100 years of Arizona hoops: The early years

Although his name adorns the arena where Arizona plays its games today, J.F. "Pop" McKale was much better suited to the game of football. When McKale arrived to guide Tucson High School in football and baseball in 1911, he turned that program into an area dynasty in short order.

This story originally ran in the October issue of Cat Tracks Magazine.

THS dominated both sports under McKale's tutelage. He was so good that other high school coaches wanted him out, at any cost. Arizona was the benefactor. A letter-writing campaign to the UA administration prompted McKale's inclusion as the school's Athletic Director and coach of—every sport. He was also granted a lofty, budget-breaking annual salary of $1,700.

McKale logged an impressive record of 49-12 during his brief stint on the basketball sidelines, but then again, it wasn't like he was going head-to-head with UCLA, Duke and North Carolina on a weekly basis.

"In these years our biggest competition was the Bisbee YMCA," McKale told the Arizona Daily Wildcat. "When we beat them we were so happy we shot our rifles off in celebration of the victories."

Wilbur would be so proud.

McKale soon relinquished the basketball coaching duties and made a more significant name in that regard by virtue of his football prowess. He remains the school's second winningest coach, behind Dick Tomey.

On the hardwood, it was James H. Pierce who provided Arizona with its first taste of real success. And like McKale, basketball was not Pierce's true desire. Far from it. Pierce got sidetracked a bit in Tucson en route to Hollywood and the riches of stardom.

Over a two-year period, Pierce went 27-5, including six victories over UCLA. Harold Tovrea was his star pupil. He scored nearly half the team's points in 1923. However, the Hollywood calling became too great, and Pierce departed the Old Pueblo for Tinseltown. There, he coached John Wayne on the Glendale High School basketball team and later paired with wife Joan Burroughs as the last of the silent film Tarzans.

While Tarzan was courting Jane, closer to home McKale needed to woo a successor. With the help of Knute Rockne, he nabbed Fred Enke, a one-time football and basketball standout with the University of Minnesota. Rockne made the suggestion to McKale after watching Enke assist a football clinic at Notre Dame.

The choice speaks for itself.

"He was certainly one of the best coaches in his era," former player George Rountree told the Arizona Wildcats Handbook. "There was an august group of colleagues who thought a great deal of him. He was immensely successful and a great credit to the University of Arizona."

During a 36-year stint, Enke compiled an overall record of 511-318, 402-300 against collegiate competition. His teams won 75 percent of their games from 1945-1951. During that stretch, Arizona logged six Border Conference Championships and advanced to the NIT and NCAA playoffs for the first time in school history.

Cat Tracks Magazine is the only publication devoted solely to University of Arizona Athletic. For more information or to subscribe, call (520) 327-0705 or e-mail cattraxdc@aol.com.

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