When explaining where we ended up for college, the question that tends to come up nine times out of 10 is, “Of all places, why did you choose University of Alaska Fairbanks?” While many people’s answers would vary, it can safely be said that for more than 100 students at UAF the answer would be athletics.
On one hand, we have a born and raised Alaska athlete who chose to attend UAF to continue representing her state. UAF never crossed her mind until one day at camp she caught the eye of UAF volleyball coach Brian Scott, who planted the seed of Fairbanks in her mind. A few weeks later she hesitantly went up to Fairbanks for the very first time on a recruitment visit. From that day on, she knew in her heart and had no doubts that she wanted to be a Nanook, not only for the sense of community she felt on her visit, but the opportunities that laid at hand academically. While pursuing degrees in biology and physiology, she was thrilled to be wearing blue and gold throughout the journey she was about to embark on. This was her opportunity to not only come out of college debt-free but to help create a legacy that would be remembered in the Athletics Department.
On the other hand, we have an athlete from the Midwest who never thought she would be able to play a college sport out of her home state of South Dakota. A new window opened up when she received a call from a volleyball coach in Fairbanks. When it finally came time to make her college decision, she ended up with two options: attending a college 15 minutes away from home or playing volleyball and pursuing a degree in civil engineering at a college more than 2,000 miles away. Surprisingly, the decision ended up being a lot easier than she thought. On her visit she realized that, while she would be far away from home, she would have a new family to be a part of. She would be blessed with the opportunity to be a college athlete and role model while wearing the UAF blue and gold.
The future of athletics should not be up in the air. Athletics is not a luxury to a university. In reality, there is no luxurious life to be lived as a student-athlete. Many have the misconception that we, as student-athletes, have everything handed to us on a silver platter. In reality, thousands of hours have been dedicated to the gym and classroom to get where we are today. Many sacrifices are made to pursue a sport while also trying to excel at academics. Between the study sessions with lab groups and early morning weight training with teammates or finishing up those last few textbook problems and staying up late studying the scouting report, athletics has taught us not only how to be a team player but also how to manage our time effectively and overcome and deal with adversity. It is more than just a game or even a program as a whole. Athletics has shaped us into who we have become today.
Our athletics program is made up of talented athletes, but a lot of our success can be attributed to hometown support that we received. At the beginning of every volleyball game when looking out into the crowd, we see fellow classmates, friends, other athletes, professors, administrators and advisers. Along with familiar faces from our university, local athletes attend the competitions as well. These athletes range in age from younger beginners just learning to play a sport to athletes from the Fairbanks area high schools. College athletics is an inspiring experience for young athletes who dream of becoming the best they can be. We have the ability to pass along our legacy and expectations to the next generation of student-athletes.
When looking at the fate of UAF’s future, it is possible that 100-plus elite student-athletes will leave Fairbanks without the athletics program it currently offers. From Alaska or beyond, these are student-athletes with a strong desire to represent the university both within the state and around the country traveling for competitions. Our successes on and off the athletic stage bring needed attention to UAF, and when UAF succeeds, the community of Fairbanks succeeds right beside us. It’s not just about saving athletics but saving how the University of Alaska Fairbanks is viewed and the quality of education it provides.
Zoey Keene and Cate Whiting are both members of the University of Alaska Fairbanks volleyball team. Keene is a sophomore from Anchorage studying biology and physiology. Whiting is a junior from Rapid City, South Dakota studying civil engineering.