaun Carter as a sixth grader. Having served 10 years in the armed forces and having been deployed all over the world, he’s still managed to make it to every Arizona home football game, bowl game and at least one away game for the last 12 years. Now combining his love of writing with his love of all things sports, Jose is proud and honored to join AllSportsTucson.com as a writer.
FOLLOW JOSE ROMAN JR. ON TWITTER!