Camp Tontozona

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A campaign to raise funds for a return to Camp Tontozona was announced by Arizona State University officials last week.

If $150,000 can be raised by June 1, the football team will be at Camp Tontozona from Aug. 14 to Aug. 18 of this year. Let’s take a look at some of the history behind this place that is so special to many Sun Devils.

Camp Tontozona existed before football came.

Martin Mortensen, a science professor at the then Arizona State College, brought science students up in the 1940s and eventually the property was acquired. It wasn’t until around 1960 when the football team started practicing there. Frank Kush tells the story.

“Arizona State College at that time had this little camp — it really wasn’t a camp, it was kind of a retreat for the faculty. Dr. Gammage had a cottage up at Tontozona, which was right up at Payson, right next to Kohl’s Ranch. And we went up there fishing on Tonto Creek, and I saw this facility. There was no football field there; it was kind of a hill. And I thought to myself, ‘Boy, this would be a fantastic place for a preseason training site.’ And so I went back and checked out on some general aspects of it and everything else.

“Our athletic director at that time was Clyde Smith and I knew I had to present a number of statistics to prove why we should go there. My whole point ... was the weather, the contrast between practice down in the Valley in preseason in August, and, say, training in the mountains in the cold breeze.

“Well, when I first came here — to regress slightly — I thought to myself, ‘Good gravy, how can these players ever take this ... heat and everything else?’ So I checked out the temperatures and the contrast of the temperatures between Payson and Tempe, and I kind of sold it.”

The 1970s were a very successful time for ASU football, culminating in an undefeated 1975 season and the No. 2 ranking in the country. The annual trips to Camp Tontozona drew thousands of people.

Even after Frank Kush was removed as Sun Devil coach in 1979, teams continued to travel northward and continued to have success. The 1986 season was capped off by a 22-15 win over Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl and the Sun Devils back to Pasadena 10 years later, coming within seconds of pulling off the victory and an undefeated season.

A few years ago however, the team stopped coming to Camp Tontozona while Dennis Erickson was coach. Many fans and ex-players point to the lack of victories since as fitting karma. Tontozona to them is a very important place.

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