TUCSON – One scoreboard will say “Gatos,” the other “Leñadores.” Mariachi will perform before and during the game.
Saturday night’s in-state clash between the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona will not be your ordinary college football meeting.
It will also be Hispanic Heritage Night at Arizona Stadium, the signature celebration of a university determined to honor Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Wednesday. The scoreboards will reflect this with the Spanish-translation of the schools’ nicknames: Wildcats and Lumberjacks.
The university intends to celebrate not only the Hispanic/Latinx community on campus but also in Tucson.
The city is 43.6% Hispanic/Latinx, according to the U.S. census. With such a high representation in Tucson, the Wildcats’ athletic department believes it is important to ensure Hispanic heritage is recognized and celebrated properly.
The university wants to make diversity and inclusion a priority, and it hopes that is reflected during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“Hispanic Heritage is the biggest celebration that we have because it is the top minority group in Tucson and we want to represent that rich culture that they have,” said Thomas Harris, associate athletic director for diversity and inclusion.
Harris said he took the position to help educate professionals within the athletic department about diversity and to create safe, culturally competent spaces for the athletes there, including those in the Hispanic/Latinx community.
His priority is not only teaching the staff about diverse cultures, he said, but to also have representation across the staff that allows for athletes to see people who resemble them.
“As a student-athlete, you need staff members that look like you,” Harris said. “There are certain barriers that folks have up, and if staff is able to identify with a student-athlete, those barriers are easier to break through.”
To highlight the culture, Saturday’s game will include a special Hispanic/Latinx-themed Wildcats logo created by the university, as well as the scoreboards that recognize the teams’ nicknames.
A video featuring Hispanic/Latinx athletes and athletic department staff will air in the stadium before the game and on the university’s social media accounts.
“The student-athletes, they respond well, they feel honored and they feel seen,” Harris said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Roberta Stout, a Tucson native and athletic department staff member, has helped organize the halftime performance. She described the Hispanic Heritage performance as “the jewel” of the celebration.
The halftime show will include participation by local community groups.
“Being able to recognize the culture and how it has influenced our city and our campus is important,” Stout said. “It’s great to shine a light on it.”
Because the university has a high Hispanic representation, the athletic department felt it was important to show its respect for the culture, not only during Hispanic Heritage Month and the football game, but by consistently showcasing the Spanish language. In the fall of 2020, 26.2% of the university’s enrollment was Hispanic of Latinx.
On August 2, the Wildcats athletic department created Spanish-language social media accounts with the name “Arizona Athletics en Español” to cater to the population of Spanish-speaking fans that follow the university’s athletic programs.
A apoyar a @ArizonaFBall cuando los Wildcats se enfrentan a NAU a las 7 p.m. El sábado en el estadio Arizona durante el juego anual de la herencia hispana. ¡Vamos por Todo!
— Arizona Athletics en Español (@AZAthleticsEsp) September 17, 2021
The social media accounts post completely in Spanish and are organized by Tucson native and the voice of UArizona sports, Francisco Romero.
“Growing up, I used to think the university was out of reach but that wasn’t the case,” Romero said “The University of Arizona is in our backyards and all of these efforts just lets us know that the university is ours, it’s there for you.”
Romero said he has been working for the Arizona athletic department since 1999 broadcasting games in Spanish and said it is the longest running Spanish broadcast in college sports.
He is joined in the booth by Jorge Leyva and Marco Rincon, who will be doing the color commentating and play-by-play, respectively, for Saturday’s game.
Levya has been the play-by-play voice in Spanish for Wildcats football games for almost five years.
“It just makes sense to serve the demographic that represents almost half of the community,” Leyva said.
The university has a wide reach in southern Arizona, and Leyva is grateful that the athletic program has the tools to reach the surrounding community in a way that is directly relatable for them.
“Being associated with something so ingrained in the community of Tucson motivates me to keep on going,” he said.
Feedback surrounding past Hispanic Heritage day celebrations have been well received. The athletic department is determined to keep the Hispanic/Latinx community well represented.