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ĪSneak'-ing around for scholarships

KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Head football coach John Mackovic dances the night away at the third installment of the UA athletics department's biennial Sneaker Ball. The event was expected to bring in nearly $150,000 for athletic scholarships.
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday April 30, 2003

Athletic boosters dawn tuxes and tennis shoes to raise money for student-athlete scholarships

Nearly 600 supporters of the UA athletics department broke out their tuxedos, evening gowns and athletic shoes last weekend, joining in the festivities of one of the department's signature events ÷ the biennial Sneaker Ball, with proceeds going toward athletics department scholarships benefiting UA's student athletes.

From the sale of tax-deductible admission tickets and auction revenue ÷ individual tickets sold for $200 each, reserved tables for $2,500 ÷ event organizers expected to generate close to $150,000 from the Sneaker Ball for the Wildcat Club Scholarship Fund.

Through annual golf tournaments in Tucson and Phoenix, the Sneaker Ball, and individual donations ÷ supporters receive credits for the department's football and men's basketball priority seating system for each donation ÷ the Wildcat Club is able to generate funding for more than 250 athletic scholarships to be distributed throughout the UA's 19 fully-funded teams. According to Chris Del Conte, associate director of athletics and executive director for fund development, each scholarship funded by the Wildcat club is worth about $8,000.

"While a football game may showcase the university as a whole, events like the golf tournaments we put on or Sneaker Ball showcases the athletic department," Del Conte said. "They create awareness of everything related to the student athletes that otherwise can't be seen by going to a game."

The event, hosted in part by former UA basketball great Bob Elliott, saw many members of the UA athletic family in attendance, including UA football coach John Mackovic, men's basketball coach Lute Olson, gymnastics coach Bill Ryden and volleyball coach David Rubio.

After 400 people attended the first Sneaker Ball event, about 500 were present the second time around, in 2001. With attendance continuing to rise for the event ÷ an estimated 560 people attended this year ÷ event organizer Phoebe Chalk said it is among the department's best methods of raising money for student-athlete scholarships.

"It's a great way for boosters and athletics department supporters to get involved and see the operations of the department," said Chalk, the assistant athletic director of public relations and special events.

Del Conte agreed, noting the overhaul done on Lute and Bobbi Olson Court in McKale Center, turning the arena into a "grand ballroom" setting.

"(The Sneaker Ball) is a great event that creates awareness of our athletic program," Del Conte said. "McKale is a sacred arena for basketball, but when it is transformed like that, with the Hall of Fame ceremony and everything, it intangibly brings in more money than can be accounted for."

With silent and live auctions at the event and an online auction that began March second and ran until days before Saturday's festivities, Arizona faithful were able to bid on anything and everything related to UA sports, from signed men's basketball memorabilia, to authentic team jerseys, to an Arizona Wildcats diamond necklace, with and initial bid price set at $2,000.

During the Sneaker Ball event, the UA athletics department also held the annual Arizona Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, joining the two for the first time, something Chalk said allows for the department to showcase itself even further.

"I think that everybody had a good time," Chalk said. "I think the Hall of Fame inductees really enjoyed themselves."

Among those Arizona Sports Hall of Fame were Arizona greats John Fina (football), Leah O'Brien Amico (softball), Dave Murray (track and field, cross country coach), Jim Gault (gymnastics coach), Robin Marks (track and field), Ashley Tappin (swimming), Pam Tryon Ambrosio (synchronized swimming) and members of the 1979 championship synchronized swim team.

Fina, a former NFL standout with the Buffalo Bills, said he was honored to be a part of the festivities and was glad that the event was able to help UA student athletes.

"It's very exciting to join such an elite class of athletes," Fina said. "Seeing an event like this and what it does for the department makes me proud to be a part of Arizona athletics."

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