A Growing Flock: East Coast Alums Keep Oregon Spirits High
By Brian Price
When Franc Rodriguez was run over by a 10-ton tow truck, that should have been it for him.
"The doctors kept me alive physically, but it was Oregon Ducks football that kept me alive spiritually. I wore my Ducks shirt instead of a hospital gown," he says.
Rodriguez is a walking Ducks billboard, his arms are covered in Oregon-related tattoos.
"After my body was shattered, I wanted to cover it with symbols that make me happy, that mean something to me," he says as he flexes his right arm to make the Oregon "O" pulsate. "Every bone from the hip down was broken. During my three months in the hospital and the subsequent years of recovery, which included learning how to walk again, watching the Ducks games was what kept me going each week."
Rodriguez, an 1984 Oregon graduate, was one of the hundreds of fans that turned out at Sidebar, a flatiron bar and New York City home base for the local Oregon Alumni Association (UOAA) chapter, to cheer on the Ducks in the national championship.
Overall, the UOAA organized over 60 viewing parties across the country as well as internationally in Hong Kong, London, and Taiwan to watch the big game on January 10.
As the Pac-10 continues to grow, Rodriguez, along with his fellow Duck alums who have since moved away from Oregon, will have more reasons to cheer as Fox Sports has picked up several Pac-10 games, as well as the conference championship, for national broadcast next season.
With negotiations for the Conference's media rights beginning in February, the prospect of increased exposure across the country is heightened, including the possibility of a dedicated Pac-12 Network.
The drive for increased exposure is being led by graduates of sports business programs around the country. The University of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center was the first program of its kind to focus on teaching students the business of sports.
"Larry Scott is the visionary we need to lead this conference," observed Sean McDevitt, a student of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. "As far as expanding a business model, he's taking the Pac-10, or soon to be the Pac-12, from a regional, or one coast conference, and making it relevant across the country. He's also setting a great precedent for each member school to follow in the future."
Fellow Warsaw student Erika Platano agrees. "You never stop being a fan so it's frustrating living in a part of the country where you're not always going to get the game. But it's important to stay connected," she says. "As the Oregon, and overall, the Pac-10 fan base continues to grow, so will the strength of the conference, and vice versa."
"We're all passionate fans," Platano laughs. "It's not just that I wear yellow and green everyday. That's what color my blood is."
The Ducks came up short in a surprisingly low scoring national championship, but getting there was undoubtedly a giant leap on the road to national attention.
Sidebar, like so many bars across the country, has provided a centralized location for Ducks fans and alums to come together on game day. According to Sidebar events planner Kathryn Shark, getting involved with the Ducks was a no-brainer. "We love their spirit. Pac-10 fans have a tremendous amount of passion and are among the most consistent fans," she says.
A personal touch by Shark was covering up every window with yellow and green paper. "Part of the fun is forgetting, for maybe a moment, that they're far away from campus," she says. "It's fun for these fans to forget themselves and, regardless of their age, feel like they're back in college."
But it's not all fun and games. UOAA (New York City chapter) board of directors chair Lisa Khan-Kapadia explains that her chapter is also seriously engaged in charitable efforts.
"Setting up an internship scholarship fund for current students, in addition to providing a local UO network for graduates are constant goals," she says. "We're always looking for different ways to engage our local alumni, from sports events to monthly happy hours to events featuring UO faculty. Ultimately, we want to give back to our alma mater."
Establishments like Sidebar that have served as a home away from home for the Ducks fans have agreed to donate portions of the day's profits to UO scholarship funds. Overall, the UOAA NYC chapter has raised over $3,000 in the past year that will benefit a local scholarship fund to help a current UO student with the necessary means to come to New York City and pursue an internship.
"We want to serve as a bridge for students to find work in the city," Khan-Kapadia says. "This scholarship is a major step in that direction."
Additionally, UOAA NYC Chapter communications director Cassidy Stockwell created a monthly newsletter that has become the face of the NYC chapter by keeping Ducks informed of all the latest happenings in the city.
From Hawaii to the West Coast through Denver and Chicago to New York and Boston, Oregon alumni can easily find other Ducks. Former New York chapter president Carly Heims notes the importance of the alumni group in a city like New York.
"Being new to a city like New York can be really intimidating, but arriving and having a built-in network is something a young person can really appreciate," Heims says.
Originally founded in 1975, the OUAA NYC Chapter didn't initially have a strong following. It was a grassroots effort that started with about 10 people getting together for Saturday game days.
Now nearly 500 strong, the New York chapter is demonstrative of the kind of initiative that Larry Scott hopes to continue in strengthening the network of Pac-10 fans throughout the country.
Duck by Duck, the flock continues to grow for Oregon, and in turn, the Pac-10.
For more information about the alumni associations from around the Conference:
- Arizona State
- Oregon State
- Washington State