A lot of schools name their football stadium after a famous coach who won a string of championships, dominated the Big Rival and sent a stream of star players to Top 25 schools.
But there’s always so much more involved than a legacy season or a game for the ages, and that’s why Pueblo High School will name its football field after Saturnino “Curly” Santa Cruz on Friday night.
The Warriors went 67-83-1 in Santa Cruz’s 15 seasons. There were more 1-9 and 2-8 seasons than Pueblo’s epic 10-1-1 run through the 1988 schedule, but if you examine the school’s football resources from 1980-95 you shake your head and wonder how any coach, Curly Santa Cruz or Vince Lombardi, could’ve won 67 games there.
It wasn’t all about football, not even close.
In the spring of 1990, after two budget overrides were rejected, TUSD announced it would charge all football players $125 in participation fees. That was a potential sport-killer for the lower economic families in the South Tucson area, and no one knew it more than Santa Cruz.
He grew up a few blocks from the school, the son of a South Tucson sanitation employee — “he picked up garbage and worked two jobs most of his life,” Santa Cruz says now — and fought off neighborhood temptations to become a member of the National Honor Society and an all-city sprinter and running back.
In 1990, Santa Cruz needed $10,000 to keep his team eligible. He had about three months to find a way to get the money.
Finally, in early August, Santa Cruz announced the Warriors had raised $10,500. He didn’t use the word “I.”
“It’s a lot of money,” he said then. “But this was done by the kids.”
Somehow, coming off a 3-7 season — finding a way to replace four key linemen who dropped out of school over the summer — Pueblo went 6-4-1 that year.
That’s why you name your football field after coach. It’s a life story as much as a football story.
“I hate to say this, but when I was a kid, school wasn’t my main emphasis,” says Santa Cruz, who was an important part of coach Lou Farber’s 1961 Pueblo state championship football team.
“I had other so-called options then. Playing sports changed my life. I was influenced by a special group of coaches, like Lou Farber, Ed Brown and Clay Hitchcock. It took me in a new direction.”
In 40 years as a coach and teacher at his alma mater, Santa Cruz spent his life helping Pueblo students change directions.
Last spring, when Pueblo principal Sammy Rosthenhausler told Santa Cruz that the school would name its football facility in his honor, Santa Cruz was speechless.
“When it finally hit me that people thought I was worthy of this honor, I just went numb,” he says. “As a kid growing up in that neighborhood it never occurred to me that I could make a difference in people’s lives. They don’t do this for everybody.”
Santa Cruz knows what a difference-making coach looks like. He revived his career from 2001-04, an offensive coordinator helping long-time rival Richard Sanchez of Sunnyside go 48-5 and win two state championships. Santa Cruz coached against those who’ve had high school stadiums named after them — Wayne Jones at Mountain View, Vern Friedli of Amphitheater, and of course his precious schoolboy mentor, Ed Brown at Cholla.
At Pueblo, Santa Cruz did more with less. The key words there are “did more.”
In the 1970s, as an assistant JV coach for football and track and full-time teacher, Santa Cruz completed his masters degree at Arizona and, with his wife Amanda, raised three kids, Chris, Miguel and Sonia. Talk about some extended dues-paying.
Santa Cruz didn’t get his own head coaching job until 12 years after his 1968 graduation from the UA.
In some ways, he hasn’t left the school.
“To this day, Curly consults on all major coaching hires and athletics decisions,” says Rosthenhausler. “He sat on the committee that hired (football coach) Brandon Sanders. He approved the artwork for Pueblo’s gym floor; and he was in direct contact with TUSD facilities over the renovations to the football stadium that now bears his name.
“I realize that it’s not what Curly has meant to Pueblo over the years. It’s what he continues to mean. He is a vital part of the DNA at Pueblo High School.”
That’s what gets a coach’s name on the football stadium as much as anything else.