Old Pueblo Abuelo: Celebrate our athletes by seeing them, recognizing them and by rewarding them

(Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

This is the 27th installment of “Old Pueblo Abuelo,” a thought on positive things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes cranky and often times humorous grandfather actually born in Tucson and writing from my desk in Tucson, the Old Pueblo.

One can sit somewhere in front of a laptop, probably not even in The Old Pueblo, and write about the demise of local inner city high school sports or one can step up and try to strengthen and celebrate what we once had, what we have now, and what we will have, because what we have now is ours and our children will remember what we didn’t do when we could have.

True, the state championships earned on our high school playing fields and gyms have been slowly migrating further and further to the suburbs and to private schools for about a decade or so. Palo Verde won the 2005 Division II state championship in football and Santa Rita earned runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2009. 13 years.

But, in those 13 years, somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 athletes from Tucson, Cholla, Desert View, Flowing Wells, Rincon/University, Sunnyside, Pueblo, Sahuaro, Amphitheater, Palo Verde, Catalina and Santa Rita have taken to the football field. There are thousands upon thousands more from other schools and even thousands more from (the horror) other sports. Girls even. If we measure success by state championships then the notion high school athletics is a complete failure. Why even play?

Salpointe? The Lancers played for a state title last year and in 2018 and in 2017 after the team won it all in 2013. Prior to that? The team played for a state title only twice in 1981 and in 1991. Seems like a lot of “failure” prior to 2013.

The truth is, one day or one night out of a season does not define what a young woman or man learns in practice and in games. The friendships alone last a lifetime.

This does not excuse those in administration who fail to invest in proper facilities and in the proper vetting of coaches but those issues have been a problem for decades. It’s one thing to yell at a wall and it’s quite another to paint it.

You help the situation by actually watching the athletes play, not only for a few days in December, March and May, but also in August, February and April. One “interesting” guy on Twitter suggested I should only (and I mean ONLY) watch Salpointe and Canyon del Oro in baseball while others think we watch the top teams too much. It’s a minefield that can only be negotiated by going out almost every day and not just for football.

More “Old Pueblo Abuelo” can be found here.

Cross Country, Soccer, Golf, Swim and Dive, Volleyball, Beach Volleyball, Wrestling, Tennis, Track and Field, Softball and Baseball. I see about 800 teams in the state every year. Boys and girls. Big schools and small schools. It’s such a “tragedy” that only a handful of them will win a state championship.

You help the situation by recognizing the athletes the best way you can, like All-Star teams. This is probably the most difficult thing to do. Very few are happy because very few actually get recognized. Even Track and Field, Cross County and Swim and Dive coaches and parents get upset come All-Star time and those sports are defined by times and distances. It’s almost like they want science to be left out of the decision making but I can’t make one athlete faster than another. I can recognize them, however. I can recognize them by being there, by seeing them and by listing their names.

Most All-Star teams do involve judgement, the kind that comes from actually watching as much as you can. Mistakes are to be expected but we ignore suggestions from parents that involve negative comments about other players and teammates. Lifting up your child by placing them on the backs of other kids is a quick way to get left off a list. We frequently add to a list if a good argument can be made and, when I write “argument,” I mean in a professional and civil manner.

I find All-Star lists to be very valuable, especially for a community, even with all the emotional baggage that comes with making them. One of the first examples came in 1912 (Dec. 12. Tucson Citizen) when Pop McKale of Tucson High and H.C. Henrie of Bisbee got together and made up what is believed to be one of the first All-State football teams:

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)
Droun, Tucson: G
Harrison, Phoenix: G
Milo Medigovich, Bisbee: C

(Tucson Citizen: Dec. 12, 1912)

I had to do some research to get some of the first names because the press didn’t feel first names were important back then but you get the point. The first list only had 11 names on it. As along as I can hold on, our lists will continue and they are the longest currently running lists (2009) for all of Southern Arizona. I’m thinking 20 more years.

But, beyond all that, these are our kids and my family set up a scholarship to go along with the Southern Arizona Student-Athlete of the Year. Our $1,000 scholarship is a small step but it grows every year. We are trying to make a difference in The Old Pueblo rather than spending time yelling at a wall from a laptop located in another state.

The scholarship, given in my dad’s honor, is available to high school athletes graduating from an AIA member institution:


Of all my dad’s sayings on the subject of community involvement, the one that stands out here is, “It’s better to do good than to do well.” In 20 years, I want people to remember that we did everything we could have.


Named one of “Arizona’s Heart & Sol” by KOLD and Casino del Sol, Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and a 2019 AZ Education News recognition. He was 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 and his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is a 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, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. He earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater and he was recognized by City Councilman Richard Fimbres. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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