Old Pueblo Abuelo: Celebrate Our Athletes by Seeing, Recognizing and Rewarding Them

(Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

This is the 27th episode of “Old Pueblo Abuelo”, a reflection on the good things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes grumpy and often humorous Tucson-born grandfather. and write from my office in Tucson, the Old Pueblo.

We can sit in front of a laptop somewhere, probably not even in The Old Pueblo, and write about the disappearance of local sports from downtown high schools or we can step in and try to reinforce 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 did not do when we could have.

It’s true that state championships won on our high school playgrounds and gymnasiums have been slowly migrating more and more to suburban and private schools for about a decade. Palo Verde won the Division II state soccer championship in 2005, and Santa Rita earned runners-up in 2008 and 2009. 13 years old.

But, in those 13 years, 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 traveled to the football field. There are thousands and thousands more from other schools and even thousands more from other (horror) sports. The girls even. If we measure success by state championships, the notion of high school athletics is a complete failure. Why even play?

Saltpoint? The Lancers played for a state title last year and in 2018 and 2017 after the team won it all in 2013. Before that? The team only played for a state title twice in 1981 and 1991. That sounds like a lot of “failures” before 2013.

The truth is that one day or one night in a season does not define what a young woman or young man learns in training and in games. Friendships alone last a lifetime.

That doesn’t excuse those in the administration who don’t invest in proper facilities and proper vetting of coaches, but these issues have been a problem for decades. It’s one thing to shout at a wall and 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. An “interesting” guy on Twitter suggested that 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 traded by going out almost every day and not just for football.

More “Old Pueblo Abuelo” can be found here.

Cross country, football, golf, swimming and diving, volleyball, beach volleyball, wrestling, tennis, track and field, softball and baseball. I see about 800 teams in the state each 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 athletes in the best possible way, like All-Star teams. This is probably the hardest thing to do. Very few are happy because very few are actually recognized. Even track and field, cross-county, and swimming and diving coaches and parents get excited about star time and these sports are defined by times and distances. It’s almost like they want science out of the decision making, but I can’t make one athlete faster than another. But I can recognize them. I can recognize them by being there, seeing them and listing their names.

Most All-Star teams involve judgment, the one of watching as much as you can. Mistakes are to be expected, but we ignore suggestions from parents that involve negative feedback about other players and teammates. Lifting your child on the backs of other children is a quick way to get off a list. We frequently add to a list if a good argument can be made, and when I say “argument” I mean professionally and civilly.

I find All-Star lists to be very valuable, especially to a community, even with all the emotional baggage that comes with creating them. One of the earliest examples came in 1912 (Dec. 12. Tucson Citizen) when Popular McKale from Tucson High and HC Henrie of Bisbee came together and formed 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)
Drun, Tucson: G
Harrison, Phoenix: G
Milo Medigovich, Bisbee: C

(Citizen of Tucson: December 12, 1912)

I had to do some research to get some of the first names because the press didn’t think first names were important at the time, but you get the idea. The first list had only 11 names. As long as I can hold on, our lists will continue and these are the longest lists currently running (2009) for all of Southern Arizona. I think another 20 years.

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

The scholarship, awarded in honor of my father, is available to high school athletes graduating from an AIA member institution:


Of all my father’s sayings about 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 Top High School Reporter in 2014, he received the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and AZ Education Recognition News in 2019. He coached youth, high school and college for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girl 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 Arizona’s top football player, and he was named 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 received a Distinguished Service Award from the Amphitheater and he was recognized by Councilman Richard Fimbres. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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