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Opinion: Zona Zoo and football key Wildcat experiences

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Steven Spooner | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona fans in Zona Zoo celebrate during the UA-Utah game on Sept. 22 at Arizona Stadium.

Last Friday, classes were cancelled. The Honors College closed early and professors moved their office hours to accommodate the football game. It may seem contradictory for a university to make this move. However, the University of Arizona is not just a school; it's a community. That is what makes this school so special.

Everyone went to the football game last Friday; I would know. My friends and I created a (bad) jazz band and decided to have a little concert on Sept. 22. Usually, we get a decent-sized audience because quite a lot of our friends want to go. As the day approached, I learned about the obvious conflict. 

We competed with the UA. Needless to say, we lost.

So many people answered our invitation with: “I’d love to go, but I’m actually going to the football game with (insert name of another person we were going to invite to the jazz night).” I think we lost about 75 percent of our potential audience to the game that night. 

I was more amazed than I was bitter. I could not believe how many people I knew who were going to support our team on the first Pac-12 game of the season. I was proud that I belonged to such a spirited school.

RELATED: Campus Guide '17: Arizona’s proud basketball tradition

Some of my professors did not feel the same way. After all, we’re a university and the goal of a university is to educate, right? A professor told me that sports and campus events are all a gimmick to distract students from their greater purpose.

Though, football and academics were not at odds last Friday. Asking professors to move their schedules around for the game created a once-a-year opportunity for students to dedicate time they might have been in class to building their school community. A strong sense of community is essential to learning at our institution.

Heather Newberry, HEATHER_NEWBERRY | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona fans cheer on the Wildcats in Zona Zoo during their game against Houston on Sept. 9 at Arizona Stadium.

The UA has an enormous number of students, and it's easy for a freshman to feel alone and separated from the community. I was in that position last year. The thought of spending another hour alone doing homework, knowing that when I finished I would have no one to talk to, made me cry more than once. I sometimes thought it was better not to do my homework at all.

When I began getting involved in school activities, I started feeling comfortable. Excitement about studies came afterward.

For a lot of students, football games are a way to become part of their institution.

Somehow, football does create a sense of community, and this eludes me. Many of my friends who went to the game told me they had no idea about any of the rules. I feel like about one-third of football’s spectators are in that state — watching, trying to figure it out and cheering on cue when they hear a few people to their left do the same.

Strangely, this doesn’t seem to matter; in fact, this may help solidify the ability of football to bring people together. Students go to games to hang out with friends, meet new people and represent their team. Otherwise, nothing other than curiosity would keep clueless spectators there.

RELATED: Arizona game day guide

Football games also connect our school to the Tucson community. We are incredibly fortunate to live in such a supportive city. Games allow Tucsonans to come to the UA and reaffirm their connection, which benefits everyone. According to the National Education Association, when the community is involved in a school, students tend to earn higher grades, stay in school longer and take higher-level classes.

UA President Dr. Robert Robbins sent us all an email about how the UA is the best place to be. He qualified his statement by talking about the third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Wildcats he has met.

If we think about what creates that legacy, it's probably not exclusively academics. On that front, Arizona State University is comparable in a lot of programs, though I feel like if the child of a fifth-generation Wildcat chose ASU (even for something like academics), she may be ostracized in some way and might even have to sit at a different table for Thanksgiving dinner.

Academics make us UA students, but those special experiences like sitting in the ZonaZoo at the first Pac-12 game makes us Wildcats.


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