A Family Perspective: The man who made us proud — Darn right he is a Wildcat

September 7, 2018


Submitted by the Morago Family 


There were well-deserved ovations for each new inductee to the 2018 University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame. But the most enthusiastic was for an athlete from Gila River.


 Our father, Burdette Morago, drew the loudest applause during a ceremony on Aug. 31 in Tucson for the newest members of an elite group of individuals who in their Wildcat careers proudly represented Arizona athletics. And it wasn’t just because he had the biggest booster club of more than 100 family and friends in attendance.


 In an evening full of moving speeches, Burdette Morago’s mesmerized. Instead of dwelling on sepia-toned memories of self-congratulation, our father’s speech was a measured, thoughtful tribute to familial ideals: the brotherhood of sports, the bonding between native and non-native cultures, and the importance of family.


 He recounted how his biggest boosters – present at many of his pivotal games, sitting in the front row – were his parents, Bill and Ruth Morago. He also told a story about a special relationship his grandfather, Alfred Jackson, shared with “Pop” McKale, the legendary former athletic director of the University of Arizona. Even for those of us who have heard a lifetime’s worth of Dad-told stories, the latter was a new one (which proves that there’s always something a parent, even an 81-year-old one, can surprise you with).


 If nothing else, our father’s speech was a job well done. But even for people who don’t know him as we do, it was so much more. Those in attendance it will remember it as a moment of dignity and wisdom – laced with the spirit of fraternity and grace notes of humanity. It was almost a lesson in everyman civics, if you will.


His is not just an Indian-boy-made-good story (although it is certainly that). Our father’s remarks remind us that themes of “dream big,” “practice makes perfect” and “strength of family” aren’t just old-fashioned notions. They were embodied in a boy from the Rez who is now officially in the pantheon of the greatest athletes who ever wore U of A navy blue and cardinal.

It was not lost on us that some of those who championed him the most were not there to share our father’s special night – his parents, of course, and his sister Viola and brother Merle. We remember them with utmost affection.


The family and friends who were present helped make for a joyous event, not just at the induction ceremony but also the following day at the UA vs BYU football game where the inductees were presented during halftime. Fanfare and fireworks! And, throughout the two-day event we heard over and over from U of A officials and other inductees about how moved they were by the speech. It was a weekend we’ll never forget. 


We thank all those who shared these moments with our father, and those who could not make it but who have been equally supportive. To all of Dad’s U of A friends and sports buddies who encouraged his induction: we thank you. To the people of Ajo where his athletic fame was nurtured: we thank you. To the members of the Gila River Indian Community where his native roots are planted: we thank you. To the tribal government who recognized the importance of this honor (especially Governor Stephen Roe Lewis and Lt. Governor Robert Stone): we thank you.


And to Dad: we thank you, too. Now we can pass down our own story (albeit, without your eloquence) of the night that belonged to the kid from Sacaton with a heck of a right arm.


Sincerely, Sheila Morago, Greg Morago, Michael Morago, And the Morago Family