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Dale Lopez‘s photo in the Tucson High School Hall of Fame is on the wall adjacent to our father’s picture. To my family, it is appropriate they are that close for how much Dale has impacted many people in this city, much like our father.
When people who know Dale come across him, the first inclination is to smile.
“I enjoy being around the kids and like helping them any way I can,” Dale told me today.
Everybody likes Dale, who turns 62 on April 20. There’s no possible way anybody could dislike him, except for perhaps unknowing, ornery fans sitting in the stands at the high school basketball and softball games in which Lopez officiates.
If only those fans who might complain about a call by Dale would be around him long enough to hear his signature laugh and see how his boyish personality is refreshing in a society that is not as becoming as when he was a student in the early 1970’s at Roskruge K-8 school, where his mom was the cafeteria and playground monitor and his dad a custodian.
Working as a referee and umpire at the high school level is just a fraction of what Dale has done in Tucson.
He has been involved with teaching and coaching at Roskruge, a bilingual magnet school, ever since he graduated from eighth grade there in 1972. He has been a director of Roskruge’s after-school activities program for the last 46 years, starting when he was a student at Tucson High School. He continued those duties at Roskruge when he was attending the University of Arizona and during his stint as the sports director at KTUC (1400-AM),
He began his teaching career at Roskruge at the first grade level 30 years ago in 1989-90.
A call to his office phone at Roskruge includes his message that he is the school’s test coordinator, after-school programs administrator, boys basketball coach, yearbook advisor and assistant to the athletic director. You get the sense he had to regain his breath while rattling off those titles.
“I’ve developed a formula over the years of we do this at this time and that at that time,” Dale said of being able to manage it all. “I also do a little more delegating now. My son J.J. helps me a lot. He’s all over the place. I also have a parent (Joe Benitez) who helps me. He is a former student and former player of mine.”
Nobody in Tucson has been affected more than Dale by the school closures and sports cancellations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He dejectedly told me that the city middle school track meet he runs was canceled as was the 38th annual Roskruge softball tournament. A school-wide sports competition that has taken place the last 45 years under his leadership was also canceled.
“Another big event at the school in which we announce all the champions throughout the year is not going to happen,” Dale said with pause.
Dale is also a longtime public-address announcer at high school football games, including at Amphi and his alma mater, Tucson. He was slated to do some of the PA work during the World Baseball Classic at Kino Sports Complex that was postponed.
He was the PA guy at minor-league baseball games involving the Tucson Toros and Tucson Sidewinders from 1984 to 2008. He has also worked in that capacity at Arizona baseball and women’s basketball games and Pima College athletics.
He continues to be involved with all Arizona women’s basketball games and some men’s games as the scoreboard operator.
“That’s a great challenge because you have to be precise especially with all the people there looking at the scoreboard,” Dale said.
He has organized and operated the Roskruge Cougar Classic, involving elementary and middle school boys and girls basketball teams throughout the city, for almost the last 40 years. He is a board member of the Coaches for Charity organization that annually operates the high school football Kickoff Classic and the boys and girls basketball MLK Classic at McKale Center.
For all of his tireless work, involving the enhancement of young student-athletes in our community, Dale has justifiably been inducted into the Tucson High School Hall of Fame and the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I want to make sure there is a place for kids to play because these days there are very few places for them to play for free,” Dale said.
The competition he organizes at Roskruge includes students of all ages, including a cross country event for kindergartners going on 38 years now.
With his life now at a standstill because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dale has a lot more personal time on his hands than he is accustomed to having.
“I found out I have a TV,” Dale quipped. “We’ve been watching movies to pass our time. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to watch TV until about 9 or 10 at night.”
Although he is now into his 60’s, Dale does not envision himself slowing down any time soon after things go back to normal — “I haven’t even thought about retiring or anything like that, to be honest,” he said — but he has pondered what life will be like when sports can take place again.
“It’s hard to see that people will be hugging each other, jumping around together, giving high-fives and things like that,” Dale said. “It’s hard to see that happening immediately, probably not until people are comfortable with that some time in the future.”
The third generation of the Lopez family is attending Roskruge.
Dale’s granddaughter Italia is an eighth grader who is an aspiring artist. A drawing of hers will be on the yearbook cover this year along with the creativity of other students. His grandson Noah is in kindergarten there.
“He’s already asked me if he can be part of the after-school program when he gets to the fourth grade. We’re looking forward to that. It should be a lot of fun,” Dale said with his familiar laugh.
It’s reassuring to hear that laugh in times like this. Watching Dale do his myriad of tasks again at Roskruge — and elsewhere — will be much better.
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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.