When the Tucson High School football team took to its home field late last month for its first game of the season, most people did not realize that the large, west-facing “T” atop the main school building looked different.
It glowed a brighter red and white. It is bolder with a block shape.
The Badger T is badder than ever.
“It came out better than planned,” said John Warnock, who helped coordinate restoration of the 53-year-old emblem.
The original “T” was the gift of the THS class of ’59.
Warnock, a University of Arizona professor, was the Badger class president that year. He and former classmate Ricardo “Dickie” Cota-Robles led the fundraising and restoration effort.
The “T” is a tradition that had to be maintained and improved, Cota-Robles said.
Unlike the previous “T,” the restored one stands on a base and its extended arms at the ends turn slightly down. A new red aluminum skin covers the letter. It is filled with fresh red and white neon, and a transformer was installed to brighten the “T” on home football game nights and special occasions.
The spruced-up “T” lit up on Aug. 29 when the Badgers hosted Sahuaro High School’s Cougars and lost 31-28.
While the alumni from the class of ’59 spearheaded the restoration, Warnock said the Alumni T Club and alumni from 25 other THS classes contributed to the $7,000 project.
The effort is the result of a lot of people in Badger Nation who care about the high school, Warnock said.
When the first “T” was erected, after the class of ’59 graduated, THS competed with several other high schools in town. Amphitheater had been Tucson’s rival for about 20 years, and three new high schools — Pueblo, Catalina and Sunnyside — had opened their doors to a growing population when Cota-Robles and Warnock donned their caps and gowns.
THS still dominated Tucson and its youths. It had the largest student body and in 1959 its baseball team, which included Cota-Robles and Warnock, won the state championship.
By 1959, Tucson had a population of about 220,000 people. But it was growing fast: The number of residents had quadrupled in the previous 10 years.
On campus, Cota-Robles, who grew up on East 12th Street in the Miles Neighborhood, was a jock and a member of the Chasers Club.
“We chased girls,” said Cota-Robles. But he really chased only one girl, Patti Dunlap. He was a sophomore, and she was a freshman, and they married in 1964.
On some weekend nights, Cota-Robles and his Chaser buddies cruised East Speedway and congregated at Johnie’s Drive-In at the corner of Tucson Boulevard.
“We just had fun. We didn’t get into trouble,” Cota-Robles said.
Cota-Robles was the envy of some of his friends because he drove a midnight blue ’51 Chevy coupe. It was a hand-me-down from his brother Armando Cota-Robles.
Warnock was not an “official” member of the Chasers but hung out with the guys anyway.
“I was kind of a nerd,” said Warnock, who lived on East Poe Street in the midtown Poets Corner Neighborhood when he left THS and today teaches rhetoric and composition in the UA’s English Department.
But political and social changes were coming to Tucson’s “happy days.” The fissure of race relations was opening across the country. The cries for social equality and justice were becoming louder among young and old black Americans in the Deep South and major northern cities. The discontent of Mexican-Americans from California to Texas was become more evident.
At Tucson High, chafing race relations were not explicit but were in the air, Warnock said.
As a unifying gesture for future Badgers and growing Tucson, the class of ’59 purchased and erected the “T.” As the icon faded over the next five decades, alumni came together again earlier this year.
Cota-Robles, who had worked with sheet metal over the years, went to the top to examine the “T.” The red had become pink but it remained structurally strong.
He drew up a new design and the alumni group enlisted a sign contractor, Roy Scheidel, to create the new symbol. Warnock and the Alumni T Club generated the money for a bolder, brighter, badder “T.”
“As long as Tucson High is there,” Cota-Robles said, “we want it up there.”