Phoenix: Preparation for Migratory Sports

Extreme population and area growth in Phoenix, Arizona in the 1950s supported the importation of migration-based sports, like hockey. Throughout the 1950s, Phoenix experienced about a 300% population increase and nearly an 1100% area expansion (Phoenix, 2013). This growth pushed Phoenix from the 99th rank city in the U.S. to 29 (Phoenix 2003, 44).  

In 1965, the Arizona State Fair Commission desired a multipurpose facility with unobstructed, arena seating for events ranging from livestock shows to concerts and sports. Associated Capitol Architects submitted the winning proposal, a hyperbolic-paraboloid arena covering approximately 2.75 acres (Az State Fairgrounds 1966).

Despite the deep Sonoran Desert locale, the commission and builders included facilities and mechanization for seemingly out-of-place activities. If taken by itself, including amenities for ice skating and hockey appears to be a random whim of the rich. However, Texas supported several minor professional hockey teams starting in the 1920s (Farris 2016). Eventually, these teams would lead to the World Hockey Association (WHA). In preparation for creating northeastern winters in the desert, engineers ensured the coliseum could produce artificial ice.

Oklahoma business men brought hockey to Phoenix. First, they forced their Tulsa Oilers team to play a few exhibition games. In 1967, the Western Hockey League granted franchise for a new team in Phoenix, who would be called the Roadrunners. In 1974, the Roadrunners switched allegiances to the WHA, a new competitor to the National Hockey league.

PHXRoadrunnersWHA.png
World Hockey Association Logo (1974-77)

With Major League Soccer, three major league sports are rooted in the immigrant community. The immigrant community saved baseball. Additionally, baseball forced many sports related immigration quotas. Soccer started out as a national level amateur sport with attention during the Olympics. Basketball failed to discover international talent until 1990 with Valde Divac and Dikembe Mutombo. Hockey started as sport of immigrants, by immigrants, but for the common people.

In the WHL (1967-1974) and WHA (1974-77) years, only three Americans played for the Phoenix Roadrunners. During the WHA years, two Americans and four Finns played. Pekka Rautakallio (centered) offered his personal story about migrating to America for temporary work.

Typically, we associate migratory work with farmers or even the early 20th century. In the Southwest, where I grew up, I learned about migrant farmworker programs. But who knew that the Phoenix Roadrunners would eventually lead to Austin Matthews from Scottsdale, Az and winner of the Rocket Richard trophy for most goals in the NHL.

Sources:
Arizona State Fairground Brochure on the Coliseum, 1966, Arizona Memory Project.
1960 Census Supplementary Reports: Rank of Cities of 100,000 or More: 1960 PC(S1)-7, census.gov
2013 Summary of Community Profile and Trends, Phoenix.gov
McCartney, Earl “ICE Factory”, The Arizona Republic, February 13, 1966, retrieved from https://www.newspapers.com/clip/78675623/arizona-republic/
“Contract Signing” Arizona Republic, June 17, 1965. Retrieved from Clipping from Arizona Republic – Newspapers.com
Phoenix Roadrunners’ Logo, wikimedia. Retrieved from PHXRoadrunnersWHA – Phoenix Roadrunners (WHA) – Wikipedia
Farris, Jason (ed.) “Texas on Ice: Pro Strides to the Stars – the 1942/3 to 1992/3 Seasons” 2016

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