They are responsible for creating some of the most memorable moments and achievements in Arizona Wildcats history.
Not the athletes who made headlines. Their mothers. After all, without those moms, there are no Wildcats.
With Mother’s Day upon us, we take a look at some of those moms who were very instrumental in building the character behind the athletes.
Bobbi Olson — She was not a mother of an Arizona athlete but during the Lute Olson glory years, she was the mother of the program. Olson said in a 2001 interview with ESPN The Magazine that he and Bobbi “were always a team — equal partners.” He said this when Bobbi passed away from ovarian cancer. When it was allowed, Bobbi went on recruiting trips with Lute. Later, she had the final say on recruits after they visited the Arizona campus. If she judged good character, she gave Lute a thumb’s up. Former players lauded her for being a second mom and for making those legendary apple pancakes. Her warm personality touched everyone associated with the program from the fans to Lute, of whom she provided balance. “The best thing she does is soften up the mean, old man,” Lute once told the Tucson Citizen.
Odiemae Elliott — You can tell where her son Sean Elliott — the best player to wear an Arizona uniform — got his classy ways. When interviewed on TV during Sean’s career at Arizona, the late Odiemae Elliott always appeared firm in her ways, yet also loving and caring — the ideal mother. In a 1999 column, after Sean’s brother Noel donated a kidney to essentially save the Arizona basketball legend’s life, former Tucson Citizen sports columnist Corky Simpson hit it on the head: “Sean has been a champion all along. He came by his fortitude and integrity honestly; Odiemae Elliott, his devoted mother, brought this guy up right.”
Judith Blair — The mother of former Arizona hoops player Joseph Blair also made an incredible sacrifice — donating a kidney to save the life of Dr. Michael Burgoon, an Arizona professor, in 2001. Moreover, Judith had only a casual acquaintance with Burgoon, a communications professor who served as an academic counselor to recruits. She learned about his deteriorating health after battling the kidney and lupus disease for 21 years while talking to Burgoon’s wife at halftime of a basketball game. Judith offered a kidney on the spot. “God had once restored something to me, and I thought it was only right to restore something to Michael,” Judith told Simpson in a 2002 column. She was in the midst of stellar performances in the Senior Olympics in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter runs. She continued to compete after the transplant. Her giving ways has made an impact on Joseph’s life. He is very active with charity events in the Tucson community as the executive director of the Blair Charity Group.
A picture Kevin Parrom posted on Instagram with his late mom Lisa Williams:
— Former Arizona basketball player Kevin Parrom lost his mother Lisa Williams in October 2011. She passed after a two-year bout with cancer. He tweeted a couple of years ago: “Never gonna go a day without you. Fills me up just thinking about you. I’ll never go a day without my mama.” Williams was instrumental in keeping Parrom on the right path growing up in the Bronx. “I know some people will not understand this, but I feel so lucky,’’ Parrom told the New York Post a month after his mom passed away at age 52. “My mom and dad sheltered me from so many of the bad moments in life. Not many kids from my neighborhood get the chances I’ve gotten. They never get out. I’m somewhat of a miracle.’’
Virginia Bibby — While covering the Arizona basketball team during Mike Bibby’s two seasons in the program (1996-98), the presence of his mother Virginia was unmistakable. She drove to Tucson often from the Bibby home in Phoenix. She raised her son and three other children by herself. The impact on Mike’s life was obvious. Her strong will made her son psychologically strong enough to handle any challenge. “It really is amazing all the things she has done for us,” Mike told me during his freshman season in 1996-97, the year the Cats won the national title. “It’s unrealistic, really, to see my mother do so much so right And that’s one of the reasons I love her so much. She has always been there.” One fond memory of that season was the excitement of Bibby’s teammates knowing that when Virginia visited her son, she brought along a homemade meal.
Meekness LeCato — Richard Jefferson’s mother is a non-denominational Christian missionary who has taken her son and family to Africa for missionary work. She was a single mother with three young children living on welfare in Los Angeles. A 2004 New York Times article stated that her fortunes changed when she was taught in church to believe in Proverbs 18:21, the biblical verse that begins, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” She got off welfare after moving in 1986 to Phoenix with her kids. “I got a job right away in Phoenix, and every day I went to work confessing what I wanted,” she told the Times. “I was just using what God had said: ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ I try to be very, very selective with my words because they’re not idle words. Words are full of life and power.” LeCato also had that memorable comment after Jefferson chose Arizona over in-state rival ASU, saying that she did not like the fact “Devils” was part of ASU’s nickname.
— Deborah York, mother of former Arizona guard Gabe York, was vital in her son’s development on and off the court. She balanced three or four jobs at any given time to make ends meet for her two sons, Gabe and Eli. “I didn’t grow up with a father, and my mom is such a loving person,” Gabe told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2014. “She has played such a big role in my life, I didn’t want her watching my games from anywhere else. She has come to every single one of my games since I was 4.” She followed him from Orange County, Calif., to Arizona after he graduated from high school at his insistence. Deborah worked 7 a.m. until midnight sometimes, so he and his brother lived with his grandparents during their adolescent years. She worked at Claim Jumper in Tucson when he played at Arizona.
— Linda Bates, mother of former Amphi standouts Marion, Michael and Mario, was instrumental in parenting one of the most legendary athletic families in Tucson. Michael played at Arizona and Mario with ASU. In a 1992 Arizona Daily Star feature written by Anthony Gimino, now of AllSportsTucson.com, detailed the impact Linda had on her sons. “She did everything for us,” Marion told Gimino. “Even when she was at work, she’d call to see if everything was OK. She was like a mother and father to us. She’s always told us to stay out of trouble, keep a clean house.”
— Abbie Britton, the mother of former Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton, is a Columbia grad and journalist. She owns Britton Ink., a full service creative and business development agency which specializes in fashion, beauty and fitness. After living in New York and Jacksonville, she is now based in Southern California. Her mother is Academy Award-winning actress Estelle Parsons. She is a fitness expert who turned Eben on to yoga as part of his training regimen when he played football.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.