Peter Yazvac

Nebraska-Kearney Athletics was honored Monday night (May 14) when “Lopers Under the Lights” was recognized as the 2011-12 winner of the Division II Community Engagement Award of Excellence.

Athletics Director John McBride and Assistant A.D. Shawn Fairbanks accepted the award during the opening ceremony of the Division II National Championships Festival in Louisville, Ky.

The Division II Community Engagement Award of Excellence honors a school whose program or event builds the most effective bridges among athletics, the school and the community. In addition to a trophy, Nebraska-Kearney received a $ 500.00 prize.

“The best part about this event is the connection fostered among athletes, general students, the community and our sponsors all in a dynamic two-hour setting,” said the school’s entry. “It is always great to see our teams providing an experience for our fans in an open, social setting. We are able to see first-hand how truly great our student-athletes are.”

“Lopers Under the Lights” is an annual community-engagement campaign that serves as a kickoff event for each new season of UNK Athletics. Held during UNK’s “Welcome Back Week,” the event, now in its sixth year, has grown in popularity with the general student body and the Kearney community.

“Lopers Under the Lights” takes place at UNK’s Ron & Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field. Each UNK team is required to come up with an interactive game or contest related to its sport (for example, baseball conducts a “Guess Your Pitch Speed” contest). Administrators then match up sponsors with the teams to provide participation prizes for those who play.

The prizes range from free pizza to a gift bag with merchandise inside. Sponsors also provide a grand prize that is presented to the random winner at a pep rally toward the end of the program.

Students and community members are invited on the field to take part in the activities while sponsors gain exposure and are able to mingle with coaches and athletes.

While the games are going on, music and sponsor announcements are played on the PA system. Teams also have a designated time to sign autographs at a predetermined location on the field.

The second hour consists of a pep rally featuring various activities. The Pride of the Plains Marching band kicks off this portion and is followed by appearances from all the coaches and athletes of the fall sports.

Others who address the crowd include the university chancellor, the student government president and the athletics director. Winners of larger prizes are announced at this time.

Attendance for Lopers Under the Lights is about 1,000 students, community members, student-athletes, coaches and supporters of the program. For a listing of 2011-12 conference Community Engagement Award of Excellence winners, click here.


David Pickle, NCAA, contributed to this story