A Story Bob Walberg Loved To Tell


Many remember Bob Walberg, who died Nov. 5, as the man who founded the drafting and industrial arts programs at Payson High School.

Few knew, however, that he once played football at Arizona State Teachers College (now Arizona State University) during some of the Bulldogs (now Sun Devils) most tumultuous years.

Bob loved to relive football tales about his years in Tempe to anyone who would listen, including myself.

His favorite tale, and the one I harkened to listen to, centered on the 1939-40 school year.

It was one of the few years that the University of Arizona and Arizona State did not clash on the gridiron.

Bob remembered there was no traditional clash because U of A had earlier refused to play ASTC for three years because of a recruiting conflict.

As Bob told it, Wayne "Ripper" Pitts, a Glendale High School star, was set to attend the U of A in the summer of 1937.

Just before the school year began, ASTC graduate manager Tom Lillico paid Pitts a "social call" during which he convinced Pitts and a pair of former Glendale High teammates, Walt "Cowboy" Ruth and Rex Hopper to skip Tucson and join the Bulldogs.

The trio made the switch and promptly led the ASTC freshman team to a convincing win over the Wildcat freshmen.

That win, and the recruiting flap that ensued, prompted U of A brass to cancel all football games with the Bulldogs until the Glendale trio graduated.

I greatly enjoyed Bob's up-close-and-personal renditions of what happened during those years. I had heard about it years ago while teaching at Show Low High School. Walt Ruth's son, Bill, was a fellow teacher and friend who often told of the huge dispute between the two state schools.

But Bill's depiction was secondhand. It was what he had heard from his father.

Bob had been on the firing line with Pitts, Ruth and Hopper.

Bob told me, Pitts went on to become an All-Border Conference selection in 1939 and a Little All-American second team member. In school history until that time, that was the highest honor an Arizona State football player had attained.

Arizona State finished 8-2 and tied Catholic University, 0-0, in the Sun Bowl.

In 1998, I penned a Sports Talk column in which I said the hard feelings that now exist between U of A and Arizona State University are because those in Tucson so vehemently opposed ASC becoming a university in 1957.

I wrote, "Nothing then-ASC President Grady Gammage could do was good enough to convince the Tucson-controlled State Legislature to act on the petitions to make the school a university. 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.

"On 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."

That issue of the paper was on the streets only a few hours before Bob called to respectfully disagree with me.

He said, sure there are hard feelings over the U of A's opposition to ASC becoming a university, but the real roots of the squabble lie in 1937 when the former Glendale stars shunned Arizona in favor of Arizona State.

Tomorrow, Saturday, ASU plays the Wildcats in Tucson. I'm certain I know which team Bob will be cheering for.

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