By MYLO ERICKSON
Although Pima Community College’s football team didn’t kick off its initial season until 2001, there was plenty of preparation under way in 2000.
Pima hired Sabino High School football coach Jeff Scurran, who led nationally ranked teams to state championships in 1990, ‘92 and ‘98.
Once at PCC, Scurran started conditioning and weight training classes to prepare potential players for football. About 80 students enrolled.
Although there were no facilities available, Pima administrators decided to base the football team at East Campus. Practices would be at nearby Lincoln Park.
Initial plans called for Pima to play home games on Santa Rita High School’s football field. Later, the program chose instead to play home games at different fields around the city as a way to build public interest.
Officials arranged for PCC to join the Western States Football League.
The division already had nine teams: Arizona Western College, Eastern Arizona College, Glendale Community College, Mesa Community College, Phoenix College, Scottsdale Community College, Dixie College (St. George, Utah), Snow College (Ephraim, Utah) and New Mexico Military Institute.
Since then, the league has dropped some teams and added others to bring its current total to 16 squads.
Facing a need to cut the team to 75 players before his inaugural season, Scurran established qualifications to make and stay on the football roster. Players needed full-time enrollment status and a grade point average of 2.0 or higher.
The present-day Pima website says student-athletes must:
• Be enrolled full time at Pima.
• Make satisfactory academic progress.
• Receive a medical clearance.
In 2000, Pima students were excited about football.
“It is good to hear that a football team is finally coming here,” Michael Grgich said in an Aztec Press article. “It is about time the school finally got one.”
Scurran led his team to victory in its first game against a ranked team in 2001, when Pima opened its season with a 28-20 win against defending national junior college champion Glendale Community College.
Pima also won a bowl game in 2004, defeating No. 2 Kilgore College in the Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl Classic, 10-7. It was considered a major upset.
At the time, PCC was ranked 13th in the country.
By MYLO ERICKSON
In the late 1980s, Pima Community College found itself in a bidding war to become a Major League Baseball spring training site.
If the plan had passed, it would have added practice fields, batting cages and clubhouse facilities.
The project was going to be split between downtown Tucson and West Campus. The main stadium would have been downtown, while West Campus would have hosted minor league spring training.
In 1987, Acuna Coffeen Landscape Architects conducted a study of the proposed sites. The study was revised and submitted to the City of Tucson Parks and Recreation Department in 1988.
The company determined that West Campus land was suitable for tournament play. However, the downtown land around Interstate 10 and Congress was deemed unsuitable.
With that, talks began to circulate of building a hotel near West Campus to serve as housing for ballplayers. There was also talk of dormitories for student-athletes, since Pima was one of the few Arizona community colleges that did not provide student housing. It still doesn’t.
When the Colorado Rockies replaced the Cleveland Indians at Tucson’s Hi Corbett Field in 1993, Pima’s hopes of baseball field expansions faded.
Hopes resurfaced when the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers talked about moving their spring training camps to Arizona.
However, during that time the fields at West Campus were in bad condition and were being reseeded, which forced the baseball teams to practice at Reid Park and Santa Rita High School.
Pima felt it could offer education as an incentive for professional athletes who routinely face the prospect of career-ending injuries or non-renewed contracts.
College officials said PCC could provide associate degrees, plus English as a Second Language programs for the numerous players arriving from countries such as Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
During this time, Pima seemed to be in the running for a chance to take advantage of baseball-generated revenue.
But the plan never came to pass, as baseball teams relocated their spring training and minor league affiliates to locations outside of Tucson.
By MYLO ERICKSON
During the 1996 season when the Lady Aztec soccer team was running wild on the competition, 8-0 at the time, there were talks of building a stadium at West Campus. It would have been a 5,000 seat multi-sport stadium with all the bells and whistles.
Furnished with broadcast-television lighting, restrooms, a practice field and locker rooms.
The powers that be were expecting an influx of fans to come along with building of this stadium, so they planned on making a 1,000 space parking lot on the north side that would have instant access to the stadium.
Location of said stadium would have been where the track and field area is located. The stadium was never built, but no one currently at the college seems to know why.
As of Oct. 16, 1996 the facility committee was in the petitioning stage.
It was in negotiations with United States Soccer Foundation Federation for an estimated $4-$5 million in grant monies to begin the project.
There were other organizations that were interested in the project, so they assisted in the petitioning process.
Establishments with interest were the Tucson Amigos, a United States Independent Soccer League team, no longer in existence.
Also Michael Brewer, the executive director of the Pima County Sports Authority, supported the petition.
“We can’t think of a place than Pima Community College,” Brewer said in an interview in ‘96 about where to locate the new facility.
Pima looked to this project as a potential to support the school and the community.
It was hoped that stadium would be a place to host public support events, sports tournaments and events of all levels.
Also the possibility of hosting school, independent and community sponsored events.
“This project will be beneficial to all of Southern Arizona in hosting the 14,200 registered participants that no longer have a field to call their home because of new restrictions concerning use of fields during the summer months,” Brewer said.
In the Dec. 11, 1996 issue of the Aztec Press the petition was still pending, the decision was in the hands of The United States World Cup Soccer Federation Association.
Pima was hoping for a reply to be in the late part of spring of 1997.
By MYLO ERICKSON
In 1970, Pima Community College held its first classes in a hangar at Tucson International Airport, providing an alternative to pricey universities.
Larry Toledo, who had taught and coached at Tucson’s Pueblo High School, was hired as a charter member of the PCC staff. He and a handful of other people spent two weeks cleaning the hangar to make it suitable for classes.
Once the space was ready, about 2,000 students started classes.
PCC’s early philosophy was, “Teach to succeed, not to fail.” Classes used a lax pass-fail grading curve.
The grading system changed after the college became established, and class credits began transferring to universities.
Immediately after West Campus opened in January 1971, college officials discussed the feasibility of starting an intercollegiate athletic program. Pima employees decided they would travel around the city to survey residents.
Once a decision was made to have an athletic department, Toledo was appointed as interim athletic director.
Toledo decided against having football as the backbone for Pima sports, even though he was a former coach and college quarterback. He said it was more cost effective to support several men’s and women’s athletic programs for the same costs as football.
Within two years, both Toledo and his department chair agreed he was fully capable of fulfilling all athletic director duties.
He accepted the permanent job on one condition: that he could assemble his staff from all races and ethnicities.
“Other schools used to snicker when they saw us on their schedule, now they say ‘uh-oh,’” Toledo said in 1997.
Toledo retired in the spring of ‘97 after almost 27 years at Pima.
By Mylo Erickson
On March 29, 1996, 20 players and coaches from the South Mountain Community College baseball team were traveling in three vans to play a game against conference rival Cochise Community College.
One van blew a tire on Interstate 10 just outside Casa Grande at 4 p.m. The van flipped, seriously injuring three players and killing two of the 13 on board.
Baseball player Thomas Eaton, 19, who was driving, was pronounced dead at the scene. Four players were rushed to hospitals.
Alfred Stell, 19, later died at the hospital, according to police reports. Players Tony Adkins, Anthony Howard and Jay Shillington remained hospitalized in critical condition.
Roger Werbylo, who was head coach of the Pima Community College baseball team then, said the accident hit close to home.
“We traveled in vans also, and I think everybody realized that it could have been any one of us.”
At the time, all community colleges used vans to transport players. PCC policy required either a coach or a school employee to drive.
However, current Athletic Director Edgar Soto remembers driving fellow players when he was a student at Arizona Western College in 1987 and ‘88.
In the South Mountain team’s crash, Adkins was released from the hospital the week of April 15. He returned to school to watch his team continue the season.
Howard remained in a coma until the end of April. When he came to, he gradually began to show improvements but was still hospitalized when the Aztec Press published a story on May 1, 1996.
Shillington was released from the hospital before the Aztec Press publication date. He returned home, and began physical rehabilitation four days a week.
The other students in the van were treated at the hospital for minor injuries, then released.
“Our hearts went out to them,” Werbylo said. “It’s just one of those things that’s very, very tragic and I think everybody felt that tragedy.”
At the time of the accident, South Mountain was leading the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference.
After deciding to continue with the season and dedicating it to Eaton and Stell, South Mountain fell to fourth in the conference.
Adkins eventually recovered completely and transferred to Mesa State University, which is now Colorado Mesa University.
After the accident, Pima began using charter buses to transport student athletes and coaches to games.
By MYLO ERICKSON
Pima Community College head baseball coach Edgar Soto received a promotion in the fall of 2007, when he was named executive director of athletics for Pima.
“I can’t say I miss it yet,” Soto said of his coaching position. “I have moments when I miss it, but my job as athletic director keeps me busy and I really enjoy being involved with all the teams.”
He is a native Tucsonan, and went to the University of New Mexico on a baseball scholarship. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology with a minor in communications.
Soto is a former U.S Marine, was a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers and was an assistant coach for Tucson High School and PCC.
By 2007, Soto had already been the head baseball coach for 10 years. He enjoyed success, noting that about 95 percent of his Pima baseball players moved on to four-year colleges. A few signed with professional teams.
Pima’s baseball team made the playoffs in both the 2006 and 2007 seasons under Soto.
Soto continued to coach the baseball team for a couple of years after adding his executive director duties. His pitching coach, Jason Hisey, replaced Soto as head coach in 2010.
In a 2007 interview, Soto described his executive job as “overseeing eligibility, taking care of databases, hiring coaches, budgeting for every team’s equipment and awarding scholarships. Anything with the word athletics in it, I am responsible for.”
Since then, Soto has accomplished numerous objectives. He has overseen renovations of the sports and fitness center and the tennis courts. There have been academic success, competitive teams and community outreach.
“The primary focus for our coaches is to mentor student-athletes and to impart to their players the values and attributes needed to be productive citizens,” Soto said.
Pima sports derive funding from fees, “making PCC sports a truly student-supported activity,” Soto said.
In the 2007 interview, Soto also said one thing he hoped to accomplish in the next two years was to keep his athletic director position.
It has been almost five years since he received the promotion, and he shows no signs of slowing down
By AMY ZAMBRANO
More than 40 years ago, when Pima Community College’s athletes played sports in clubs, a judo martial arts team competed at the national level.
The Judo Club was very successful for five consecutive years in the 1970s. The Pima athletes competed at national championships, but fell short in their quest for a top national title.
In 1974, the Judo Club became the first Pima team to advance to Nationals. PCC hosted the national tournament, and Pima’s team brought home a second-place trophy.
On Nov. 6, 1976, the club swept the University of Texas and University of Arizona to take first place in the sixth-annual Judo Invitational senior division.
In the invitational’s black-belt category, Glenn Summer took first in the 139-pound weight class. Aaron Holck and John Gamez took second and third respectively in the 154-pound weight class.
In the white-belt category, John Bravo took first in the 139-pound weight class and Dan Holladay took first in the 154-pound weight class. Second place winners included Steve Griffin in the 125-pound weight class and Jeff Brown in the 176-pound weight class.
The team’s toughest 1976 opponents were just around the corner, at the national competition in Miami.
Coach Eli Noble said economic issues presented bigger challenges than competing against the 40 best teams in the country. Budget restrictions meant he could only take his best five athletes.
“Even if I’m only able to take five people, we’re going to the Nationals, but it will make it awful hard to win,” he said.
The archives don’t contain any follow-up stories that say how the club did at the 1976 national competition, or how the club came to an end.
However, the newspaper did record Noble’s praise for the judo athletes.
“The first team set a precedent,” he said. “We know we’re the best because we work for it.”
BY AMY ZAMBRANO
Thirty-five years ago, the Pima Community College cross country “great pumpkins” headed to Farmingdale, N.Y., to represent Arizona and PCC at the junior college cross country national competition.
The national competition came after PCC won a state championship and a regional title with an undefeated record of 10-0.
The 1976 cross country team was the first major Pima team to compete at a national level.
PCC President Irwin Spector and coach Jim Mielke had high hopes for the team to bring home a trophy with No. 1 engraved on it.
The very experienced team was headed for a tense and challenging competition. But why the “great pumpkins” name?
Mielke awarded the name “pumpkins” because of the orange shirts the team wore.
Spectators who watched the team win the state championship added the “great” description.
During the 1976 state championship, Pima runners captured the first three places.
Art Menchaca was the first runner to cross the finish line, setting a course record time of 24:02.
Larry Martinez finished second in 24:19 and Frank Canez took third with a time of 24:22.
Mielke told reporters the Pima team had fulfilled its mission, and had an “honest shot at the national championship title.”
On Nov. 13, 1976, Mielke took seven athletes to compete for the national title, hoping to bring home that first place trophy. Unfortunately, they had to settle for second place behind a Virginia team.
For Mielke, second place recognition was enough to prove his team’s value.
“The athletes have gained the feeling that they are among the best athletes in the nation,” he said.
The Pima athletes competing were: Brian Denker, who finished in fourth place; Larry Martinez, sixth; Ruben Ruiz, seventh; Art Menchaca, eighth; Frank Canez, 20th place; David Duffy, 45th place, and Nick Ortega, 107th place.
The athletes were “pleased but not content” with their national title, Mielke said. Finishing in second place brought “the fulfillment of a dream and another goal to dream for.”
By MYLO ERICKSON
Horacio Llamas Grey, born in Rosario, Sinaloa, Mexico, is the only Pima Community College basketball player to make it to the National Basketball Association.
Llamas, who didn’t learn to play basketball until he was 15, was also the first Mexican-born player drafted into the NBA.
The 6 foot 11 inch, 285-pound center played for Pima during the 1992-94 seasons. In the 1993-94 season, he scored 52 points against Arizona Western College, which is the Aztecs’ all-time single game scoring record. He also was a two-time AJCAA All-League selection.
After playing for Pima, Llamas moved on to Grand Canyon University, where he was selected to the ACCAA First Team for two straight seasons. In 1996, he was named National College Athletic Division II Player of the Year by Basketball Times.
In the NBA, Llamas played just 28 games for the Phoenix Suns over two seasons, from 1996-98. He was a starter in two games. During his career, he averaged 2.1 points, 0.3 blocks, 0.4 steals and 0.2 assists per game.
Llamas was unable to play in the 1999 season due to a bruised foot and Achilles tendon. The Suns released him after that year.
Once released, he continued to play basketball for various international leagues including the Mexican League.
In 2004, Llamas tried to make a NBA comeback, trying out for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks already had a center, Daniel Santiago, so did not sign Llamas.
Llamas, 38, now plays in Mexico’s Liga Nacional De Baloncesto Profesional, on the Pioneros de Quintana Roo team.
This season, Llamas has scored 62 points, 42 rebounds and 16 assists.
Llamas’ work with youth programs in Cancun has fueled speculation that he might eventually coach.
Though his time in the NBA was short-lived, Llamas blazed new paths. It may be hard to make it to the pros from a community college, but Llamas showed it is not impossible.
By MYLO ERICKSON
Dan Bithell has been the head coach of the Aztec Women’s Volleyball team since 2000 when he took over for Heather Moore. Bithell was the assistant coach for the team for six years prior.
The season before Bithell replaced Moore as the head coach of the Lady Aztecs, they’re record was 1-17 in conference play.
This season the Aztecs are 0-17 in conference play with three more matches to be played. The team has won three matches this season, but they all came against non-member schools.
Coach Bithell had stated in a 2000 issue of the Aztec Press saying that the team at the time just didn’t have the proper chemistry. He also said “This is the most difficult conference in the nation,”in the same issue.
Bithell has lead the Aztecs to three ACCAC Regional Playoffs and led them to their best record (16-15 overall and 11-14 in conference play) in 2006. He has also produced five all-conference and all-region selections.
He also has one NJCAA All-American and nine NJCAA Academic All-Americans, plus he has coached three that have been recognized as a fall All-Academic team.
Bithell was hoping for more community support back in 2000. He does feel that they have received more support from the community since then, but feels there could be more.
He would like to see some more media coverage for all the teams at Pima since it’s one of two colleges in Tucson.
“We have some terrific nationally recognized teams and it would be great to see them playing in front of packed crowds,” Bithell said
By JOEL GANTT
Not every Pima Community College team was called the “Aztecs,” the football team used to go by “Storm.”
When the football team was formed, the Storm was the name chosen after a vote was taken from students, faculty and staff.
“The team is going to be called the Storm, as if, there is a storm coming out of the East and don’t get caught by it,” said then East Campus President Mary Retterer.
This was Jan. 24 2001, when PCC was flush with cash and was fresh from renovating three campuses and building two more in the 1990s and the athletic department had visions of expanding. There were talks of having football and softball teams at both the east and west campuses along with having baseball teams at the desert vista and west campuses.
Retterer called it “replicating” and these teams would be able to play each other and if a student attended the east campus they would only be allowed to play for the east campus team.
That was all talk and never happened, no Pima Aztec team from the West Campus ever battled a Pima Storm team from the East Campus.
The Storm became the name of the golf teams that were also relocated to the East Campus. Both teams practiced at Fred Enke Golf Course, located adjacent to East Campus and the eastern campus even had its own athletic department.
Along with a team name the consensus also decided on team colors. The actual color was called “desert sky blue.” Desert sky blue was paired with black and silver trim to produce the uniforms.
The name served Pima well as they went to a bowl game in Pima’s best year, 2004. That year the No. 11 Storm (8-3) beat No. 4 Kilgore College in Kilgore’s backyard at the Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl in Mount Pleasant, Texas.
“The name and the colors are very unique and attractive. I think people will get real excited about the uniqueness of the colors and the name,” said defensive backs coach Keith Graham in 2001.
Apparently people didn’t get too excited about the name or the colors because the team name was changed to the Aztecs in 2005. All Pima teams became the Aztecs and the school colors, for every campus, were changed to navy blue and black, from orange on the West Campus and desert sky blue at the East Campus.
Since the name change Pima has won six games so maybe they should consider a throwback game with desert sky blue helmets.
By AMY ZAMBRANO
The Pima Community College baseball team was struggling 37 years ago.
The team was coming off of a 16-27 season where they went 8-18 in conference play.
The Aztecs had to do something to improve for the next season.
Rich Alday, then PCC baseball head coach, had faith in his team and still had hopes of leading his team to a championship.
During the off-season, Alday recruited some high school stars that would change the Aztecs’ luck on the diamond.
The recruits included Steve Netherton from Sahuaro High School, an all-city selection; Mike Porras, an all-city second team selection from Cholla High School; Doug Branch, an all-city honorable mention from Palo Verde High School; Richard Campbell from Globe High School, and Tony Lopez from Nogales High School.
With the new recruits and seven returning Aztecs, Alday liked Pima’s chances. Pima also moved out of the “extremely tough” Valley Division of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference and in to the State Division.
In 1975, Alday’s strategy paid off, starting the season with two wins.
Alday said the pitching staff looked good and that they finally got it together by winning a double header 5-1 and 4-2 against Eastern Arizona College, to end an eight-game losing streak to Eastern.
“The team is actually hitting the ball now” Alday said.
Strong pitching performances came from Frank Castro and Alden Gates, who went to “battle” on the mound for the rest of the season.
By 1981, the Aztecs had made it to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series and in 1985 they made the championship game.
Alday would leave Pima with a 496-220 record to coach at the University of New Mexico from 1990-2007.
In 2003 Alday became the winningest coach in UNM history where Alday won 512 games. In 1994, Alday was inducted into the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame and in 2010 PCC retired his number, 26.
By LYNDAJOE ECHERIVEL
1996 File photo by JADE H. SULKOWSKI
Fifteen years ago, Pima Community College’s first-ever women’s soccer team let their presence be known in their inaugural season.
The Lady Aztecs, as they were intitally known, started off their season with a win against Mesa Community College and placed second in the Southern California Women’s Soccer Tournament in Torrance, Calif. in September 1996.
“Southern California is a hotbed for women’s soccer,” said Chris Hawken, former head coach.
The SCWS tournament was a seven game series, which consisted of 50-minute games. In many cases teams had as little as 30 minutes between games to rest. This issue is one of the many factors that led Pima to their second place finish.
The Aztecs went on to win the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference championship in their first year. That was followed up in 1997 by making it to the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship tournament.
In 2001, they were named the NJCAA All-Academic Team.
In 2002, 2007 and 2009, the Aztecs won the ACCAC and in 2007, they finished third at Nationals. In 2009 they almost went undefeated in the regular season, but were upset in the first round of the playoffs.
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