RETURN TO SPORTS
Salute today for retiring superfan
'Ooh Aah Man,' beset by illness, to lead his last 'A-R-I-Z-O-N-A'

Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star
Saturday, March 9, 2013 12:00 am

Joe Cavaleri, the Wildcats' "Ooh Aah Man" since 1979, has gone to all four of Arizona's basketball Final Fours. - XAVIER GALLEGOS / TUCSON CITIZEN 1988

Joe Cavaleri signed his email with the moniker thousands of Arizona Wildcats fans have known him by since he first became the school's unofficial superfan in 1979: "Ooh Aah."

It's easier for him to email sometimes, his speech slurred by the same Parkinson's disease that shortens his stride and occasionally freezes his eyes shut.

"As much as I am upset in my mind that I have to step down, my body is telling me to stop," he wrote. "I just don't want to listen to it.

"But it is time to step down. Believe me, it is the right thing to do."

At Senior Day at McKale Center, the "Ooh Aah Man" will say au revoir, a decision made by him and the UA. After today, he'll no longer walk onto the McKale Center floor to lead the crowd in timeouts in his trademark A-R-I-Z-O-N-A cheers.

He'll be around, though.

In retirement, Cavaleri, 61, will keep his basketball tickets behind the south basket, and will travel to the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas next week as the Wildcats' guest.

It will be strange to no longer lead cheers, stripping off layers of Wildcat-colored clothes at midcourt as the crowd roars, he said.

That had grown more difficult for Cavaleri in recent years. Earlier this season, he struggled to reach the court on time, and had to wait until the next timeout to perform.

The Wildcats have surprises in store for him today. He knows he'll be emotional.

"I'll try not to be," he said in a separate phone conversation. "I'll get through it, though."

He never thought, when he first started cheering the UA baseball team in 1979, six years after moving from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., that being the "Ooh Aah Man" would define the better part of his life.

Ask Cavaleri for his favorite UA moments, and he recalls him and his daughter meeting Derrick Williams after a game, around their birthdays.

He lists Steve Kerr, Jason Terry and a half-dozen of his favorite UA players.

"A lot of the older guys," he said.

He remembers traveling to Seattle in 1988, watching the Wildcats march to their first Final Four.

Cavaleri has been part of the team's official traveling party on all four of their visits to the NCAA tournament's semifinals.

"I remember seeing him when I'd come down to Tucson in the 1980s," UA athletic director Greg Byrne said. "When I came here (to work), I had recollections and memories of the importance of the 'Ooh Aah Man.'

"He's been a person to rally around."

On StarNet: See photos of the Ooh Aah Man through the years at azstarnet.com/gallery