Arizona’s basketball arena destined from start to be named McKale Memorial Center

EDITOR NOTE: AllSportsTucson will run a series of posts leading up to the 50th anniversary of the first game ever played at McKale Center on Feb. 1, 1973. To catch up with other material posted please click here.

J.F. “Pop” McKale’s passing in 1967 happened when planning for Arizona’s new athletics center started to develop

Two months after the passing of James Fred (J.F.) “Pop” McKale in 1967, Arizona’s Alumni Association forwarded a proposal to school president Richard A. Harvill to name the new athletics arena after the legendary former coach and athletic director.

How could Harvill deny that?

Some in the alumni association and others in the community wanted McKale’s name on the football stadium, which was built in 1929 when McKale was coaching football and baseball and serving as athletic director.

That never materialized although McKale coached football (17 years) at Arizona longer than basketball (eight years). He coached the baseball program the longest — 33 years.

The baseball stadium was constructed the same year McKale passed away but a push did not formulate to name it McKale Field. It was first called simply Wildcat Field. Then it was Sancet Field, followed by Kindall Field at Sancet Stadium before it was replaced by football practice facilities starting in 2012 when the baseball program moved its home games to Hi Corbett Field.

The football stadium never became McKale Stadium.

A 24-year-old James Fred “Pop” McKale (Arizona Collections)

McKale’s name is memorialized on the basketball arena that did not open until almost five years after his death.

Although McKale coached basketball the least amount at Arizona, he did serve as the school’s athletic director for 44 years (1914 to 1957).

Can you imagine if the football field became McKale Stadium in previous years? What would Arizona’s basketball arena have become — Lute Olson Center after a generic name like the Arizona Center was used?

The court in McKale Center was named Lute & Bobbi Olson Court in the 2001-02 season after the legendary coach and his wife, who were responsible for bringing a feel-good longstanding high level of basketball to Tucson. Bobbi passed away from ovarian cancer the previous season when Arizona went all the way to the national championship game against Duke.

The Arizona Alumni Association’s board of directors requested that Harvill recommend to the Arizona Board of Regents that the proposed arena “be named in appropriate fashion after James Fred McKale so as to perpetuate his memory in the minds and hearts of past, present and future students and alumni of his adopted alma mater.”

Harvill’s response as noted by The Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen on Aug. 8, 1967:

“I shall recommend to the Arizona Board of Regents that the recommendations of the Alumni Association Board be approved. My recommendations will request approvals of the regents for the naming of the new facility for the department of physical education and a number of intercollegiate sports including basketball.

“We hope to develop a large room that will make available to generations of students and other friends of the university, the large collection of materials gathered by Dr. McKale during his 53 years of service to the institution.

“It is my suggestion that this facility be named the J.F. McKale Memorial Center.”


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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