Student-athlete Halloween party welcomes Tuscaloosa community

Student-athlete Halloween party welcomes Tuscaloosa community

In a 97,000 square foot facility, children smiled and played while getting into the Halloween spirit a day early. There was popular music blaring and a multitude of colors as hundreds of children dressed up in different Halloween costumes – like Scooby Doo, Minnie Mouse, and every Disney princess and superhero – and bonded with their families and University of Alabama student-athletes in the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility. 

At Halloween Extravaganza, an annual event hosted by the University's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee on Monday, children ages 13 and under enjoyed a night full of eating candy, bouncing in bounce houses with slides, and playing games like tossing a softball into buckets and kicking a soccer ball in a goal. Children stood in line for pictures with Big Al – one child was even dressed up as the mascot – and for photos with Jalen Hurts. 

Student-athletes dressed up and got into the spirit as well. Joe Suiter, coordinator of life skills and community outreach in the athletic department, said student-athletes love the event because they can interact with fans and community members. 

“The community supports us so much, this is kind of our way of giving back to them for supporting all our student-athletes,” he said. 

Virginia Dodenhoff, a junior majoring in public relations and member of the rowing team, has been attending Halloween Extravaganza since her freshman year and planned it this year.  She said she always loves the event and enjoyed getting to work behind the scenes. While it took a lot of effort, she said it was all worth it because the community and sports teams love the event. 

“[Community members] support us so much, so it’s so important to give back to them and to be able to make them feel included within what we do,” she said. “And I think in Tuscaloosa we’re a family, so I think we need to be able to give back to them and show them that Alabama’s more than just athletics. We do so much more beside play our sport, and I think it’s so important that we engage our fans and our community.”

Dodenhoff said Halloween Extravaganza is her favorite event that the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee puts on because the children’s costumes are cute, and it is enjoyable for her to see them having fun. 

“It’s so awesome to see all the kids and their faces light up as they’re running around on the practice facility,” Dodenhoff said. 

Jessie Gardner, adjunct professor in the sports business management graduate program, said she loves the event and looks forward to it every year. They never know how many people will come, but it is always the best happy chaos to be apart of because so many people attend and enjoy themselves, she said.  

Gardner said she started getting emails back in September asking her when the event would be held because the community looks forward to it too. 

“Our community is what makes Alabama, Alabama,” she said. “From the standpoint of the support we get, but also, really what I love about this event is – and about the service that we do with our student athletes – is that they get to use the platform of sport for something more than competing. And they get to do it in such a positive light.”

Student-athletes usually make a comment about how the event impacted them because they get to be humbled and give back, Gardner said. 

Gene Wood, a junior majoring in management and member of the baseball team, said seeing the children’s costumes is his favorite part of the event because new movies come out and new characters are made, so he thinks it is cool to see all of the new costumes out there. He also recognizes the importance of reaching the community through sports.  

“I think it’s important to get a relationship within the community because, especially with football being so big, we need to make our presence known in the community and have some relationships made to get fans to our games,” he said. 

In addition to offering fun for the community, Halloween Extravaganza also supported the Beat Auburn Beat Hunger campaign by encouraging the community to bring nonperishable food items to the event. 

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