Arizona Softball

TUCSON LEGENDS: Former Sahuaro softball coach Billy Lopez

Tucson legend Billy Lopez with his granddaughter Emma. (Family Photo)

Believe it or not, there was a time when club softball was not the king that it is now. There was neighborhood Bobby Sox.

There was also a time when the suburb known as Oro Valley didn’t produce a dozen state championships between Canyon del Oro (8), Ironwood Ridge (2) and Pusch Ridge (2).

No, state championships were won and lost in the heart of Tucson. They were won by neighborhood schools, filled with neighborhood kids. Santa Rita won the first championship from a Tucson-area school in 1980 and Flowing Wells won four between 1984 and 2002.

Then came Jim Higgins, Billy Lopez and Sahuaro. The Cougars won eight state championships from 1984 to 2001 and Lopez was the skipper for six of those.

Lopez (425-73-1) coached from 1987 to 2005 and his six titles are the most ever in Southern Arizona, passing the five earned by San Manuel legend Sheila Baize.

A graduate of Tucson High, Lopez started coaching various sports at Sahuaro starting in 1969 but the retirement of Higgins in 1987 changed the high school softball landscape in Southern Arizona forever.

Lopez won his six championships between 1988 and 2001. That incredible pace would only later be matched by Canyon del Oro. In many ways, the success of Bobby Sox in the Tucson area and the success of Sahuaro spurred the development of Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and the tremendous growth in talent seen in the greater Tucson area including Oro Valley and Vail.

True, the presence of University of Arizona head coach Mike Candrea in 1985 gave girls and families from Tucson (Heck, all of Arizona) something to dream about but they had to work to make that dream come true.

Lopez answered a few questions from AllSportsTucson.com recently as part of our new series, “Tucson Legends:”

“I have to admit the Sahuaro experience built me as a person for I was surrounded by many great people and great athletes so my main interest was being the best coach and contribute to a great school,” Lopez started.

Q: My parents, Hector and Elsa went to Tucson High while you were there. Did you know them?

A: I did know both of your parents, Hector and Elsa, because my best friend, Armando Cota-Robles, married Cecilia so I mingled with them a few times.

NOTE: Cecilia is my father’s sister and Armando was my Nino or Godfather.

Q: Tell me a bit about playing football and running track for the Badgers. You played for some great ones including John Mallamo.

A: I had the great experience of playing football for Mallamo in his first year at Tucson High in 1957, great motivator and he believed in working his players with loads of conditioning.

We did have a successful season. He gave me the nickname “Bird Legs” for I had very skinny calves, but did play as a receiver on offense and a defensive back on defense.

Q: How did you get started coaching softball?

A: I applied for an opening in JV softball and for some reason the varsity position became available so I became the head coach. I did have vast experience in softball playing for the Greensticks in the summer leagues.

Q: Tell us about some of the great players you coached.

A: I did coach softball for 18 years and we did win a few state championships thanks to some great athletes but all my teams were special and it would not be fair to name a few players for they were all great student-athletes.

I am also very proud to say that I coached freshman football for 25 years and we had very competitive teams. We had very many young boys that became little men with the football experience

Q: What are you up to these days?

A: These days, I spend a lot of time working in my yard for I like to garden and landscape the area. My wife Pam and I spend lot of time with our granddaughter, Emma, which keeps us busy. I do spend a lot of time at Desert Fitness Center trying to remain as active as possible.

Though obviously not a complete list of the over 300 softball athletes coached by Lopez, here are but a few I can recall:

Maren Christensen, Courtnay Foster, T.J. Eadus, Lisa Parks, Jennifer McMahon, Julie Reitan, Greta Carlson, Kassandra Liechty and Valerie Bilodeau.

NOTE: Marana girls basketball coach Mike Dyer deserves a lot of credit for the development of softball in all of Arizona. His lawsuit in 1986 to move basketball to winter from spring helped open up the athletes available to play softball.

SOUTHERN ARIZONA STATE SOFTBALL CHAMPIONS

San Manuel (9)
1977: 4A (Sheila Baize)
1979: 4A (Sheila Baize)
1980: 4A (Sheila Baize)
1981: 3A (Sheila Baize)
1982: 3A (Sheila Baize)
1990: 3A (Jeff Rupright)
1994: 3A (Jeff Rupright)
2013: D4 (Deanne Brewer)
2014: D4 (Deanne Brewer)

Sahuaro (8)
1984: 5A (Jim Higgins)
1985: 5A (Jim Higgins)
1988: 5A (Billy Lopez)
1989: 4A/5A (Billy Lopez)
1991: 5A (Billy Lopez)
1992: 4A (Billy Lopez)
1993: 4A (Billy Lopez)
2001: 4A (Billy Lopez)

Canyon del Oro (8)
1991: 5A (Kathy McQuown)
2001: 5A (Dee Dinota)
2005: 5A (Kelly Fowler)
2007: 4A-I (Amy Swiderski)
2008: 4A-I (Amy Swiderski)
2009: 4A-I (Amy Swiderski)
2011: 4A-I (Kelly Fowler)
2012: D-II (Stephanie Nicholson)

Santa Cruz (5)
1979: 3A (Rosie Starks)
1980: 3A (Rosie Starks)
2000: 3A (Ernie Montijo)
2006: 3A (Andrea Reyes)
2008: 3A (Andrea Reyes)

Flowing Wells (4)
1984: 4A (Debbie Cutrer)
1999: 5A (Armando Quiroz)
2000: 5A (Armando Quiroz)
2002: 5A (Armando Quiroz)

Benson (3)
2006: 2A (Shad Housley)
2008: 2A (Shad Housley)
2011: 2A (Manny Ellsworth)

Cienega (2)
2010: 4A-I (Eric Tatham)
2015: D-II (Eric Tatham)

Desert Christian (2)
1998: 1A (Bill Moten)
1999: 1A (Gerald Dawson)

Ironwood Ridge (2)
2014: D-II (Rich Alday)
2016: D-II (Rich Alday)

Palo Verde Christian/Pusch Ridge (2)
1997: 1A (Tom Armour)
2012: D-IV (Bob Vance)

Pueblo (2)
1990: 4A (Lisa Pina)
2016: D-IV (Curtis Ruiz)

Sabino (2)
1991: 4A (Bill Belt)
2005: 4A (Galen Paton)

Sahuarita (2)
1999: 3A (Chris Fanning)
2011: 4A-II (Chris Fanning)

Salpointe (2)
1993: 5A (Stacy Hill Iveson)
1996: 5A (Phil Gruensfelder)

Bowie/San Simon (1)
1990: 1A (Mike Peterson)

Catalina Foothills (1)
2016: D-III (Mark Stevens)

Desert View (1)
2000: 4A (Bert Otero)

Empire (1)
2015: D-III (Shannon Woolridge)

Rincon/University (1)
2002: 4A (Russ Proctor)

Santa Rita (1)
1980: 5A (Jan Dunlap)

Sunnyside (1)
2007: 5A-II (Pete Palomarez)

Willcox (1)
2010: 1A (Mike Patterson)

BOYS BASKETBALL ALL-STARS

GIRLS BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
ALL-SOUTHERN ARIZONA GIRLS SOCCER
ALL-SOUTHERN ARIZONA BOYS SOCCER
SOCCER COACHES OF THE YEAR
BASKETBALL COACHES OF THE YEAR
6A BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
5A BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
4A BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
3A BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
2A BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
1A BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
6A SOCCER ALL-STARS
5A BOYS SOCCER
FRESHMAN BASKETBALL ALL-STARS
5A GIRLS SOCCER
4A SOCCER ALL-STARS
3A SOCCER ALL-STARS
WRESTLING ALL-STARS
SOUTHERN ARIZONA FALL ALL-STARS

FOLLOW @ANDYMORALES8 ON TWITTER!

Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Contact Andy Morales at AMoralesMyTucson@yahoo.com

 

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