KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo kicked off the volleyball season and celebrated its historic first game as a member of the NAIA with a campus tailgate Tuesday, August 21.
Students, faculty, staff, athletes and fans mingled on the outdoor basketball court, enjoying hamburgers and hot dogs, music by the Kokomo Perspective's Kokomo 4U, and games, before cheering for the Cougar volleyball team's opening game against Purdue North Central.
Chancellor Michael Harris introduced the volleyball, basketball, and cross country teams, and thanked supporters.
"Indiana University Kokomo has been around for 67 years, and we continue to make history," he said. "In our first season as NAIA members, our volleyball student athletes and coaches are making history playing our first-ever NAIA game. The sports programs are all part of our effort to enhance student success and academic excellence. This is only the beginning."
Lael Burrus, a second-year volleyball player, was thankful so many fans came to the tailgate to show their support not only for her team, but for all the student athletes.
"We're excited to start our season and to do a good job representing IU Kokomo in the NAIA," she said, "It's really cool to have so many people cheering for us."
Volleyball Coach Kristin Snoddy said she'd been excited for the game all day.
"I had some tears in my eyes this morning, and some chills, just thinking about it. We are making IU Kokomo history, and it's humbling to be part of that."
Cross country team members Sandy Beech and Jeremy Gilman enjoyed their first event as student athletes.
Beech transferred to IU Kokomo not only for cross country, but to study medical imaging.
"I wanted to get a degree that matters," she said. "I'm also happy to be able to run on the college level. The athletics program really put the campus on the map."
Freshmen Katharine Calabro, Alexandria Lawhead, Caleb Davis, Tyler Neher, and Doug Francis were excited to attend the tailgate, their first event as college students. They all agree the athletic programs are a positive addition to the student life experience.
Lawhead wanted to go to the tailgate and game "because it makes me feel like I'm part of the campus. It's a good way to meet people."
Davis plans to join the Cougar Crazies, the student section for the athletic events.
"I think the tailgate and the sports bring a lot of energy to the campus. It gets everyone to know each other, and gives us something in common," he said.
Calabro was impressed with how much the campus has grown.
"The athletics are making people take note of IU Kokomo, and then they find out about all the other activities available for students," she said. "I like the attention I get as a student. I'm getting private school attention."
Neher also took note of the growth and changes on campus.
"Everything is so fast-paced, and it's on the move," he said. "I'm excited to be here for the first season of NAIA sports."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.