Badgers to the Bone

by on May 3, 2011 · 16 comments

in Education, From the Soul, Sports

I was just thinking about all the nice moments I’ve enjoyed in life and a little time I spent in Tucson last week ranks up there among the mellower of the refreshing respites from the troubles of the world I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in.

First of all I was in my hometown and that’s always enjoyable, not to mention that I was there for a very special event, wearing the lofty title of “guest speaker,” which I took to mean I was to have a good time so that’s what I did. Why not, I was around some of my favorite people: a bunch of folks wearing sunny smiles. We were gathered to honor a handful of brilliant athletes, old Badgers of Tucson High, who were about to be inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame – a place I call home. I was glad to welcome them in because I know that, like I was in my day, they were proud to wear that big red “T.” We’re all Badgers to the Bone.

And boy could these Badgers play. I can just see: Robert Gaona (’58) teasing a shot into the hole or turning just the right way to put the ball in play down the fairway into the wind; James Starkey (’49) throwing a fast ball by a batter who waited too late to take a swing; my childhood friend, Florence Chandler (’61), football All-This and All-That, ringing some overmatched gridironer’s bell or pinning some hapless wrestler’s shoulders to the mat or burning up the cinders on the track, shot putting; Ron Higuera (’62) doing pretty much the same thing, except for the grappling, with a little discuss tossing on the side; Sarah McKasson (’68), tennis phenom, state singles champion in ’67, chasing down a sharp shot and backhanding one of those rocket returns that make your heart sing.

They played their games, I’m sure, with no thoughts, no dreams of someday being acclaimed as worthy of being in a hall of fame. You just play because you have to, because you’re inclined to, because it’s a whole lot of fun to do. You’re just having a ball trying to smooth your moves, hoping to get in some kind of groove that would behoove the coach to call your name when it came time to play. And somewhere in there you get to where you can really play.

But, for those who look at sports as folly, as mere play, I have to say that refining one’s game isn’t something that can be done lackadaisically, in any way. No, it requires a range of dedications: stick-to-it-ive-ness, unselfishness, a keen sense of comprehensiveness. There’s multi-tasking, gut checking, constant reflecting, huffing, puffing, cussing, fussing, hustling – all the livelong day, almost every day.

We Badgers had to get down to the real nitty-gritty. We ran. We jumped. We hit. We bumped. We picked. We rolled. We slid. We stole. We soared. We roared. We went forward and scored. We scowled, “Whadda ya mean I fouled?!?!” We jammed. We rammed. We bunted. We punted. We hurled. We curled. We twisted and twirled. We faked and whirled. We somersaulted and vaulted. We dodged. We caught. We passed. We stroked. We punched. We poked. We trapped. We stopped. We chopped. We tagged. We lagged. We screened, preened, redeemed, careened, submarined, cleaned, meant to brush back and, instead, beaned, leaned, at times acted like fiends. We heaved, perceived, conceived, received, achieved, believed, deceived, relieved and weaved. We set and slid on our chests to make a good get. We would scheme and we would plot, we jocks, how our opponent might be got and/or stopped, primed to take advantage of a weakness at the drop of a hat. We lived for that.

It should be told how, so often, in the heat of battle we had to learn life lessons like how to get one’s self under control, how to constantly contribute to the betterment of the whole. And all the while we were dispelling the “dumb jock” myth in that a sign of intelligence is being involved, contributing to a cause, to a community. Tucson High was a place filled with a wide range of activities beyond sports for teenagers to do and we were in that mix too: school politics, the arts, the honor societies, the clubs.

We played a role in filling our city’s need to have an identity, something in which it took pride, something in which we took pride. The applause the inductees to our school’s sports hall of fame and my “guest speaking” received on this special evening was soothing to our souls, proof that we had, indeed, served a town we love well. We’re more than ever now “Badgers to the Bone.”

Ah, another great moment in my life to be stored with so many precious memories. Another wonderful trip home.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Shirley Sprinkles May 4, 2011 at 5:25 am

Ernie (aka “Charlie Mack”), you took me home! Such a powerful, vividly written treatise about special people, in a very special place, during a unique and special time in our history. No one could have said it better. The memories you evoke live on no matter how far we travel from our beloved hometown, Tucson, Arizona. Thanks for sharing with us Badgers who couldn’t be there to hear you “guest speak.”


avatar Ernie McCray May 4, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Hey, Shirlgirl. I’ve fallen in love with that old raggedy town more and more each day. “So,” some of our old friends ask, “why don’t you move back?” Easy answer: Pacific Ocean. I’m in love with the sea. I walk along it’s edges frequently. Nancy swam miles in it per week and I’ve loved no one on earth as much as I loved that long drink of water. If it was that vital to her it has to be the same with me. The pacific has got me in its spell, not to mention Tucson is hot as hell. Oh, well, I’ve got two great hometowns – and dear old friends like you. Who could ask for anything more?


avatar Shirley Sprinkles May 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I miss the ocean, too. One day I’ll stop wishing and go out there to partake of it’s splendor once more–something that is on my bucketlist. As for Tucson, maybe we’ll meet up at the Dunbar reunion this year, yes???


avatar Ernie McCray May 4, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I’m working on it.


avatar Gwen Pierce May 4, 2011 at 7:59 am

Beautiful and ever so poetic! Great story.


avatar Ernie McCray May 4, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Thanks. I’m just doing what James Brown asked me to do: doing the do.


avatar Jacquenese Barnes Price May 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

All I can say is, ‘ what a treat, what an experience, what a Badger’! Love you, Ernie McCray to the bone!!!


avatar Ernie McCray May 4, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Love you too and that whole family of yourn.


avatar Willie J. Horton May 4, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Hi Ernie,
The committee could not have selected a better quest speaker. “GO ERNIE”
Willie Horton


avatar Ernie McCray May 4, 2011 at 10:16 pm

For your kind words your check is in the mail (smile).


avatar Terry May 19, 2011 at 12:31 am


It’s time you wrote a book, my friend – your writing is exquisite!!!


avatar Jacquenese Barnes Price May 19, 2011 at 7:30 am

Yes, it is past time!!


avatar Shirley Sprinkles May 19, 2011 at 8:16 am

I’d read it, and buy up copies for all my friends!


avatar Ernie McCray May 19, 2011 at 11:37 am

Well, I’d better start writing that book because you’ve got more friends than the La Reforma Estates (remember, those low rent houses on the Southside) has cuckarachas.


avatar Dr. Laura Banks-Reed May 23, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Ernie, just as proud of you as I have always been. Don’t know if what Shirley emailed to me was part of your speech, but it was awsome! You have a special gift of gab, and I will join others in saying , get that book started. You have so much to offer and I know Almitte is smiling on you. Continue your good works, and God Bless!


avatar Ernie McCray May 23, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Thanks so much, Laura: Hey, you sure were a big part of my growth as a human being along with all those beautiful teachers at Dunbar. Yeah, I know my mother is beaming, proud that I’m still trying to do what little I can do to make this beat up old world a little better. That’s pretty much all she ever asked of me and then modeled it – so I didn’t have any way out (smile).


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