Nearly a half-century ago, in 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a basketball game and Arnold Palmer won both the Masters and the British Open. Simultaneously, a group of 30 businessmen in Tucson pledged to inspire youngsters in their community to achieve their own greatness through sports participation.
The sleepy southwestern town of Tucson had more than doubled its population in just a few years—from 107,000 in 1959 to 223,000 in 1962—when the Tucson Conquistadores organization was born. Its founding father, the late Roy P. Drachman, recognized a need for “extra-curricular support of deserving athletes as well as other community sporting events.”
The Tucson Conquistadores staged its first fund-raiser in 1963. The Sports Award Banquet proved to be a popular annual event and continued through 1994. The Conquistadores then turned their focus to assuming sponsorship of the struggling Tucson Open in 1965. The 20-year-old PGA TOUR golf tournament needed a make-over.
The Conquistadores became the official sponsors of the 1966 Tucson Open, boosting the purse to $60,000. Fred Boice, a rancher and Conquistador, served as the tournament chairman. “We just wanted to ensure the tournament stayed in Tucson; it contributed so much to tourism and our business environment and had great potential to raise money for our youngsters,” said Boice. “
Boice recognized the Tucson Conquistadores needed a big name to revitalize the Tucson Open—he focused on recruiting Arnold Palmer. Palmer returned to the Tucson Open in 1967 after a six-year absence, winning the first five-figure winner’s check ($12,000). “What he did for our golf tournament was tremendous,“ said Boice. “Professional golf was then, and is now, one of Tucson’s greatest assets.”
Charter member and 1971 tournament chairman Chuck Pettis echoes the importance of PGA TOUR golf in promoting Tucson and helping charities. “We scrambled to get on TV, and stay on TV,” he recalls. “Our success meant we could support kids in athletic programs in every corner of the community,” said Pettis. “Conquistadores step right up and do the job,” he added. “The Tucson Conquistadores delivers on its promises. I’m proud of this group for maintaining its high standards.”
Another local organization that has grown right along with the Tucson Conquistadores is Challenger Little League. Since its beginning 20 years ago, Challenger Little League has partnered with the Tucson Conquistadores to better serve mentally and physically disabled children and young adults through the game of baseball. “We look at baseball as effective training for other parts of life,” said Bill Fields, the father of a special-needs young adult and an assistant director for the Challenger Division of Little League Baseball. “The league also provides a strong social component for the kids and their parents.”
The Tucson Conquistadores was a major capital donor in constructing the Field of Dreams Little League complex in 2001. The four-field complex incorporates accessibility features for Challenger Little Leaguers. “Whenever we ask, they’ve been there to help us,” said Fields. A special request came in 2008 when a Tucson Challenger Little League team was invited to participate in the inaugural Challenger Division exhibition game at the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa. The Conquistadores staged a fund-raiser to help the team raise $30,000 needed to fund the trip. “The fans at the games even asked our players for autographs,” said Fields. “It was a truly special experience for all of us.”
Like many organizations, the Tucson Conquistadores relies on its new members to continue its good work. David Smallhouse, a just-graduated rookie, chose to contribute his time and energy to this organization because he admires the Conquistadores “historical roots in supporting youth athletics in the community.” He added, “It is very rewarding working with a passionate team that includes all the members of the Conquistadores, its staff, the PGA TOUR, Accenture and the volunteers; it makes the theme, ‘Together, anything is possible’, a reality for all of us here at home.”
Smallhouse also recognizes the regional economic benefits of helping to make the Accenture Match Play Championship a success. “The indirect impact is what really pushes my button,” said Smallhouse. “The exposure to out-of-town guests who attend the tournament, coupled with the worldwide press and television coverage, is priceless,” he added.
Troy Little, a nine-year member now serving as the president of the Tucson Conquistadores, acknowledges the lifeblood of this organization is its members.” One of my key goals this year was to engage all categories of members in our activities,” said Little. “The resources we have within our own group are what make the Conquistadores special.”
Little easily expresses the pride he feels being at the helm in a year when significant milestones have been accomplished. “The completion and dedication of The First Tee of Tucson Learning Center last year was a huge accomplishment for the 1,500 kids in our program,” said Little. “Now with satellite programs at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista and in Green Valley, we can bring golf and the nine core values of The First Tee to even more kids throughout Southern Arizona.” The First Tee, a division of the World Golf Foundation, is a program designed to impact the lives of young people by creating affordable and accessible golf facilities for those who have never had access to the game and its positive values.
As the voice of the Conquistadores, Little acknowledges the group faces growing requests for funding in tough, economic times—monies raised through sales of Accenture Match Play Championship hospitality and ticket packages provide most of the funds to fill these requests. Local Boys & Girls Clubs, Special Olympics, the YMCA and hundreds of sports leagues and teams depend on the Conquistadores to help them meet their needs year after year. “To think that without the Conquistadores support, our kids would not have had basketball leagues, athletic equipment, or facilities in which to play and learn over the course of many years,” said Armando Rio and Lorraine Morgan of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson. “Our community really stepped up this year,” said Little.. “We are so proud of our members and the businesses and people in Southern Arizona.” Since the Accenture Match Play Championship came to town in 2007, the group has raised $7.2 for its charities, bringing its total contributions to over $23 million.
The Tucson Conquistadores was named the 2010 Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Little was especially pleased to accept this award on behalf of his fellow members. “To think that a group of businessmen can come together and make such a difference—they’re your friends and your colleagues, and they do it year after year—that’s pretty cool.”