Ernie McCray Columns

Ernie McCray: Reliving My High School Days

Ernie McCray: "
Ernie McCray

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. The university reportedly will honor McCray by adding him to its Ring of Honor. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a column for now-defunct and has agreed to continue to offer his opinion and insight with McCray also writes columns for

After writing a piece about how an old photo briefly took my mind off today’s troubles in the world I’ve found another that does the same. Very nicely.

This one was taken in 1996, catching me smiling and clowning at the 40th Reunion of the Class of ’56 of Tucson High – in a room full of 58-year-olds feverishly reminiscing about days gone by and about how fast those years have seemed to pass by.

The conversations were all over the place. There was, of course, the obligatory topic that every generation brings up about “The kids of today” and how we were better than them in our time.

Ernie McCray at his Tucson High School 40-Year Reunion in 1996 (McCray photo)

The big questions of the night were “Who you like, Clinton or Dole?” and “What about that Michael Jordan and the Bulls, huh?”

I must have heard “So the Yankees are in the World Series again, what else is new?” a few times.

The terrorist bombing at the Atlanta Olympics had, no pun intended, blown our minds.

The Macarena played over and over in the background, making this “old man,” in the words of the Commodores, “wish for younger days” although I was up cutting a rug like in my high school days, joining the international dance craze.

Being around those old “Badgers,” including our school days, has always put a big smile on my face. When it comes to Tucson High, I love that place. I honed basketball skills there that paid for my education at the U of A. My philosophy that when you treat people with respect the same will come your way was validated there. So many lifelong friendships of mine were begun and nurtured there.

And the school has loved me back in special ways, having etched my name on the Bud Doolen Award for my feats on the court and having hung my picture up in its Athletic Hall of Fame and another in its Hall of Fame of former students and staff graduates, putting me in the company of people like Colonel Frank Borman who travelled to the moon and Dr. Robert D. Morrow who engineered the desegregation of Tucson City Schools.

But the biggest honor, perhaps of my life, was delivering the baccalaureate address to the now Tucson High Magnet School Class of 2000.

Ernie McCray as a senior at Tucson High in 1956

I can’t remember a lot of what I said as far as the usual “Reach for the Stars and You Might Reach the Moon” and “Finding your Path” kind of stuff that goes with such speeches but I paid homage to my contemporaries and our time at the school by beginning my talk with a little ditty called “I’m a Badger to the Bone, I Got the Beat.”

In it I mentioned how I
remember harmonizing in the shade of a tree
hoping the sun ain’t out when it’s time for P.E.
memorizing all those stupid dates in history
dissecting frogs in biology
making Sharon Griffith laugh in period three
talking trash with Mr. Goldstein in photography
trying to impress the girls with my philosophy
and they’d say, “Hey, you must be kiddin’” with sincerity
And did I have a crush on Miss Strack … Whoo Whee
She made my heart thump uncontrollably
every single time she passed by me
or walked up to me
or said hello to me
or called on me
or corrected me
or looked anywhere near me
or made shade on me
or swatted a fly on me
or said “Boo” to me
or brushed against my knee
I was hers for the taking – for free
Oh, I thought I would surely die
Talking Tucson High

I’m a Badger to the bone
I got the beat…
Always in the middle of everything
Couldn’t wait for Chorus cuz I love to sing
When I was hangin’ out with all my friends
It seemed like those days would never end
We knew all the dance steps – Better not say we wasn’t hip
But when it all boils down we were just junior flips
Just going through life’s little turns and dips
But you’re hearing this from my ample lips
I’m a Badger to the bone
I got the beat…

I’m Bucky Badger to the nth degree
Got THS in my an/cest/a/ry
Proudly wore that Big Red “T”
Loved to get the ball at the top of the key
and bounce a pass to Ira as he cut by me
Another two points
Another victory
We played hoops with all our might
Tucson Badgers: Fight! Fight! Fight!

I’m a Badger to the bone
I got the beat…
I’m a Badger to the bone
I got the beat

Ahh, I’ll always remember how the kids carried on, moving to the beat which spurred me on, making the evening a ton of fun.

Such memories are just what I needed to distract myself from the goings-on in a world that’s struggling to keep from being undone.

Anything to counter the feeling that I’m on a never-ending ski-run.

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