The beginnings of the ZonaZoo: a look at its history
In 10 years, the ZonaZoo has grown from a T-shirt to the huge student organization and brand that it is today.
In 2002, Peter Wand ran for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona Senate and won on a platform of creating a student section or spirit organization. The ZonaZoo started as shirts for student men’s basketball season-ticket holders.
“Our initial goal and what I adopted as my campaign for senate was the adoption of a student spirit T-shirt,” said Wand, now a Phoenix attorney. “We were obviously starting small with this idea.”
After winning the election, Wand worked with then-UA assistant athletic director Scott MacKenzie on designing the T-shirt, which Pepsi paid for.
“It’s grown a lot. It went from just a senate project and a T-shirt to 10,000 students filling the football stadium,” ZonaZoo Executive Director Paige Holmes said.
At the end of October, there were 10,154 ZonaZoo members, a number that Holmes said will grow with the start of basketball season.
Back in 2002, when seeking a name, Wand said they decided to “go big” with a naming contest, running ads in the Arizona Daily Wildcat and reaching out to student clubs.
ZonaZoo officials met with former basketball players Rick Anderson, Jason Gardener and Gilbert Arenas, along with former head coach Lute Olson.
“After a lot of debate, we settled on ‘the ZonaZoo,’” Wand said.
But the name could have been something else entirely.
“We got a lot of push from the basketball team to chose the ‘Lute-a-tics,’” Wand said. “Coach Olson was absolutely opposed to that and I was generally opposed to that because I wanted us to expand beyond just basketball.”
Gardner and Arenas pushed for the ZonaZoo.
“They really liked the ‘Zona’ concept that ESPN had been going with,” Wand said. “It was really the basketball team that made the call.”
The ZonaZoo debuted on Nov. 23, 2002, when No. 1 Arizona beat No. 19 Western Kentucky 107-68.
The first version of the ZonaZoo was well-received. In 2003, it was expanded to football tickets and all other varsity sports.
“We quickly realized that folks liked this idea,” Wand said.
During a 2002 football road game at Wisconsin, Wand saw the Badgers’ student support section and was inspired.
“The rest of the year, we tried to think of ways to increase the ZonaZoo’s presence and make it more fun for students, make it more helpful to the sports teams,” Wand said.
In 2003, there were about 7,000 members, and in recent years there have usually been around 10,000, Holmes said.
“It absolutely blew us away when we moved toward the ZonaZoo pass as a ticketing system, as opposed to just a spirit section or T-shirt design,” Wand said. “We were blown away by the student response to it.”
The ZonaZoo quickly grew beyond just basketball and football games and, in 2006, Bear Down Fridays were introduced. In 2007, the UA started selling ZonaZoo merchandise and in 2008, it added scholarships.
Holmes thinks the Zoo stands above other student sections.
“Personally I don’t think [others compare] because we provide so much for our students and everything,” Holmes said. “We’re the biggest student section in the Pac-12.”
A student from Colorado State who is trying to start a student section recently visited the UA and met with ZonaZoo executives.
“He was just in complete awe the whole time,” Holmes said. “He was just amazed how spirited everyone was and just all the things we did, the tradition, just how much spirit that was at Arizona.”
In 2005, the UA gave the ZonaZoo a unified student section for men’s basketball games.
“Our fans let teams know that when they come here to McKale, it’s gonna be a tough game,” senior forward Kevin Parrom said.
Wand, who goes to all the Arizona football games and many basketball games, said the growth of the ZonaZoo has been “incredible.”
“Especially when they painted the logos at Arizona Stadium, it really seemed to come full circle and take on a life of its own,” Wand said.
Zack Rosenblatt contributed to this report.