He could be something
out of an Adam
Sandler comedy sketch. He sticks an eight-inch homemade cactus to the top of his cranium and goes around proclaiming himself to be "Cactus Head."
You almost expect him to stop you and ask for candy.
But unlike Sandler's "Saturday Night Live" character, Cactus Head is no freak. Doug Loqa, a.k.a "Cactus Head," could in fact lay claim to the title of Arizona's biggest football fan.
Yet Loqa, 20, will only be able to root for Arizona as a fan and not as a student. Currently in his third year at Pima Community College, Loqa had hoped to continue his physical education program at the University of Arizona, but when the program was cut June 1, he was forced to look elsewhere. A sad ending for a man who once told a statewide television audience that Sparky (the Arizona State mascot) could "sit on my cactus."
For the last two seasons,
Doug Loqa has occupied
seat number 2 in row 41 in section 12 at Arizona Stadium. For those sitting around him, he's a familiar face - the red shirt with the words "Wilbur wannabe" and "Cactus Head" emblazoned in black, a black caul wrapping his neck and head, beaded sunglasses and of course, the green cactus with white spikes attached to his head.
His purpose is to try and drum up support for the team and just have a good time.
"People don't ever feel like they can get crazy," Loqa says. "I try to help them do that."
The cactus and the glasses are made out of beads, just like the miniature A's he gave out last year at the ASU game, the sign he made in honor of Chuck Levy, the shirt he made touting Rob Waldrop, and the puck he made for an Icecat game last year.
"I do a lot of bead work in my spare time," Loqa says. "Every year I have done a different thing, and last year it just happened to be a cactus. But the cactus just took off. The crowd thought it was cute, and after the crowd's response, I said 'Heck, let's go with it.'"
Cactus Head was born on Nov. 5, 1994, sometime in the evening during the UA- California football game at Arizona Stadium. The Arizona cheerleaders were around Loqa's section when he went to them, cactus and all, and asked if he could perform with them down on the field. He was refused (for safety reasons) and when he returned, according to Loqa, 30 to 40 people in his section were chanting "Cactus Head" to award his efforts.
Perhaps Doug was
destined to be a mascot
of some sort for the Wildcats; after all, he had a good teacher, literally.
Chuck Brugler, 47, is a math teacher at Tucson's Rincon High School (currently on administrative sick leave). He taught Loqa's sophomore, jumior and senior year math classes.
Loqa caught Brugler's eye because Loqa was an outgoing kid who organized a bodybuilding club on his own and also because Loqa needed extra help in math. The two worked out a deal, if Loqa's math grades improved, Brugler would get Loqa season tickets to the football games.
"Doug's just a really dedicated young man," Brugler says. "When a student puts out a lot, I'll go the extra distance for him. I had teachers that did a lot for me."
"I just wasn't too caught up in math in high school," Loqa says. "But Chuck is good at finding creative ways to get kids to learn. I have a 'B' average in math now, so he must have done something right."
But buried in Brugler's past was a secret. He had graduated from Arizona in 1975 and had been Wilbur the Wildcat 20 years before during his senior year. He has followed Arizona football since 1961, in the days of Eddie Wilson and Jackrabbit Joe Hernandez. In fact, his Wilbur (wearing number 50) can be seen on this year's alumni calendar.
Needless to say, a forty-something math teacher revealing to his students that he had, at one time, put on a costume and done one-armed push-ups, was taken with some skepticism.
"All of my students were surprised," Brugler says. "'You can't do two-armed push-ups,' they says. I told them they were right, I can't do them now, but I could then."
The two formed a bond, largely because they both liked to yell and get a little crazy at sporting events.
"We just did goofy stuff together," Loqa says. "It's not like too many teacher-student relationships."
Brugler's history fueled a dream of Loqa's to become Wilbur when he would finally move on to UA after a stint at Pima.
"For a long time before the UA decided to drop my program, I wanted to be Wilbur," Loqa says. "Chuck was a huge influence behind that."
Teacher and student have attended most of the football games together since the 1991 season up in section 12. It was Brugler who gave Loqa, as Cactus Head, the idea of doing one-armed push-ups Ö la Wilbur, after an Arizona score.
About half of the
enrollment in the
Arizona physical education program is provided by Pima, about 150 of the 300 students, according to Judy Sorensen, a lecturer and academic advisor for physical education majors at UA.
This is not by accident. The two programs have been closely allied for the last 20 years, so that students from Pima could complete the lower division course work at Pima and then transfer to UA and have all their credits transfer as well.
So when the UA program was slated for closure in 1998, that had a chilling effect on Pima's program. Last year's entering class to the physical education program at Pima was 40 but this year shrunk to 18, says Maureen Murphy, department chairperson for fitness and sports sciences at Pima.
"The cut didn't kill our program, but it slowed it down and scared people away," Murphy says. "Our students will have to go elsewhere to finish."
The 'where' is the problem, however. Arizona State University would not accept Pima credit until last year; but they are so full anyway, they went on record saying they would not take a large increase in enrollment, says lecturer and academic advisor for physical education at UA Judy Sorensen.
Since most of Pima's students are tied to Tucson, either because of work or family, other schools are just too far away, Murphy says. UA was such an attractive fit with Pima because it was in the same city, and was affordable.
So in a sense, Loqa was denied a chance to be Wilbur long before he was able to try out. When the physical education program at Arizona was cut, a three-year window was established so that as many remaining students in the UA and Pima programs could get through before it is shut down in 1998.
But Loqa is unable to complete the program in three years for financial reasons. He is looking at transferring to Western New Mexico, where Pima is considering working out a similar arrangement as it had with Arizona.
"I'm not angry anymore; being angry doesn't help," Loqa says. "It's human nature to have a little anger deep down, but you can't let that get you down, that just makes it worse. If you use your anger toward something productive, you can accomplish a lot. I'm still in school; I work.
"But I forgot about being Wilbur once the program was dropped. I went to the games with a cactus on my head just wanting to be another crazy fan, and it caught on.
"I can't be Wilbur, but I can be this. It's God's way of telling me just because one thing doesn't work out, doesn't mean something else won't."
At Meet the Team last week, Loqa showed up and got several of the Arizona
football players' autographs. Then Loqa cut the autographs out
and placed one each on beaded footballs he made to give out to young fans at home games.
Last year when he first brought out the cactus, a woman sitting near him remarked what great earrings they'd make. The next game, Loqa had a set of cactus earrings for the woman.
None of this suprises Brugler.
"He's got a big heart for a young guy," Brugler says. "People look at him like he's a little crazy with the cactus, but there should be more people like him."
Loqa is excited about this football season in part because it's his last before he moves on to complete his education - or is it?
"I want 1996 to be a big year, like a senior year," Loqa says. "But I don't know if I have the money to go to school full-time. I might take classes in the spring and return to Tucson in the fall to work."
Regardless of where he is at next year, Loqa does hold out hope of one fall Saturday working with Wilbur.
"When he and Wilbur made eye contact at Meet the Team, I felt that was very important so that maybe Doug can get down on the field with him," Brugler says.
Since Wilbur does not speak, he officially had no comment, says John Christie, advisor to the mascot and cheerleaders for the Wildcat Club.
With the season now two games old, Cactus is gearing up for the Pacific 10 Conference battles that await. He has not put one of those games above another, however, as the experiences of the last few years on and off the field have taught him never to take anything for granted.
"I'm taking it game by game, not looking too far ahead," he says. "I don't look past anybody, just like the football team."
In the end, life as a mascot, even a cult one, is not all glamour. The 41 points Arizona rolled up against Pacific last Saturday was a severe test for Cactus Head.
"When they score their final touchdown to get 41 points, I decided to switch arms," he says. "The right arm had had enough."
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