Bear Down: 100 years of Arizona athletics

By Craig Degel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 15, 1996

Many people will tell you that the University of Arizona etched its place on the college athletics map when the baseball team brought home the College World Series title in 1976.

But a rich tradition of athletics existed long before Jerry Kindall's Wildcats returned from Omaha, Neb., with the championship hardware and it is one that continues today.

As the UA celebrates its 100th year of athletic competition, the Arizona Daily Wildcat takes a look back at some of the names and teams that have made the UA a big star in the college sports universe.

Hoops, hoops and more hoops

It seems fitting that a story about UA sports would begin with basketball. It is recorded that in 1897, two teams got together and played Dr. James Naismith's invention to an exciting 3-1 finish. Six years later, the UA built it's first gymnasium - Herrin g Hall. The tiny building still stands today to the east of Yavapai Hall.

'Bear Down Red and Blue'

Many of Arizona's traditions come courtesy of the football team. The first Arizona football team took the field in 1899 under the nickname "Varsity."

Up to that point, the UA's official colors were sage green and silver. That year, however, team manager Quintus J. Anderson found a deal he couldn't pass up. A local merchant gave him a good offer on solid blue jerseys with red trim. Anderson quickly requ ested that those colors be adopted by the school.

'They fought like wildcats'

In 1914 Bill Henry of the Los Angeles Times was covering a game between the UA Varsity and Occidental in California. The UA lost, but Henry's story reported that "the Arizona men showed the fight of wildcats."

The student body quickly adopted the nickname and the UA "Varsity" has been the Wildcats ever since.

'A' Mountain

The 160-foot high mortar block "A" which adorns Sentinel Peak, was erected by UA students between November 1915 and March 1916 to commemorate the Wildcats' 7-3 upset of Pomona College. Each fall, freshman students trek up the mountain and whitewash the "A ."

The mother of women's athletics

Ina Gittings was a standout athlete at the UA in the early 1920s. She later became the first director of women's athletics. Today, a building on campus and a street in Tucson are named in her honor.

Enke's empire

Despite all his success, men's basketball coach Lute Olson is still chasing one man in the all-time victories column for Arizona coaches - Fred Enke. Over his 36-year reign from 1925 to 1961, Enke amassed 497 wins. Olson has 316. Enke's teams finished fir st in the Border Conference 12 times including a string of six straight from 1945-50.

Frank Sancet

After taking over the reigns of the Arizona baseball program, Sancet turned out one of the most consistently winning teams in Arizona history. He amassed 830 wins and took his teams to the College World Series nine times. Each time, however, the Wildcats returned home empty handed. Today, UA baseball plays at Sancet Field.

The first great UA football team

All-American quarterback Eddie Wilson led the Wildcats to an 8-1-1 record and a ranking of 17th in the national polls in 1961. The lone blemishes on the record were a loss to West Texas State and a 14-14 tie with Nebraska. Head coach Jim LaRue's Wildcats defeated Arizona State that year 22-13.

McKale Center

Erected in 1973, it stands as one of the toughest places for visiting teams to come in and play. On Feb. 1, 1973, Arizona defeated Wyoming 87-69 in the first varsity event held at McKale.

The largest crowd in McKale Center history was the 15,176 that turned out to see the Wildcats take on New Mexico on Jan. 14, 1976.

Arizona established the 10th longest home win streak when it ran up a string of 71 straight victories in the building from 1987 to '92. McKale Center will host the first round of the NCAA Tournament in March.

From WAC to PAC

The modern age of Arizona athletics got underway when the Wildcats and Arizona State left the Western Athletic Conference to join the Pacific 8 Conference to form today's Pacific 10. The UA is the only eligible school to have not appeared in the Rose Bowl .

Is anybody ready to play hockey?

Ice hockey in the desert? While just a club sport, Leo Golembiewski's Arizona Icecats have piled up over 300 wins since its inception in 1978. The team has also made appearances in every national championship since the tournament was started in 1983. The Icecats won their only national championship in 1985.

More than 100,000 fans pack the Tucson Convention Center each year to watch the Icecats, making the team the third-largest draw in all of college hockey.


The first name will suffice.

After being named head coach of the worst men's basketball team in the Pac-10, Lute Olson promptly turned the Wildcats into perennial contenders. His Wildcat teams have made 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances including two trips to the Final Four in 1988 and 1994.

The Wildcats winning percentage of .800 is the fourth highest in the 1990s, behind Kansas, Kentucky and Arkansas.

This year, Olson will lead the nation's top recruiting class into battle. The season begins Nov. 22 in Springfield, Mass., against North Carolina.

The road to the Final Four

The Wildcats have been on it twice.

One time it led to Kansas City, Mo., the other time to Charlotte, N.C., But each time the Wildcats fell in the semi-final round. In 1988, the Wildcats were the favorites to win the national title but fell to Oklahoma by nine points.

Six years later, Arkansas topped the Wildcats, led by Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, by the same nine-point margin.

The women's movement

The Pacific 10 Conference started including women's sports in 1986. Since that time, the Pac-10 has become the premier conference for women's athletics. From Stanford's basketball teams, to UA's softball teams, to UCLA's volleyball team, you won't find be tter competition than the Pac-10.

Arizona 16, No. 1 Washington 3

The Wildcats were again one of the middle teams in the Pac-10, but on Nov. 7, 1992, no one was mightier than Dick Tomey's Wildcats.

They knocked off the top-ranked Huskies at Arizona Stadium. The victory touched off a celebration that included the traditional goal post removal.

'The Shot'

Miles Simon from 70 feet at the buzzer to beat No. 5 Cincinnati in last year's 7-UP Shootout in Phoenix.

How sweet it was.

The year of the woman

1996 truly was.

The women's golf team won its first-ever national championship. Golfer Marisa Baena won national player of the year honors after winning the NCAA individual title.

The softball team won its fourth national championship. Second baseman Jenny Dalton was named top in her sport.

The Arizona women's basketball team had its best season ever, capped by a championship in the National Women's Invitation Tournament.

Freshman cross country runner Amy Skieresz placed second at the national championships. Skieresz has yet to lose a race this year and will make her run at the NCAA crown next weekend.

Looking toward the second hundred years

Will the Wildcats finally get to the Rose Bowl? Will Amy Skieresz win three straight cross country titles? Will women's basketball coach Joan Bonvicini someday worry about players leaving early for the pros the way Lute Olson does?

Only time will tell.

But if the second 100 years is as exciting as the first, Arizona fans should be in for a great ride.