GLENDALE, Ariz. — Students at Arizona high schools know that their school or its sports facilities have a name. But do they know the story behind that name?
Scott Hanson is an Arizona high school football referee. One night three years ago, he was working a game at Cactus High School in Glendale, and he noticed the name of the stadium.
“It said M.L. Huber Stadium,” Hanson said. “I asked a guy who that was, and he didn’t know. The next week, we were at Independence High School, and it said Tolmachoff Stadium. I asked a guy there who that was, and he didn’t know.”
Hanson found that was pretty common across the state. Most people don’t know who their school, or the school’s athletic facilities, are named after or what is the story behind the name.
He spent the next three years researching, and the finished product is the book, “Who is Gym: The Stories Behind Arizona’s High School Sports Venues.”
His initial inquiries revealed that Huber was Cactus’ first principal.
The press box at the stadium — Jack Altersitz and Bob Davis Memorial Press Box — was named after Altersitz, a coach who guided the boys’ soccer team to six state championships and Davis, an English teacher who coached several sports teams.
At Independence, Tolmachoff Stadium was named after Pete and Lola Tolmachoff, who donated the land that the school sits on.
Hanson learned that many schools are named after political leaders, longtime principals, teachers, or school superintendents.
There are others who are so honored, as well.
Take Warren Field in Bisbee.
“George Warren was an old prospector who found a huge ore deposit there, but he ended up dying before he made any money on it,” Hanson said.
“(His claim to fame) is that he was the model of the prospector that appears on the state seal of Arizona.”
There is Pagel Field at Washington High School (Hanson’s alma mater) in Phoenix. It’s named after the Pagel family, whose five children all attended the school.
One became a well-known quarterback. “Mike Pagel played at Arizona State, then went on to play in the NFL for 10-plus years,” Hansen said. But the field is named for the entire family.
There are tragic stories, such as one in Lake Havasu City.
“Back in the mid 1970s, there was a kid pitching who was struck by lightning while he was on the mound,” Hanson said.
The boy died and the John M. Wade baseball field was named after him.
Two are named after Medal of Honor winners. “Jay Vargas was a Vietnam War hero, who lived in Winslow,” Hanson said. Winslow High’s field bears his name.
The other is William Alchesay, who was also chief of the White Mountain Apache tribe on the White River Indian Reservation. Alchesay High School is named after him.
There are stories that Hanson said movies have been made about.
“The softball field at Bisbee High School is named after softball stars Betty Bays and Ann Henry,” Hansen said. “They were the pair that inspired the movie “A League of Their Own.”
In Yuma, Kofa High School’s name is an acronym of the nearby King of Arizona mine. “Years ago, when they were shipping supplies to the mine, the stamp (of the name) was too big, so they shortened it to K-O-F-A — Kofa.”
The school’s mascot? The Kings.
The story behind Greenway High School in Phoenix? “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I always thought that it was named that way because it’s on Greenway Road,” Hanson said.
“But actually, it’s named after Isabella Greenway, who was the first female Congressional representative from Arizona.” (Greenway Road was named for her husband, World War I Gen. John Greenway, an Arizona railroad and mining tycoon.)
These are just a few of the stories detailed in Hanson’s book, which is available online.
Hanson believes that remembering the stories behind the names is important in preserving Arizona history.
“We have got to preserve this. These people did something significant enough to have a stadium named after them, and nobody knows why,” he said.
“It’s such a great piece of Arizona that we can’t lose.”