By Zoe Crowdus/Arizona Sonora News
College basketball has its expected celebrities. The point guard who made the first pick in the NBA draft. A coach that led a team to 6 NCAA championships in a row. The fan favorite player who makes a game winning, buzzer beating shot and feels the crowd’s cheers engulf her in a moment of fame. But college athletics also has some unexpected celebrities.
There’s the maintenance crew that prepares the arena for every new battle. The concession workers who fuel the fans and experience every play through the TV screen. The fans sitting in the second-to-last row and peering through binoculars to catch every moment of the game. At the McKale Memorial Center at the University of Arizona, there is one local celebrity who redefines the standard season ticket holder.
When she enters the arena with nearly 15,000 other people, it is no longer the 7-feet tall, uniformed athletes that command the crowd’s attention. The enthusiastic coaches, flailing their arms and shouting to their team, lose the camera’s stare when she cheers from her seat. Even the college students, painted with red and blue and heckling the opposing team can’t win the eyes of the fans quite like the 86-year-old woman cheering from the stands.
Phyllis Goodman, dressed in an Arizona T-shirt and her rhinestoned Arizona hat, has been running the show in McKale Memorial Center since she was a teenager attending games with her father.
“I love basketball. I’ve always loved basketball,” she says. “And I’m not like the quiet fan, I don’t just sit there.”
Goodman is known by Arizona fans and college basketball fans nationwide for her spirited dedication to UA basketball. A New York native, Goodman came to Tucson with her family in 1944 when she was just 11 years old, with a distant vision of the Wild West that would soon become her home.
“We drove across the country,” she says while sipping her steaming dark roast coffee. “The war was ending. We came in October. And I thought, what did I know about Arizona?”
As the days and hours passed in the car, Goodman crafted a picture in her head of her new home, filled with tumbleweeds rolling across dirt rows and saguaros waving their arms across the horizon. She imagined herself walking outside to wooden sidewalks where she’d wait to cross while cowboys tipped their hat to her as they trotted by on their trusty horses.
“We drove in on October 28th, a Saturday night,” she remembers as if it were this morning’s commute. “It was raining and we drove through downtown. There were sidewalks. I didn’t see any horses. So I thought, well, I guess it’s not what I thought it was.”
Along the way her father picked up hitch-hiking soldiers returning from World War II. One by one, they joined the caravan and became part of the family for a brief moment, before being dropped off to return to their own families.
“We took them from place to place as we went from place to place,” she says. “It took us a week. We stopped every night and we brought the last one into Tucson.”
Goodman had just arrived in a city nearly 2,500 miles away from home, and had no idea what Tucson had in store for her. From the moment she arrived, it was almost as if the Wildcats had been awaiting her energy. When Goodman started her first year at the University of Arizona, she wanted to become a nurse, but at the time, the university didn’t have a nursing program. So after a year, Goodman grew restless and headed back to her family in New York.
“I said ‘I’m leaving Arizona and I’m never coming back’,” she recalls. “So I left at the end of the school year, went back to New York, bopped around with family, had a job for a minute and then called my mother and said, ‘See if you can get me into late registration.’”
Making it in time to start her sophomore year, Goodman was back in Tucson and ready to try again. She was enrolled in classes, but it quickly became a challenge to find Goodman in the classroom.
“I got involved playing bridge and I ended up playing bridge instead of going into class,” she admits. “My father would drop me off at school and I went to the Student Union to play bridge. I loved the game and I was pretty good.”
Her competitive nature no doubt was present in her friendly bridge tournaments, but she never competed seriously in the card game outside of playing hooky in the union.
“I enjoyed it and it was easier than going to class,” she says.
Unable to find a field of study she enjoyed as much as some friendly competition, Goodman never graduated. She left the UA for real this time and started working. It wasn’t long before a friend set her up on a blind date with the man to soon be her husband, Lee Goodman.
College students today may wonder how their families would react if they left university with a new hobby, no degree, and soon after, a husband. But in the 1950s, attending university as a woman to find a husband was the norm. According to the United States Census Bureau, only 5.2% of American women over the age of 25 in the 1950s had attended four years or more of college. The Census also reported that in the 1950s, 65.8% of women over the age of 15 were married and another 14.2% of women were widowed or divorced.
Goodman and her husband didn’t meet at the UA, but he graduated from the university with a B.A. in Journalism. She recalls begrudgingly going on their first date, but the two were married within the next year when Goodman was 21 years old.
“He was almost six years older and a mutual friend said, ‘Well, I want to fix you up with someone,’” she smirks. “I knew of him. He had a reputation, in those days, you know? And I was very naive and shy, so I said, ‘Oh no, I don’t think so,’” says Goodman, pausing and blushing while she looks down at her hands shimmering with silver rings. “So I went out with him and we got married.”
The were married in March of the following year. “We were going together from July through that year and I thought, ‘Well, you know, if he doesn’t commit to something, that’s it. So in my mind, I gave him a deadline,” she says. “If he didn’t commit to something by New Year’s, I was walking away. And he got in just under the wire, and we got married in March.”
Her husband was the president of the Wildcat Club and the two purchased their first set of his and hers season tickets. The couple raised two sons, and as if it was a birthright, each new child brought a new season ticket to the family. After the boys grew up and left home, the couple went back down to two tickets, but they still bring their kids and grandkids as much as possible.
“I used to tell my husband, if we ever split up, he could have the house, the kids, the car, but I want my tickets,” she says with a giggle.
Their involvement with Wildcat basketball didn’t stop when the game ended. The two spent their time getting to know the coaches and players and made Arizona basketball a part of their family.
“When Fred Snowden came was when we really got involved,” she says. “When he came to Arizona, it was a major coup. The first black coach of a major university, and my husband was involved in the athletic department in the Wildcat Club.”
Fred Snowden began his 10-year career as the head coach at UArizona in 1972. During his time as coach, he won the NCAA Division I Western Athletic Conference 1973 Coach of the Year Award. He also started a program that matched players with fans to develop a community feeling with the team in Tucson. The Goodmans were matched with Bob Elliot and Jerome Gladney.
“Bob and Jerome used to come over for dinner on the weekend when they could,” she says. “Jerome would sit at the table and the table would go up because he couldn’t fit under it.”
These days Goodman lives in the foothills of Tucson. She works part time at the Invisible Theatre Box Office and spends her free time with friends and family. Her husband passed away in 1994 and her two sons live in Phoenix and California with their families. She’s held onto her two season tickets and brings friends, co-workers, family, and her boyfriend, Joe Bourne.
“I hadn’t been to a basketball game until I went with her, so that was my first experience a couple of years ago,” Bourne says. “I was amazed at the enthusiasm that she was displaying and continues to display for all the years she’s been going.”
Goodman’s game day routine begins by dressing in her finest Arizona T-shirt and sparkling blue Arizona hat. She then heads towards campus and enjoys a glass of wine at the XYZ Bar in the Aloft Hotel. As the pre-game energy builds, Goodman walks to the stadium, greets the friendly faces that sit around her, and awaits the teams ceremonious arrival.
“It’s been a part of my life forever and I hope that I can keep on going,” she says, smiling. “Even if they have to take me in a bed, I’ll be there.”
Zoe Crowdus is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact the reporter at email@example.com.