The Frustrations of a Young UTEP Fan: Disconnect With the Youth
Editor's note: Zay is in high school and loves to talk UTEP sports. You might know him as "UTEP Zay" on Twitter or you might have heard him on SportsTalk. Through an article series— "The frustrations of a young UTEP fan"— Zay will talk about some of the challenges that come with being a teen who is a Miner diehard.
“UTEP has a football team?”
“UTEP is in a Disney movie?”
“Tim Hardaway went to UTEP?”
“Wow, I didn’t know UTEP used to be good.”
I hear these quotes daily when I talk about UTEP to my peers. I’m in high school and if I was known for something at school, it’s being the guy who's a UTEP fan. Ever since I was little, I have deep love for UTEP, yet I don't find people my age feeling the same way. I’m not looking for UTEP die hearts at my age, and I understand that college athletics as a whole isn’t the most popular thing among teens. However, I just want to see more UTEP fans in my generation.
Welcome to "The Frustrations of a Young UTEP Fan".
For the most part, teens in El Paso don’t care about UTEP sports, or any college sports at that. And for those who do care about college sports, most don’t cheer for the Miners. They’ll tell you they are Texas or Alabama fans. There isn’t a definitive answer as to why UTEP is so unpopular with the youth.
One could say the lack of success is a big role, which I understand. No one wants to cheer for an 0-12 football team, especially young kids who can occupy their time with other things. But if success, or lack thereof, is why UTEP is unpopular with teenagers, why didn’t kids support UTEP when they were winning? I’ll tell you first-hand when UTEP football was 6-2 going into a showdown with UTSA last year, no one cared about it around the school. Yes, more kids talked about UTEP football by this point and some went to the game, but it was not a lot of kids. And when they lost to UTSA last year in football, all I heard was how bad UTEP was from my peers and how embarrassed they were of UTEP.
The sad part about this situation is how unknown UTEP’s success in basketball is to the youth.
I asked 10 kids around my school if they knew who Don Haskins was. Only five knew of legendary coach Haskins and only three of the 10 knew what he accomplished. I’d bet over half of the kids at my school don’t know about the legendary 1966 national championship-winning team. I bet most don't know that there is a movie, "Glory Road," about the first team that started five African-American players in a national championship game, aka Texas Western. I don’t get mad at the fact that UTEP is unknown around my age because I know if it weren’t for someone like my grandpa telling me the legendary stories about the university, I probably wouldn’t know much either. UTEP has done a poor job of trying to connect with the youth, especially at a young age. It may be too late to try and turn teenagers to become UTEP fans, but it might not be too late for younger fans.
Becoming inclined to something like a sports team has to start at a young age. UTEP needs to try to include young fans and try to give them a top-notch college football experience. As a young kid, UTEP didn’t do much for kids like me. The Miner kids club was never really something my parents would even think about in the past. Spending $50 on a T-Shirt and a couple of free games wasn’t something I could convince my parents to purchase for me. Other than that, there weren’t many opportunities for younger kids to really experience a true college football atmosphere. Trying to get youth sports teams out at the games and giving them a chance to feel that atmosphere is important because showing them close and personal will instantly make them UTEP fans.
Middle Tennessee holds an annual event that they call "education day" to begin their basketball season. For this game, MTSU only allows season ticket holders to sit in certain sections. The rest of the seats are filled with school kids from all 23 elementary schools in Rutherford County. UTEP needs to do something like that. This would be an incredible idea for when UTEP plays a D2 or NAIA team early in the season, simply because most fans don’t go to those games and the fans that do usually go are season ticket holders.
As I said, introducing these kids to UTEP athletics at a young age is instrumental if you want to make them fans going into their teenage years and make that connection with the youth.
We know UTEP is not popular with the youth for a variety of reasons that you can’t fault the university for. However, doing stuff as I suggested can help fix that connection and bring in more young Miner fans. There are a lot of frustrations I have as a young UTEP fan, but this is the most frustrating one. I’d love to have conversations with kids my age to see how they feel about UTEP athletics. The odds of the connection with the youth for UTEP changing is low, but one can dream.