Photo Courtesy of Mary Chris Finnigan

Just hearing people say “Go Utes” as I walk by gives me a sense of community. Whenever I’m traveling with the team or by myself wearing a Utah sweatshirt, people often come up to me and ask about the University of Utah. Some of these people are alumni or fans, and it reminds me of how family orientated being on a sports team is.

Many sports on campus provide athletes with a second family. I’ve heard Utah football players speak about their past and present experiences as having a positive and supportive atmosphere. My own experience on the women’s basketball team has been filled with such an atmosphere. The sense of community that comes from being on a team makes coaches and players feel like family. Spending 20 or more hours per week together can bring teammates closer together. Just like being a part of a club, a sorority or fraternity, being part of any team is fulfilling. It helps people connect with others who are like-minded and working toward a common goal, which is pretty special.

This sense of community doesn’t just exist between teams or clubs; it is present in bigger circles as well. The Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) is a group of student-athletes on campus who focus on the student-athlete experience. They collaborate and assist in making legislative changes to NCAA rules to benefit the players. Each school across the country has a SAAC committee composed of students who dedicate themselves to building a strong community of  student-athletes across all sports, as well as to organize community service projects.

I’m lucky enough to have been part of several volunteer projects throughout my career as a Ute. I feel it’s a great way to give back, meet new people and build the community of Utes. From Habitat for Humanity to the Ronald McDonald House, it all comes back to helping each other out and putting a smile on someone’s face. Whether these people went to the U or not, they can all be a significant part of the Utah Utes family.

Another part of the community is the fan base. Fans ride TRAX together to games and cheer together in the stands. They high-five each other after good plays and boo after bad ones. The fans I have come to know, who have faithfully attended women’s basketball games during my time as a Ute, have made my experience so much more special. They have taken a genuine interest in me not only as an athlete, but as a person. While being so far from home is hard, I feel their support on and off the court.

During my time at the U, I have seen the fan base grow for women’s basketball, volleyball and softball. It’s also amazing that football has sold out 50 games in a row, and on top of that, attendance for gymnastics is the best in the entire country for women’s sports. The Utah community should be proud. As these teams continue to excel, I know fan attendance will grow. Now that I am a graduate and no longer a student-athlete, I can join this community of fans and continue to cheer for the Utes in all sports.

For me, being a part of something larger than ourselves, whether it be cheering for a team or helping out someone in need, is what it means to be a part of a family — a community.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

@TheChrony

Emily is a senior marketing and journalism major in her first semester as an intern on the sports desk with the Utah Chronicle. She is also a member of the Utah Women's Basketball Team.

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