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From the booth: Athletics answered call for help

Ryan Casey
Staff Writer
By Ryan Casey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
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In the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in this country's history, the Arizona athletic department - nearly 1,500 miles away from the affected area in and around New Orleans - stepped up.

And why not? Through their efforts, the department became a mirror of much of the rest of the country - everyone doing their part to help after Hurricane Katrina.

"Several athletes came to either their coach or to Becky Bell (director of the CATS Life Skills Program) to say that they wanted to do something," said Rocky LaRose, Arizona's senior associate athletic director.

"It's terrific because athletes are figures (within Tucson) and have a lot of interaction with the community," LaRose said.

Take the Arizona cheerleading squad. Last week, a group of them went shopping for victims' basic human needs - socks, toothbrushes, peroxide.

Or look to the Wildcat football team, which was linked to a massive donation effort spanning the last two home games at Arizona Stadium.

Entering the game against NAU two weeks ago, you may have noticed a flatbed truck being used to collect donations as part of the relief effort.

Not quite as obvious this past weekend, however, were the evacuees and relief workers entering alongside the students and other fans in the crowd.

"This is the biggest community event that occurs in Tucson on a regular basis," said Paul Allvin, a university spokesman, prior to the NAU game. "It's an important opportunity we don't want to let slip away."

He followed through on his vow hours later, as the athletic department donated nearly 300 tickets to refugees and volunteers from the Tucson Convention Center.

Cliché as it may sound, great minds thought alike in this situation: The proposal to donate the tickets stemmed from three different sources, each on the same day.

"Ironically, we had come up with the idea that morning," said Phoebe Chalk, Arizona's assistant director of athletics and community relations. "Then we got a call that afternoon."

That call - which came from the mayor's office - offered the same idea. The wife of Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, Beth, had given her husband the thought hours earlier.

Fortunately for Mrs. Walkup and members of the Arizona football team who had the idea as well, it's not as if they were beaten out in a patent race - the important part was that the idea was put to use.

Aside from providing a welcome distraction for those in attendance, the NAU game was the site of a comprehensive relief effort as a group of students, in collaboration with World Care, a local human-relief organization, filled a container donated by Portable on Demand Storage with items such as medical supplies, socks and toothbrushes for hurricane victims.

World Care raised more than $500 on top of that, and the Red Cross also got involved, bringing the total money donated to around $3,500.

"We're overwhelmed with everyone's generosity," Chalk said following the NAU game. "There are so many volunteers wanting to come out and do things.

Arizona athletes had planned visits to the TCC to raise the spirits of the evacuees, but because they have since been relocated, that task has become increasingly difficult.

"We were going to have the athletes go down and read to kids," said Chalk, who noted that the Wildcat volleyball team was specifically planning to do so. "(But) they moved them all into private housing."

"We're going to wait and see what all is needed," she said. "They're going to continue to do something - we just don't know what that is yet."

The importance of athletics is funny. You would think sports wouldn't matter - or make any difference - in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in this country's history, but it seems clear that this is not the case.

Even if just for a moment those displaced fans from the Gulf Coast were able to take their mind off the world they left behind, then I would say Beth Walkup, the Arizona student body and the entire Arizona athletic department accomplished their goal.

Obviously, there's more to the world than the athletes and the sports in which they play, but sometimes the world needs a little relief.

Ryan Casey is a journalism junior and the sports director at KAMP Student Radio. His radio show can be heard Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on 1570 AM or at

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