With respect to John “Button” Salmon or James “Pop” McKale, my favorite face of Arizona athletics will always be another former Wildcat with a nickname: Clarence L. “Stub” Ashcraft.
The former UA football lineman and athletic administrator truly fought like a Wildcat until his death from natural causes Friday. He was 89, believed to be the school’s oldest letter winner.
My father and I, who used to sit behind him at Arizona Stadium, watched teary-eyed a few years ago when Stub, a member of the 1937 to 1941 teams, was honored with other players at a halftime ceremony.
Hunched and in failing health, Ashcraft used two canes to practically sprint 25 yards to shake UA athletic director Jim Livengood’s hand. Stub’s dash to midfield ranked as the game’s best play.
Ashcraft was a UA historian and ran the athletic events department with precision from 1965 to 1982 – drawing upon his Army background. He fought in the South Pacific during World War II, rising to the rank of major.
After returning in 1945, he never missed a UA home game. He attended nearly 400 straight, including last year’s home finale upset over Oregon.
“He made sure we knew the words to ‘Bear Down, Arizona’ as little kids,” said David Ashcraft, his son and a retired music department chairman at Sahuaro High School. “He was red and blue through and through.”
In 1941, Stub was part of the first UA football team that played at Notre Dame. The Wildcats lost 38-7 but earned the respect of the Irish and went on to finish 7-3.
“Now don’t make it out like I was a star or anything like that,” Ashcraft told former Citizen sports columnist Corky Simpson back in 1980. “I was just on the team – second string guard.”
He was being modest.
Ashcraft became an all-state player at Phoenix Union High and a top prospect at UA until a broken ankle set him back. He earned his nickname “Stubby” – later shortened to Stub – not from his familiar crewcut but from a high school coach because of his size (5 feet 7, 160 pounds).
If you think athletes have it tough now, think about Stub’s UA team. The players took a three-day train trip to South Bend, Ind., and ran into foul weather near Wichita, Kan., forcing the Wildcats to have a practice session in street clothes at the railway station platform.
“It was a different game back then,” Ashcraft said. “Squads were smaller, because you played both ways. We took 35 players to Notre Dame. . . . In those days, it was ‘block, block, block . . . tackle, tackle, tackle . . . the old ivy-on-the-wall stuff.”
Tradition and detail were important to Ashcraft.
During the national anthem before games, no one stood more proudly than Stub.
“He was a distant cousin of Betsy Ross,” David Ashcraft said. “The flag was very important to him, and he instilled those values in us.”
Ashcraft, in charge of more than 1,000 UA workers in the 1970s, once told former Citizen sports editor Bruce Johnston there were 129 doors to the outside of McKale Center.
“There is no way on God’s green earth one guy can handle all this unless he’s got it down (on paper),” said Ashcraft, who made sure every athletic event was set up properly – from concessions to parking to lighting.
Stub oversaw the startup of McKale Center in 1972 and so many other tasks that “we would joke he also sharpened the javelin and pumped up the football,” David Ashcraft said.
Before UA built the Jim Click Hall of Champions, Stub arranged a display of athletic photographs and memorabilia dating back to 1895 in McKale.
He held several jobs at UA after leaving the Army, and was the first director of the Student Union Memorial Building in 1951.
Stub even helped sell Tucson as a location for the 1962 film, “Lilies of the Field,” which earned Sidney Poitier the Oscar for best actor.
At the time, Ashcraft managed the old Santa Rita Hotel downtown, which housed the actors for Poitier’s movie and for the pilot episode for the television show, “The Fugitive.”
“I didn’t get to know many of the actors involved because I was too busy taking care of them,” Ashcraft told the Citizen in 2003.
Stub took care of so many people that he seemed to be friends with everyone at Arizona Stadium.
People walking by section 23, row 74 would say hello every game. He would acknowledge them before putting his headphones back on to listen to the play-by-play.
Hearing him explain plays to his wife, I think he would have made an excellent coach.
Ashcraft is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Jane; sons Tom and David of Tucson and Robert of Tempe; daughter, Nancy, of Pasadena, Calif.; and six grandchildren.
One of Stub’s grandkids, Tim Ashcraft, a three-sport athlete at Sahuaro, won the 2003 Tucson Citizen Student Athlete Award and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Tim’s mother, Joan, is the fine arts director for Tucson Unified School District.
Tim, who has the Bible his grandfather tucked inside his belt during World War II, will give a eulogy during Ashcraft’s funeral services at 2 p.m. Sunday at Rincon Congregational Church, 122 N. Craycroft Road.
Many former UA players are expected to attend, including Bob Svob, a retired UA dean who now is believed to be the school’s oldest letterman at 89.
The group, known as the “Old Goats Club,” convenes every month at the Hungry Fox Restaurant on the East Side.
“My dad never missed a meeting,” David Ashcraft said. “He was so proud to be a Wildcat.”
Stub also belonged to the Rotary Club of Tucson, where he was president from 1972-73, and the Catalina Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
“My dad was the oldest Eagle Scout in Tucson,” David said. Stub also practiced wood carving and loved horses, taking his family on trail rides.
When Army played at Notre Dame a few years ago, David went to the game with his son, Tim, and walked through the same tunnel Stub came through when UA faced the Irish in 1941.
“He may not have been the fastest or strongest,” David said of his dad, “but he loved playing football.”
Stub has been nominated for the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. I can’t think of a more deserving candidate.
Mike Chesnick’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
CLARENCE L. “STUB” ASHCRAFT TIMELINE
June 14, 1918: Born in Colorado Springs, Colo.
1937-41: Attends University of Arizona, lettering in football in 1938 and 1941. President of Sigma Nu fraternity and editor of 1942 Desert Yearbook.
1942-1946: U.S. Army officer in World War II.
1947: Activities coordinator and publications manager for Associated Students at UA.
1951: First director of UA Student Union Memorial Building.
1952-64: Holds various jobs outside UA, including manager of Santa Rita Hotel.
1965-82: UA athletic events and facilities coordinator.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Rincon Congregational Church, 122 N. Craycroft Road
Donations: Can be made to Rotary Club of Tucson (scholarship fund), 3900 E. Timrod St., Suite 4, Tucson, 85711; or Catalina Council of the Boy Scouts of America, 5049 E. Broadway, Suite 200, Tucson, 85711