Amphi grad made mark as running back, kick returner, Olympian

Greg Hansen: Arizona Centennial: Top 25 Tucson athletes

Bates tops my cavalcade of stars
2012-02-14T00:01:00Z Greg Hansen: Arizona Centennial: Top 25 Tucson athletesGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2012 12:01 am  • 

On the day Rich Rodriguez was introduced as Arizona's new football coach, I turned to see Michael Bates standing in the audience, alone and unrecognized.

He walked to where I was sitting, said hello, and left McKale Center, jogging up a ramp and into the day.

A reporter from Phoenix motioned to Bates and said "Who's that?"

"Greatest athlete in Tucson history," I said. "Michael Bates."

On the occasion of this state's 100th anniversary, I have assembled one man's list of Bates and those who follow him: The 25 Greatest Athletes in Tucson History. Those eligible must have been raised in Tucson, played at a local high school, or, as is the case of PGA Tour golfer Don Pooley, someone who has pursued his life's work in Tucson.

So here's my list, and here's to the next 100 years:

1. Michael Bates. Upon winning the bronze medal at 200 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Bates stepped onto the medal platform with a Seattle Seahawks cap in his hand.

At that point, the former Amphi Panther had established the state record for 100 meters, left Amphi as Arizona's all-time leading rusher with 3,803 yards, and swept Pac-10 championships in 1990 and 1991 at 100 and 200 meters. In 1989, he was a Parade All-America football player, a first-team prep All-American.

But Bates made his career mark in the NFL, selected to the Pro Bowl for five consecutive seasons, 1996-2000, as a kick returner and coverage specialist. When he retired he held the NFL record for most kickoff return yards (9,110, with five touchdowns).

2. Sean Elliott. After leading Cholla High School to the 1985 state championship game, Elliott became a two-time consensus All-American, was the 1989 Wooden Award winner as the national player of the year and the cornerstone of the Arizona Wildcats basketball dynasty. His 12-year NBA career resulted in two All-Star Game appearances, one NBA title and 10,544 points.

3. Lacey Nymeyer. The 2009 NCAA Woman of the Year, twice the Pac-10 female Swimmer of the Year, and a silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Nymeyer, a Mountain View High grad, was a five-time NCAA champion in 2008 alone, leading the Arizona Wildcats to the national championship. In her UA career, she was a 19-time All-American.

4. Kerri Strug. By now you know the story: At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Strug, a graduate of Green Fields Country Day School, vaulted into history with an injured ankle, helped Team USA win the gold medal and instantly became the most heart-grabbing story of the '96 Games. From 1993-96, Strug was one of the three or four greatest gymnasts in the world.

5. Roger McCluskey. In the era of the Indy 500, when it was one of America's four great sporting events, McCluskey, from Tucson High, was a major player. In 17 starts at Indy, he was third in both 1962 and 1973, he won five national auto racing championships, 23 USAC sprint car races and 24 USAC stock car starts.

6. Tairia Flowers. She grew up Tairia Mims and attended Salpointe Catholic. The versatile softball player helped UCLA to the 2003 NCAA championship, was a two-time first-team All-American and then reached her career triumph as a key part of America's gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

7. Ed Updegraff. A retired Tucson urologist and Tucson resident for 60 years, Updegraff had a career that defined him as one of the greatest amateur golfers in American history. He won the U.S. Senior Amateur, was part of three USA Walker Cup teams, played in the Masters six times, was the first four-time winner of the Arizona Amateur, a 12-time Tucson city champion and was awarded the Bobby Jones Trophy, the highest honor in American amateur golf.

8. Vance Johnson. From Cholla High School, Johnson became the NCAA long jump champion in 1982 at Arizona, and was a first-team All-Pac-10 tailback for the Wildcats the same year. As the second-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos, Johnson helped them to three Super Bowls and, as part of the "Three Amigos," caught 415 passes for 5,695 yards and 37 TDs.

9. Jim Grabb. After leaving Tucson High School to pursue a tennis career, Grabb won 20 doubles titles and two in singles in an 11-year career on the pro tennis tour. He was the world's top-ranked doubles player in 1989, winning titles at the French Open and the U.S. Open during his prime.

10. Sherry Cervi. The former Marana High School basketball player became known as one of the leading cowgirls in pro rodeo history. She won world barrel racing championships in 1995, 1999 and 2010.

11. Fat Lever. Now that the Pueblo grad has had his jersey retired by Arizona State, the reflection of his basketball career is complete: He led Pueblo to back-to-back state championships in 1977 and 1978, was an All-Pac-10 guard at ASU in 1981 and 1982, and in 11 years with the Denver Nuggets scored 10,433 points and was an NBA All-Star selection in 1988 and 1990.

12. Fred W. Enke. The son of long-time UA basketball coach Fred A. Enke and a Tucson High product, Fred W. Enke was an All-Border Conference basketball player in 1947 and 1948. He gained his identity through football, a third-team Associated Press All-American in 1947 who went on to play seven seasons as an NFL quarterback for the Lions, Colts and Eagles.

13. Ron Hassey. Of the 41 Tucson prep stars to become big-league ballplayers, Hassey, a Tucson High grad, has an unmatched career. The catcher led the Badgers to an undefeated state title in 1972, was a vital piece in UA's 1976 NCAA championship - he continues to own school season and career RBI records - and went on to a 14-year big-league career, 1,192 games, including two World Series. He caught two perfect games, a major league record.

14. Don Pooley. An Arizona grad who moved to Tucson from Riverside, Calif., 40 years ago, Pooley won two PGA Tour events and the 2002 U.S. Senior Open. In 1985, he won the PGA Tour's Vardon Trophy for the lowest average score for the year.

15. Ian Kinsler. In a few years, the CDO grad could be at or near the top of a list of this type. The Texas Rangers second baseman has already hit 124 home runs and stolen 136 bases and appeared in the 2008 and 2010 All-Star Games.

16. Tom Pagnozzi. After playing mostly third base at Rincon High School, Pagnozzi converted to catcher. He won three Gold Gloves for the St. Louis Cardinals and was selected to the 1992 All-Star Game over a 12-year career.

17. Mike Dawson. Defensive tackles don't get a lot of publicity, but the Tucson High grad made a name for himself at Arizona and in the NFL. He was a second-team All-American in 1976 and the first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals and played nine NFL seasons.

18. Cindy Rarick. After playing on the boys golf team at Sahuaro High School, Rarick attended the University of Hawaii and then won five LGPA Tour championships in a productive career over 20 seasons.

19. Alex Kellner. Signed out of Amphi High School, Kellner, a left-hander, won 101 games in 12 big-league seasons. In 1949, he went 20-12 for the Philadelphia Athletics and was selected to the All-Star team.

20. Steve McLaughlin. During Arizona's Desert Swarm era, McLaughlin, from Sahuaro High School, forged his own identity, becoming a consensus All-America kicker and winning the 1994 Lou Groza Award as the top kicker in college football.

21. Bill Lenoir. The Tucson High tennis player won the state singles title in 1959 and 1960, became the WAC champion while an All-American at Arizona, and then went on to play the international tennis circuit, including three berths at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

22. Joe Batiste. He set the American record in the 120 hurdles in 1939, a mark that lasted until 1957. The Tucson High grad was poised to be America's top hurdler at the 1940 Olympics, which were canceled by World War II.

23. J. J. Hardy. The Sabino High grad, much like Kinsler, is likely to move high onto this list in the next few years. The Baltimore Orioles shortstop already has 111 major-league homers and a spot in the 2007 All-Star game.

24. Abdi Abdirahman. After the Tucson High grad became an All-America distance runner at Pima College and Arizona, his career soared. He is the four-time USA champion at 10,000 meters and a three-time Olympian at that distance, and will be one of three Americans in the marathon at the 2012 London Olympics.

25. Rich Barcelo. As a 12-year-old, Barcelo was the starting shortstop/pitcher on the Tucson All-Star team that reached the finals of the Little League World Series. He then became an all-city basketball player at Sahuaro High School. He found his calling in golf; Barcelo was a regular on the PGA Tour in 2004, 2007 and 2011.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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