McKale Center 50th Anniversary: Plans for arena first revealed in April 1967

Tucson Citizen photo of when Arizona played Wyoming on Feb. 1, 1973, when the Wildcats played their first game at McKale Center

EDITOR’S NOTE: AllSportsTucson.com will run a series of stories on the 50th anniversary of McKale Center leading up to Feb. 1, when the first basketball game was played at the historic arena 50 years ago to the date.

A Tucson Citizen story tucked into its April 15, 1967 edition on the bottom left-hand corner of Page 4 of the first section detailed the planning for what has become one of the most iconic places in college basketball.

McKale Memorial Center, which staged its first basketball game between Arizona and Wyoming almost 50 years ago on Feb. 1, 1972, was in the womb when the article was published. The Wildcats, coached by Fred “The Fox” Snowden in his initial season as the first African-American to coach a major college basketball program, defeated the Cowboys 87-69 in front of a capacity crowd of 15,000. Coniel Norman, a member of Snowden’s famed “Kiddie Korps” recruiting class, christened the arena with 37 points.

Only a month remained in the season because of construction delays.

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“Half UA Outlay To Go For McKale Center” the headline of the April 15, 1967 article published by the Tucson Citizen.

The lede: “Half of the legislature’s $4 million capital outlay appropriation to the University of Arizona will be spent to start work on the $4.5 million McKale Memorial Center athletic facilities, sports arena and student activity complex.”

The Board of Regents approved approximately $1.1 million to be set aside for acquisition of land where McKale Center stands today. In conjunction with that, the university sought to extend its campus mall from Cherry to Campbell avenues. The price tag for that project was $300,000.

The regents were likely more agreeable to the spending after reportedly nearly $2.8 million was received by the university in gifts and grants the month before. That brought the fiscal year total of non-state support to about $18.8 million.

Another caveat for the regents to agree to fund the arena was the addition of multipurpose rooms for Arizona’s drama department.

The arena is named after legendary James Fred (J.F.) “Pop” McKale, who became a popular figure at the university from 1914 to 1957 as the football, basketball and athletic director during that time frame.

McKale learned of the arena to be named after him less than two months before he passed away at age 79 on June 2, 1967, from a heart attack at his home that was on land that is now part of the university’s campus – 801 E. 2nd where a parking garage is now situated at Euclid Avenue and 2nd Street.

The arena would become the new home for men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and gymnastics after the Wildcats hosted opponents since the 1926-27 season at Bear Down Gym, of which McKale spearheaded the development of as athletic director at the time.

Women’s athletics were also housed at what was called the “women’s gym,” which is where the Ina Gittings Gym is located, before moving to McKale Center. The women’s basketball program played its first game at McKale Center on Jan. 8, 1977, against UCLA and guard Ann Meyers — a 98-56 loss to the seventh-ranked Bruins.

Here is the Tucson Citizen story published on April 15, 1967:


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.

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