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Hansen's Sunday Notebook: With Gronk scheduled to visit Thursday, Arizona Bowl makes up for lost time

Rob Gronkowski will be the featured speaker at Thursday's sold-out Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl luncheon at the Tucson Convention Center.

The Star's longtime columnist on Rob Gronkowski's impact, Salpointe's emotional win, Ka'Deem Carey's milestone and Sean Miller's Big East chances:

Gronk's appearance caps frenetic fall for Arizona Bowl organizers

Four days before kickoff, COVID-19 issues at Boise State forced the cancellation of the 2021 Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl.

A year’s prep work by the Arizona Bowl organization went kaput.

Vowing to make up for a lost year, the Arizona Bowl committee has more than "made up" for the lost 2021 game.

Last week, the Arizona Bowl announced all 1,000 tickets for Thursday’s kickoff luncheon have been sold. And why not? The guest speaker is former Arizona Wildcat tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk’s appeal is powerful: A year ago, the Arizona Bowl kickoff luncheon drew 600 for baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Trevor Hoffman, UA Class of 1989.

"Getting Gronk required all the stars to be aligned," says Eric Rhodes, vice president of communications for the Arizona Bowl. Rhodes and his crew reached out to Gronk’s front man, his brother, Chris Gronkowski  — also an Arizona football alumnus — to put the deal together.

"Since we announced the sellout, we’ve been getting calls asking, 'Can you set up a few extra tables?’ and requests of that type," says Rhodes. "But, of course, the fire marshals won’t allow that."

More than an appearance by Gronk, the Arizona Bowl has made unprecedented impact in Southern Arizona this fall.

It created a Friday Night Lights Tour, complete with a massive, inflated Arizona Bowl helmet. Most impressive, the Arizona Bowl did not rotate its tour among the area’s football heavyweights, it has instead spent Friday nights at the Amphi-Flowing Wells, Thatcher-Safford, Tanque Verde-Catalina and Marana-Nogales games.

It has also created a partnership with Tim Kish of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame to select a Southern Arizona Player of the Week.

Again, the bowl organization did not center on big-name schools. Of the nine POWs selected thus far, the list includes Flowing Wells’ Adrian Soto; Walden Grove’s Gabriel Smith; Marana’s Elijah Joplin; Pusch Ridge Christian's Bubba Mustain; and Douglas’ Emiliano Berthely.

"We’ve done Bear Down Friday appearances and committed to covering the entire area, not just just a few big-name schools," says Rhodes. "Our main job is to educate the people of Southern Arizona about our bowl game. All of our players of the week will be our guests and recognize on the field at the game on Dec. 30."

The Arizona Bowl will be played at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday, Dec. 30. Kym Adair, the bowl’s executive director, will have the No. 2 choice of teams from the Mountain West and Mid-American conferences, which today might be something like Air Force vs. Ohio.

Salpointe wins on emotional day

Ordinarily, last week’s 22-team John Gleeson Invitational cross country meet at the Rolling Hills Golf Course would’ve been one of the state’s most high-profile competitions of the fall.

But it took on a different meaning when the event was dedicated to the late Thomas Meixner, the UA hydrology professor murdered on campus earlier this month. Meixner’s son, Brendan Meixner, is one of Salpointe's top runners.

"The entire family was there to cheer for Brendan — the funeral was the day before — and Brendan responded by running a personal record,’’ said Salpointe five-time state championship coach Mike Urbanski. "It was a pretty emotional day."

Salpointe’s girls team, which won the state championship in 2016, 2018 and 2020 — and was No. 2 in 2017 and 2019 — won the event. It was led by two-time senior state champion Kylie Wild, ranked No. 1 in the state. Wild last week committed to attend Boston College, choosing the Eagles over scholarship offers from Arizona and Northwestern, among others.

Salpointe’s leading boys runner, Michael Urbanski, who helped the Lancers win state titles in 2020 and 2021, is currently deciding between scholarship offers from Arizona, Loyola Marymount, Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara.

The state championships will be held Nov. 12 at the Cave Creek Golf Course.

Calgary Stampeders running back Ka'Deem Carey reached the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

Ka'Deem Carey tops 1,000 yards for season

The most productive running back in Southern Arizona history, Canyon del Oro High School and UA tailback Ka’Deem Carey, last week broke the 1,000-yard barrier for the fifth time in his career.

In his third season with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, Carey became the first CFL runner this year to reach 1,000 yards. He had a total of 1,013 yards entering Saturday’s game against Saskatchewan. It’ll help Carey celebrate his 30th birthday on Oct. 30.

Here are Carey’s career rushing totals:

At Canyon del Oro: A city-record 5,701 yards, including 2,738 yards as a junior and 1,754 yards as a senior.

At Arizona: A school-record 4,239 yards, including 1,929 yards as a sophomore and 1,885 as a junior.

In the NFL: Carey gained 443 yards in three seasons for the Chicago Bears.

In the CFL: Carey has gained 2,304 yards for the Stampeders, who conclude their regular season Oct. 29.

That gives Carey 12,687 career yards at all levels. As far as I can determine, Tucson's No. 2 total is 9,954 yards by Mario Bates at Amphitheater, ASU and seven seasons in the NFL. Check back for ex-Salpointe Catholic runner Bijan Robinson’s career total in about 2030.

Sean Miller's Xavier team picked to finish second in Big East

Sean Miller inherited a strong situation in his return to Xavier. The Musketeers were picked to finish No. 2 in the Big East preseason poll last week, trailing Creighton and a shade ahead of Villanova and UConn. Not only that, Xavier has sold 8,500 season tickets and drew 6,000 for Friday’s Musketeer Madness at the Cintas Center, which is shared with the Xavier women’s basketball team. The former Arizona head coach, fired in the spring of 2021, probably couldn't have dreamed of a better second chance. …

Book Richardson is trying to get back into college basketball.

Book Richardson turned down in attempt to join college staff

The New York Post last week revealed that Miller’s Arizona assistant coach, Book Richardson, was turned down in his attempt to return to college basketball coaching. The newspaper reported that Richardson, 49, was recommended to be coach Rod Strickland’s assistant at LIU-Brooklyn but that the university president did not approve the transaction. Richardson, who is director of the New York Gauchos’ AAU basketball operation, told the Post: "For me to be mad, for me to be sad, for me to be upset, that won’t help me. I’m looking to show someone that I still have a lot of talent, still got a lot of time left. I can coach." …

Longtime broadcaster Tim Hagerty pens baseball book

Tim Hagerty, play-by-play voice of the Triple-A Tucson Padres in 2011-13, has written a book: "Tales from the Dugout: 1,001 Humorous, Inspirational & Wild Anecdotes from Minor League Baseball." It is available on pre-order from Amazon. Hagerty, who is now the voice of the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas, has also been a the voice of minor league teams such as the Mobile Bay Bears, Idaho Falls Chukars and Portland Beavers. …

Lety Pineda Boutte's daughter a rising star

Here’s an elite softball recruit to keep in mind: Lorin Boutte, daughter of three-time Arizona All-American Lety Pineda Boutte, a Desert View High School grad, last week was selected player of the year for the Saint Charles, Missouri, high school softball region. Lorin hit .413 and had a 1.06 ERA as a No. 1 pitcher for the Howell High School Vikings. She also had a 4.0 GPA. Boutte, who is viewed as a four-star recruit, has one more year of high school softball remaining. …

Khalil Tate out of football

Former Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate is out of football again. He has been released twice by CFL teams this season, the Edmonton Eskimos in May and the Toronto Argonauts in August. Tate did not play in a CFL game. Tate, who turns 24 this weekend, was released by the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago. He did not play in an NFL game, either. Tate’s four-game breakout in October 2017, when he set a record by being the Pac-12 offensive player of the week four weeks in succession, will forever define his football career no matter if he ever takes a snap in a professional game.

Arizona quarterback Ortege Jenkins flies over the Washington defensive line in the final moments of the game for the winning touchdown in 1998. Jenkins will be added to the UA’s Ring of Honor on Saturday.

UA relaxes Ring of Honor rules

At Saturday’s Homecoming game against USC, the UA will induct 1980s running back/receiver Vance Johnson, 1997-2000 quarterback Ortege Jenkins and 1920s quarterback John "Button" Salmon into the Ring of Honor.

It’s a good move by the UA administration, which had to relax its Ring of Honor criteria to recognize Jenkins and Salmon. (Johnson has been fully qualified since playing his 10th NFL season in 1995).

The UA said that it now uses "reflections on historical context" as well as the strict line-by-line qualifications that it has followed for decades.

Jenkins was 13-12 as Arizona’s QB-of-record but that is — and should be — outweighed by his historical “Leap By The Lake’’ to beat Washington in 1998 and key the school’s historic 12-1 season.

It’s unfortunate the Pac-12 did not choose a freshman of the year in 1997, because Jenkins probably would have won that award when he came off the bench to replace injured Keith Smith and lead the Wildcats to four late-season victories, including the Territorial Cup and an Bowl win over New Mexico. A freshman-of-the-year award is one of the Ring of Honor automatic qualifiers.

Salmon’s qualifications need no explanation. The 1920s quarterback, who was killed in the 1926 season, is the creator of the UA’s Bear Down legend.

Arizona would do well to review the qualifications of 1970s quarterback Bruce Hill, who is not in the Ring of Honor but is fully qualified. Hill held school records for touchdown passes, passing yards and pass completions from 1975-83, which meets ROH standards. Hill was the QB-of-record during the historic 8–3, 9-2, 9-2 streak under coach Jim Young, 1973-75.

The Ring of Honor rules sometimes backfire. Such was the case a year ago when Josh Green, a one-year UA basketball letterman (average: 12 points per game) was placed in the McKale Center Ring of Honor because he played — he was an end-of-the-bench sub — for Australia’s 2020 Olympic bronze medal basketball team.

A little boy catches one of the Little League games at Mehl park.

My two cents: Mehl Park a local, Little League treasure

I’ve lived in Tucson since the 1980s but somehow did not discover Mehl Park until attending my grandson Indy’s baseball game last week. What a treasure.

Mehl Park has five baseball fields, two soccer fields, four ramadas, significant playground and picnic space, and a rustic snack bar that looks like something out of a movie. When I was there Wednesday evening, every field was in use.

It is tucked among a small forest of mesquite trees on the banks of the Rillito River adjacent to River Road. Oh, what I would’ve given to have a baseball facility like that when I was a baseball-forever kid.

Canyon View Little League uses Mehl Park as its home. The field my grandson played on has 21 color advertising banners from the left-field foul line to the right-field foul line, ads from every conceivable type of business: attorneys, painters, financial advisors, you name it. It is an inviting atmosphere at every level.

Mehl Park is well-maintained. It is an example of the community — in this case, oft-criticized Pima County — hitting it out of the park.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or On Twitter: @ghansen711


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