Bruce Larson was much more than a former coach

Coach Larson with me and Michael Castaneda at the Roland LaVetter Gym Dedication two years ago. (AllSportsTucson)

He came into my life twice. He was the coach at Bear Down Gym when I was a kid and he was my professor at McKale Center when I was still a kid but on my own. Bruce Larson was ageless.

I got a text from my younger brother Javier informing me of Larson’s death on Wednesday while I was working on another story. 94 years young.

Sure, Coach led Arizona from 1961 to 1972 and, yes he was a former baseball and basketball player, but he was much more than that to the dozens, if not hundreds of students who were studying in the Exercise and Sports Sciences Department at Arizona in the early 1980s. We were all hoping to follow in his footsteps somehow. Many of us wanted to coach, some of us wanted to teach but most of us wanted a career where we could make a difference like Coach did.

It was the Golden Era at the Gittings Building on campus. Mike Candrea was one of our professors. Donna Mae Miller was like our grandmother. Former UA volleyball coach Kathryn Russell kept us all in line. Dr. Delforge taught us how to tape ankles. Boyd Baker taught us how to officiate. Judy Sorenson was our mother and Coach Larson kicked our butts.

Larson taught us the theory of coaching basketball and handball/racquetball. He shot his free throws underhanded and we could earn a free grade if we could out-shoot him. No one ever did. In handball/racquetball, Coach would spot us 20 points and he would still win. McKale Center used to have racquetball courts on the outside facing where the pool is now and I always felt they built that part of McKale just for him as a gift.

Some say he never got to coach in McKale but they would be wrong. It’s a lie. Not only did he coach in the arena, he taught future coaches and teachers. Some of my more well-known college mates at the time included Brian Peabody, Becki Peduchi Major, Tony Gabusi, Jim Mentz, Jerry Carrillo, Mark Brunenkant and Michael Castaneda. Kelly Fowler was also in a few of our classes. (I know I’m missing a lot of names). Donna Mae Miller told us in a class that she would read about all of us in the newspaper someday. She passed away 11 years ago but she was right. She knew.

But countless others never saw their names in print but their service to society was and is just as important because they sent us out to the world to coach and teach and make a difference and we did. I met my wife, Jane, in one of Dr. Russell’s classes. It was, to me, a special time.

Those days are long gone. The University of Arizona ended the teaching program a while back and those days are in the past and, in time, they will be forgotten.

Coach Larson was as much a part of my childhood as Fred Snowden, Bob Elliott, “T” Bell, Bruce Hill and Ron Hassey. He was also an important figure in shaping my life as a young man. As a young father, I could hear Coach commentate on Arizona football and basketball games. As an even older man, I was honored to watch and write about his grandchildren playing sports at Tanque Verde and Sahuaro.

Coach Larson was truly one of the good guys. We are so caught up in one-and-done story lines, no recent Final Fours, negative media and head coach relationships and worrying about the things we cannot change. The world decided to take Coach away on the same day Arizona announced a new basketball coach. I just can’t right now.

Tomorrow morning. I’m going to enter the gym where I have been teaching for the better part of 22 years of my 32 years of coaching and teaching. I will try to make 20 free throws in a row and I will shoot a few underhanded. Then, I will teach my classes.

I know I won’t make them all. I know I won’t reach them all. But he did.


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 is a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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