Universities' Rivalry Began Over A Name


The huge state rivalry that pits football teams from Arizona State University against the University of Arizona is on tap for today (Friday).

It's a passionate and intense clash that sometimes divides families and friends. Loyalties are tested.

In 1996 in Tucson, the game almost turned into a riot.

Few in our state, however, know or remember the reasons behind the bitter feelings between the two schools. Only if you've read a history book or were living in the state 40 years ago are you aware that a genuine war existed between the colleges.

Not about football or basketball -- but rather about a name.

In the early 1950s, Arizona State College at Tempe wanted to become Arizona State University. There were many in Tucson, however, who opposed ASC's name change -- especially a majority of regents steadfastly committed to keeping U of A the state's only university.

By securing approval from the Board of Regents -- the governing body for the state's colleges -- ASC could become ASU.

But the regents stubbornly refused.
Another method was to petition the legislature for a change. But every petition for a name change was turned down. Foot-dragging delays were an everyday occurrence during five years of legislative inaction.

Nothing then-ASC President Grady Gammage could do was good enough to convince the State Legislature to act on the petitions. Unable to push the change through the regents or the Legislature, Gammage decided to take the issue to the citizens in the form of a referendum.

It was a gutsy move. By defying those in political power -- the regents and legislators -- he was almost certain to lose his job if the referendum vote was defeated.

Hearing of Gammage's new plan, politicians opposing the name change became nervous and offered to compromise and rename ASC the "University of Arizona at Tempe."

ASC students protested vehemently and marched to the State Capitol to voice their concerns.

On July 1, 1958, ASC ROTC students delivered more than twice as many voter signatures as needed for a referendum to Secretary of State Wesley Bolin. Proposition 200, as it was called, would rename ASC Arizona State University

Bolin set the referendum vote for Nov. 4, and Gammage hurriedly launched a statewide campaign to rally the voters. Faculty, alumni, coaches, students and friends of ASC scoured the state, trying to convince anyone who would listen that two institutions of higher learning were needed to best serve students.

Probably because such an intense rivalry existed between the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, ASU proponents met with stiff opposition.

One of those who volunteered to tour the state's small towns was football coach Frank Kush. The coach showed up one evening in Winslow, where a small group -- including my father and I -- listened to his spiel.

Born 1902 in Riverside, Calif. with only an eighth-grade education, my dad, a Santa Fe railroad engineer with strong labor ties, had no obvious reasons to back the ASU movement.

But he chose to by lobbying most all of the fellow railroaders door-to-door. Others at that meeting did the same.

Pa and other backers in Winslow said it didn't make sense to oppose the name change. The studies that had been done on the issue, especially the 1954 Hollis Report, backed a second university in the state.

Pa also said the U of A people opposing the change were "arrogant." Later, a newspaper editorial used the exact same adjective to describe the ASU opposition.

Bill Kajikawa, another ASU coach, told one of his college classes years after the referendum that the reasons for the opposition was because U of A had a great deal of statewide power and wanted to keep it by making ASC a branch school.

Much to the chagrin of the ASU backers, early returns on the day of the vote showed Proposition 200 was losing.

But the morning of Nov. 5, the final tally was announced -- 151,135 Arizona residents voted "yes" for the name change; 78,693 voted no. The proposition carried most all of Arizona's counties but lost heavily in Tucson's Pima county. That was to be expected.

At the Memorial Union building on the campus of ASU, Gammage triumphantly addressed a rally attended by students, professors, coaches and friends of the new university.

The school, Gammage said, was now Arizona State University and would remain so forever.

He also talked about the responsibilities of being a university and promised to help build the standards and traditions that go with the name.

Around the state, referendum supporters reveled in the fact that the people had spoken over the objections of the regents and the inaction of the legislature.

Almost one year later, Gammage died. It was a time of grief for all those who had been involved in the university movement.

Some say even today, 40 years later, a part of ASU remains a personal tribute to Gammage.

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