The history of lighting Tucson’s ‘A’ Mountain for UA Homecoming


Amy Bailey

An up-close view of the A at “A” Mountain in 2018. The Tucson Fire Department successfully demonstrated how to safely light a flare and make a beautiful moment to mark the start of Homecoming for the University of Arizona.

Kiara Adams

Every year for Homecoming, the University of Arizona welcomes alumni back to campus to partake in their fair share of traditions and celebrations. One annual Homecoming tradition at the UA is the lighting of Tucson’s Sentinel Peak, commonly known as “A” Mountain.

The UA Bobcats Senior Honorary handles all things Homecoming, and Lahari Samak and Carly Snell are the two Bobcats who are specifically in charge of the tradition of lighting “A” Mountain.

“Historically, Bobcats Senior Honorary helps orchestrate lighting of ‘A’ Mountain. [‘A’ Mountain] is obviously very near and dear to the [UA] community, and the tradition is that every Sunday before Homecoming starts, all these alumni and other students come back to campus for that weekend and start off the week by lighting up the mountain,” Snell said.

The lighting of “A” Mountain is a big part of what makes Homecoming special to many past and present Wildcats, but this year they’re doing it a little differently.

“For the past couple of years, it has been on Sunday to be the initiation of Homecoming sort of similar to the Olympic torch, but a lot of alumni tend to come later on in the week. We wanted to make sure that they were included in all of the major activities for Homecoming, so we’re actually moving it to Thursday so that everybody in town, students, faculty and people of Tucson can attend,” Samak said.

The lighting of “A” Mountain hasn’t always been a tradition, though. It was stopped for a while and brought back to the university in 2008.

“So it originally started in the ‘80s, and I think it went away once a lot of the taller buildings were starting to be built. It was brought back in 2008 actually by the Bobcats Honorary, and ever since then, it’s been the tradition for Homecoming,” Samak said.

Since it was brought back, it has been a staple of the UA community and to students who attend the annual lighting ceremony.

“I’ve gone every single year, but [I] went with the various organizations that I’ve been a part of. I was in Freshman Class Council my freshman year, and we went to the ‘A’ mountain lighting that year,” Snell said. “Ever since then, I’ve been in some organization, so I’ve gone with a bunch of different friends. It’s interesting to me every time I come back and just see how much my life has changed since then.”

The history of “A” Mountain runs even deeper than just the UA community itself. “‘A’ Mountain is so important to the university. … I was actually at this alumni event a couple of weeks ago, and this gentleman who represents some of the Native tribes in Arizona was talking about how Sentinel Peak is similar to one of the words used in their Native language. So [the history of the mountain] goes back a long time to before we even got here; it’s just always been this huge peak,” Samak said.

In addition to the day change this year, the lighting of the “A” will also bring back some older traditions as well.

“In previous years, the lighting of ‘A’ Mountain has been actual sparklers on the mountain. These past couple of years, it has been different because of [COVID-19] and other things going on, but we’re back to sparklers again, which I’m super excited about,” Snell said.

The annual lighting of “A” Mountain will take place this year during Homecoming week on Thursday, Oct. 27.

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