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High School History: Pop McKale Made Tucson High a Power

James Fred McKale at Lansing, Michigan (1905)

James Fred Pop” McKale (June 12, 1887 – June 1, 1967) was a high school standout in Lansing, Michigan, a catcher and tight end for Albion College and the “Father of High School Athletics” in Tucson. After graduating from college in 1910 and teaching in Wisconsin, McKale took a teaching job in Tucson in 1911, coached the Badgers to state titles and was hired away by the University of Arizona in 1914 and the rest is history:

(Tucson Citizen 1911)

Harold Steele was also a graduate of Albion and he offered McKale a job in 1911 teaching history, physiography and coaching athletics.

(Lansing State Journal: 1911)

Tucson beat Bisbee 24-6 on Nov. 26, 1911 to go 5-0 and claim the territorial championship. Bisbee requested a rematch three weeks later and beat Tucson 17-6 and then Bisbee claimed the state title. It was a dubious claim because the Bisbee media had previously claimed the first game was the state championship. Bisbee finished the year 3-1-1.

McKale wrote to his father after he beat Bisbee to claim his first state title. (Lansing State Journal: Dec. 1, 1911)
Following the letter, his parents came to Tucson for a visit and they stayed at the Hotel Heidel which is now known as the MacArthur Building across from the train depot downtown. (Lansing State Press)

McKale coached Tucson to another title in 1912 and he was part of the first Tucson Citizen/Coaches All-Star Poll that year.

1912 CITIZEN/COACHES STATE HIGH SCHOOL ALL-STAR 11

Harry Turvey, Douglas: FB
Byron Thomas, Bisbee: HB
Thomas Wyche, Tucson: HB
Merritt, Prescott: QB
Frank Champion, Bisbee: END
Petersen, Tucson: END
Hendry, Tucson: T (Captain)
Paul Meyer, Tucson: T (Kicks)
Drown, Tucson: G
Harrison, Phoenix: G
Medigovich, Bisbee: C

James Fred “Pop” McKale was a young man when he coached Tucson High. Here he is in 1911 at age 24. (Arizona Collections)

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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. 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 is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee and was given the Amphi Distinguished Service Award. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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