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Nebraska-Kearney wins DII community-engagement award for ‘Lopers Under the Lights’

Nebraska-Kearney’s athletics program was honored Monday night when “Lopers Under the Lights” was recognized as the 2011-12 winner of the Division II Community Engagement Award of Excellence.

Athletics Director John McBride and Assistant AD Shawn Fairbanks accept the award during the opening ceremony of the Division II National Championships Festival in Louisville, Ky.

The Division II Community Engagement Award of Excellence honors a school whose program or event builds the most effective bridges among athletics, the school and the community. In addition to a trophy, Nebraska-Kearney received a $500 prize.

Lopers Under the Lights is an annual community-engagement campaign that serves as a kickoff event for each new season of Nebraska-Kearney athletics. Held during "Welcome Back Week,” the event, now in its sixth year, has grown in popularity with the general student body and the Kearney community.

Lopers Under the Lights takes place on the field turf at Nebraska-Kearney’s football stadium. Each Loper athletics team is required to come up with an interactive game or contest related to its sport (for example, baseball conducts a “Guess Your Pitch Speed” contest). Administrators then match up sponsors with the teams to provide participation prizes for those who play.

Prizes range from free pizza to a gift bag with merchandise inside. Sponsors also provide a grand prize that is presented to the random winner at a pep rally toward the end of the program. Students and community members are invited on the field to take part in the activities while sponsors gain exposure and are able to mingle with coaches and athletes.

While the games are going on, music and sponsor announcements are played on the PA system. Teams also have a designated time to sign autographs at a predetermined location on the field. Each team is featured.

The second hour consists of a pep rally featuring various activities. The Loper band kicks off this portion and is followed by appearances from all the coaches and athletes of the fall sports. Others who address the crowd include the university chancellor, the student government president and the athletics director. Winners of larger prizes are announced at this time.

“The best part about this event is the connection fostered among athletes, general students, the community and our sponsors all in a dynamic two-hour setting,” said the school’s entry. “It is always great to see our teams providing an experience for our fans in an open, social setting. We are able to see first-hand how truly great our student-athletes are.”

Attendance for Lopers Under the Lights is about 1,000 students, community members, student-athletes, coaches and supporters of the program.