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If you are reading this, chances are you are a student at Eastern Kentucky University. Hopefully sometime in the not too distant future, you will receive a diploma that will say Eastern Kentucky University on it. When you apply for a job, you will list Eastern Kentucky University as the place you received your postsecondary education. Hopefully your years at Eastern will be filled with great memories of a complete college experience. For many, this experience includes not only your academic life, but also meeting lifelong friends, joining a fraternity or sorority, participating in plays, concerts or dance recitals, experiencing cultural events at the new Center for the Arts, being involved with campus ministries and many other opportunities provided by Eastern Kentucky University. What is going to be missing for many of you is avid and active fan support of your Colonel athletic teams. And that is a missed opportunity and a real shame.

You attend Eastern Kentucky University— Not the University of Kentucky, not the University of Louisville. Not LSU or Boise State or any other team you may spend your time watching on television. Eastern Kentucky University is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a school with a proud tradition. This is a school with true student-athletes who work as hard as athletes anywhere and who play their hearts out for Eastern for four years, not one-and-done carpetbaggers who use the school as a stepping stone. Unfortunately, EKU is a school whose student-athletes are largely snubbed by the very student body they represent.

I was fortunate enough to play for EKU’s first National Championship football team in 1979. What you probably don’t know is that championship never would have happened without the student body. For example, we had to win an epic struggle against Western in front of a jam-packed Roy Kidd Stadium (25,000-plus) that included a goal line stand on the hill end of the stadium. There was not an empty seat in the student section or an empty spot on the hill. The student body was so loud, and the enthusiasm so intense that it truly pulled us to victory. Without that win, we never would have had a shot at the title, and it is a part of college life that all students who were there will always remember.

This year’s Colonel squad was very similar to the 1979 team. Just about every week’s game was a thrilling one, with eight of 12 games being decided by a touchdown or less. Many of the games went down to the last two minutes, including the game against top-20 ranked Kansas State in front of a rowdy crowd of 58,000 fans. Two of the games went down to the very last play, including the comeback against Jacksonville State that was the most unbelievable ending to a game not scripted in Hollywood, and the Football Championship Series playoff game against James Madison, which ended on a heartbreaking field goal at the horn. Our team included many great players who made so many great plays. What this year’s team didn’t have was the consistent support of the student body. This support could have made the difference. And that is a missed opportunity and a real shame.

Last Saturday, your school, Eastern Kentucky University, played on ESPNU, a nationally televised game viewed by fans in all 50 states. What a golden opportunity to showcase our fine school and for our student body to fill the stadium, get on television and put on a real show for the nation. And just as importantly, help our team stay alive in the FCS Playoffs. Instead of a packed stadium and a rocking student section, the students were not there. Yes, it was Thanksgiving weekend, but most of our students could have made it back for the game, and the lack of student support is a pattern repeated all too often. This was a missed opportunity and a real shame.

Also in 1979, the Colonels earned a trip to the NCAA tournament in men’s basketball. Once again, it wouldn’t have happened without the student body. The game to decide the OVC went down to the buzzer, and beyond. Alumni Coliseum was so loud that the officials couldn’t hear the horn. The foul that was called to send the Colonels’ David Tierney to the foul line for the legendary one and bonus was shown on television replays to have occurred a full 3.5 seconds after time expired. The students and their loud enthusiasm again pulled the team through, and it was something that all there remember as one of the most fun and exciting experiences of their college years.

Now, Eastern Kentucky’s basketball teams are fighting again to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. Our teams want to do what Morehead State did to Louisville last year in the NCAA tournament, a team OUR Colonels beat on the road and what Murray did to Vanderbilt in the tourney the year before— Murray‘s team lost to Butler by one, showing how close the OVC was to a run even deeper into the tournament. Hopefully, our student body will get behind our teams and help them make the tournament during their EKU years, putting the name of our university in front of the nation again and creating new memories for this generation’s student body.

Understandably, not everyone is a sports fan. Also understandably, many grew up in homes that “bleed blue” or the colors of some other school. But once a person enrolls at EKU, his or her first allegiance should be to that school. The more publicity our sports teams are able to acquire, the more people will be aware of your school. If you spend four years at a school wearing the colors of a school you don’t attend, shouting at the television for strangers at another school instead of for your classmates who would really appreciate the support at live home events, then you miss an important part of the college experience. And that would be a missed opportunity and a real shame.

 

Gary Ford

Class of ’80 & ‘84