Our Town. Our Team: UNK student-athletes connect with community during annual event

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – Brody Betke can’t wait for Thursday night.

The 11-year-old and his family will be in the stands at Cope Stadium when the University of Nebraska at Kearney football team opens its 2021 season against Missouri Southern.

Betke is a big fan of the Lopers, and his favorite sport is football, so he’s pretty excited about the game.

On Saturday morning, the Kearney boy got to meet some of the UNK student-athletes during an event at First National Bank of Omaha. Four fall sports athletes, Louie the Loper and members of the UNK cheer and dance teams hung out at the bank’s downtown location for a couple hours to meet fans, take photos and sign autographs.

“It’s really fun and cool,” Betke said while holding a signed poster he plans to display on his bedroom wall.

More than 400 students, coaches, staff members and administrators from the UNK Athletic Department spread out across the city Saturday to promote their programs and engage with local residents during the annual “Here Come the Lopers” event. They stopped at dozens of businesses to hand out posters, schedules and yard signs and chat with owners, employees and customers. The groups even picked up trash along the way.

UNK Athletic Director Marc Bauer launched “Here Come the Lopers” in 2018 as a way to foster school spirit and strengthen the relationship between the university and community.

“We’re not just some school sitting over here on an island by ourselves. We’re a vital component of this community,” Bauer said. “Creating that connection and sense of belongingness is very important for our student-athletes.”

The event, formed in partnership with Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, also gives Lopers a chance to say thank you for all the support they receive from fans and businesses.

“This community shows us so much love throughout the year. They’re always coming to our games and supporting us in so many ways. It’s nice for us to be able to show our gratitude,” said Kylee Moore, a co-captain on the UNK women’s soccer team.

Moore, a senior from Omaha, spent her morning signing autographs and her afternoon playing in an exhibition match at Foster Field.

“It’s so cool to see how the little kids look up to us and want to take pictures and get those autographs,” she said.

Kirsti Schack, branch manager at First National Bank of Omaha, completely agrees.

“There’s nothing better than seeing kids excited about meeting athletes and seeing Louie the Loper right here at our branch,” she said.

In addition to being “huge Loper fans” – as evidenced by their blue and gold attire – about half of the First National Bank employees are UNK graduates, including Schack. The business is a sponsor and official bank of UNK Athletics.

“We take pride in the fact that we’re so involved with UNK,” Schack said.

The theme for this year’s “Here Come the Lopers” event was “Our Town. Our Team” – a slogan prominently displayed on a billboard along Second Avenue.

“We want that message out there,” Bauer said. “We want people to know this is our community.”