Tucson High School Sports

Legendary Tucson Sports Figure Sue Darling Steps Down as Catalina Foothills Coach Amid COVID-19 Concerns


Former Canyon del Oro High School and Arizona standout Sue Darling, who has coached at all levels since 1983, said she has resigned her head coaching position with the Catalina Foothills High School girls basketball team because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I talked to my kids and I didn’t feel I could provide a safe environment for my kids with the virus going on,” Darling said. “I called my athletic director (Ryan Tkalcevik), and resigned because I felt I had to step down until we got the virus under control.

“I know some coaches are getting their kids back in the gym, and I just think that’s the wrong thing to do right now. I just don’t think it’s safe right now with school starting soon.”

Sue Darling coached at Catalina Foothills since the 2017-18 season (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Darling, 59, was Catalina Foothills’ coach since the 2017-18 season, her 16th stop in her coaching career, which has also included head coaching positions with Salpointe (1984-85), Pima College (1985-86), Amphi (1988-90) and NAU (2012-16).

She also served as the head coach at Air Force (1998-2001) and Denver Mullen High School (2004-05) and was an assistant at Arizona from 2008-12. She had two stints as an assistant at ASU (1990-91 and 1993-96).

“Once there’s a vaccine, I will feel safe to returning to coaching and being with the girls in the gym,” Darling said. “There are so many unknowns about this thing. We’ve never been through this before. Obviously, as a country, we’re not really handling it well.

“We’re being kind of knuckleheads about it, not taking it seriously by not wearing our facemasks when they tell us to wear our masks and stay distanced and all that. I’m not going to coach basketball again until the virus is under control or if there is a vaccine. That will probably be a year. I’m taking this season off. I told them if the position is open again next year, I will certainly apply for it again. I couldn’t in good conscience encourage my kids to play basketball this year because I don’t think it is safe for them.”

Darling, who was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame in 2009, mentioned that she would encourage athletes to remain competitive “by doing the sports that are, in my opinion, some of the safest right now because they need sports in their life. There are plenty of sports out there that they don’t have to play in-your-face defense.”

“I love basketball so much, so for me to encourage a kid to not play, it’s totally out of my wheelhouse, but at this point in our lives, this is the year I would say, ‘Don’t let your kids play basketball,'” Darling added. “I also don’t think they should be playing football. We should get all these kids playing a sport in which they can socially distance themselves because they need something, such as tennis, golf , track or cross country.”

Darling said high school administrations should also consider suspending operations until a vaccine is produced. The student-athletes can use 2020-21 as a gap year, she said, to focus on school and training similar to a transfer student or one who can’t play because of an injury.

“The last thing I want is to have people feel sorry for themselves,” Darling said. “There’s things people can do during this year to stay active, like volunteer, concentrate on school, learn a new language … People are hurting right now. So many people have lost their jobs and are hungry and don’t have money for food.

“We have to take care of each other. This virus is not going to go away without a lot of work. We’re just beginning to figure that out.”

Here is Darling’s coaching background after graduating from CDO in 1978 and earning her bachelors degree in education at Arizona in 1983:

Pima College assistant 1983-84
Salpointe head coach 1984-85
Pima College head coach 1985-86
St. John’s graduate assistant 1986-88 (earned her Master’s degree in business administration in marketing at St. John’s)
Amphi head coach 1988-90
ASU assistant 1990-91
Dartmouth assistant 1991-93
ASU assistant 1993-96
Seattle Reign assistant 1996-97
Air Force head coach 1998-2001
Northwestern assistant 2002-04
Denver Mullen head coach 2004-05
Arizona assistant 2008-12
NAU head coach 2012-16
Catalina Foothills head coach 2017-20


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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.

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