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Hansen’s Top Teams, #82: ‘Conquering Badgers’ Set the Standard for Athletics in 1939 | Subscriber

Doc Van Horne didn’t have many of those days when nothing was going well. He coached Tucson High School to 13 state track and field championships from 1927 to 1953, producing Arizona Track Athlete of the Year eight times: Joe Batiste (twice), Frank Batiste (two once), Fred Batiste (twice), Willie Brown and Bill Gaston. .

But in April 1942, James Don “Doc” Van Horne of Mansour, Iowa had one of those dark days that changed his life.

While Van Horne Badgers athletes were practicing at the school’s track and field facility, someone tripped while throwing the javelin. Van Horne heard someone yell “WAIT!”

The javelin struck the elder Mike Clarke, piercing his shoulder. Van Horne rushed to Clarke’s aid. Someone called the police. Luckily, Clarke survived without permanent injury, but the chilling incident brought about a change.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association banned javelin throwing from state competition for the next 50 years. And Van Horne, a chemistry teacher when he wasn’t a track and field coach, decided there was more to life than coaching a track and field team – even one that had easily won championships. State in 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1941.

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After the 1942 state finals, 49-year-old Van Horne resigned from his coaching and teaching positions at THS and enlisted in the Marine Corps. He received the rank of sergeant and was appointed chief recruiter for the Marines in southern Arizona.

After World War II ended, Van Horne returned to Tucson High. His teams went on to win five more consecutive state championships from 1945 to 1949. He retired from coaching and teaching in 1953 (when the Badgers won the state track title again) and later became Pueblo High School’s first athletic director.

When he spoke at a year-end banquet honoring his professional achievements in 1953, Van Horne was asked which of all his state championship teams was the best.

“Without a doubt, the team of 39,” he said. “It’s the best team we’ve ever had.”

This “best team we’ve ever had” nearly went off the rails before riding out to a blistering victory at Arizona Stadium in May 1953.

In the winter of 38-39, acting on a tip from an unidentified source, the AIA suspended Joe Batiste, stating he was too old to participate in high school sports. An inquest into Batiste’s age followed, but his parents, Ernest and Loretta Batiste, said they had no birth certificates.

They said Joe – who set the national high school record in the 110 high hurdles at 14.5 seconds – was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1921, but could offer no proof. The AIA concluded that there was no known birth certificate for Batiste, and about a month before the state championships, deemed Batiste eligible.

The Star described the 1939 state meet as “the greatest carnival of athletics in the history of our sovereign state”. He further describes Batiste, favorite in the 120 high hurdles, high jump and long jump, as having “the speed of a greyhound and the spring of a kangaroo”.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s decision to declare Joe Batiste eligible made headlines in the May 5, 1939, edition of The Star.

Arizona Daily Star Archive

Batiste again set the American record in the 120 hurdles, achieving a finish of 14.0 seconds – a state record that would stand until 1962. Batiste won by 10 meters, which was unthinkable.

The all-black 4×200 relay team of Batiste, Garfield Johnson, Jesse Higgins and Fred Foley easily won the state title. Higgins also won the 100-yard sprint. Van Horne called his champions “conquering badgers”.

Batiste seemed to be tied to the 1940 US Olympic team as America’s top hurdler. But World War II ended the 1940 and 1944 Olympics. Batiste was drafted into the army and later discovered that enrolling in Arizona wasn’t as easy as competing for high school. from Tucson.

Despite Van Horne’s attempts to get Arizona to accept Batiste’s entry request, the UA refused. Batiste instead spent two regular years at ASU, but his late 1930s athletic dominance waned. He was no longer an outstanding athlete.

“Van Horne gave (black) athletes their first opportunity in Tucson athletics,” wrote Star columnist Abe Chanin. Not only did Batiste and his younger brothers Fred and Frank become the state track athletes of the year in 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1944, but Higgins, Ellis Webb and O’Dell Gunter – all black – became state champions. .

Fred Batiste became the first black athlete to earn a letter in UA history, a two-way starter for the 1949 Wildcat football team. He was elected to the UA Sports Hall of Fame the month last; he will be inducted in September.

Fred Batiste was a football and track star at Tucson High who later played running back at UA.

Courtesy of Tucson High

After leaving his administrative duties at Pueblo, Van Horne retired in 1959. He was not forgotten. TUSD subsequently named a new school on East Pima Street Van Horne Elementary. It closed in 2011.

Van Horne died in 1986 while visiting his son in Amsterdam. He was a founding member of the Arizona Coaching Hall of Fame in 1992.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at 520-573-4362 or [email protected] On Twitter: @ghansen711