Saturnino “Curly” Santa Cruz is not only a legendary coach but he is an icon of Tucson’s southside community for how he coached and mentored the youth in that area to become highly successful on the field and in life in general.
Santa Cruz is the subject of our second in a series of interviews of local coaching legends — Southern Arizona Coaching Memories as part of the All Sports Tucson Talk podcast — with Mountain View coach Matt Johnson as a co-host.
It was Johnson’s idea to produce Southern Arizona Coaching Memories series to get input from the legendary figures about what helped make them successful and how they used their background to positively impact the youth in our community.
Longtime Amphi defensive coordinator Ed Roman, who coached nearly four decades with the late Vern Friedli, was our first interview of the podcast.
A 1962 Pueblo High School graduate, Santa Cruz played college football at California Western University at San Diego before having to end his career because of a serious knee injury. He returned home and became the first person in his family to earn a college degree — achieving a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1968 and Master’s Degree in Secondary Education in 1975 from Arizona.
He became an educator in the Tucson Unified School District for 40 years, including 39 years at Pueblo. The other year was at Tucson High as a student teacher while at Arizona. Because of a paperwork error by the university, Santa Cruz was reassigned to Pueblo, a historic move because his coaching career path may have been instead at Tucson High under Ollie Mayfield.
As a football player with the Warriors under coach Lou Farber he became an all-city running back. He was a member of Pueblo’s 1961 state championship football team. He was also a standout track runner.
Pueblo named its football stadium after him in 2019, an honor earned after coaching divisional and state championship teams in football and track. He coached Pueblo’s only unbeaten football team in the regular season in 1988.
Santa Cruz later became the offensive coordinator at Sunnyside 2000 as part of Richard Sanchez’s staff that led the school to two state championship games, winning one.
He was the 2015 recipient of the National LULAC Presidential Citation Educational Leadership Award, which is their highest national award. He was recognized for his years of outstanding contribution, service, and leadership within the educational community.
In 1990, Santa Cruz was the recipient of the Tucson Conquistadores “Outstanding Achievement Award” and the NOSOTROS “Community Service Award.” On a personal note, our late father Hector Morales, of whom Santa Cruz knows, was instrumental in the creation of NOSOTROS (an agency that helped disadvantaged Spanish-speaking people know what services are available to them and acted as an advocate on their behalf).
The Nosotros Academy on Grande Avenue was derived from that, and today it offers small class sizes, one-on-one tutoring, and a wide range of educational and extracurricular activities for children.
The interview with Santa Cruz and the previous ones with Roman and Johnson can be accessed here:
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District