Kevin McKinney has seen so many great moments in the history of University of Wyoming athletics.
He was at the first night game at War Memorial Stadium, a 24-14 victory over Brigham Young University in 1988. He was there when UW upset UCLA in the 2004 Las Vegas Bowl to end a 38-year postseason football drought and when the goalposts came down for the one of the first times when the Cowboys beat Roman Gabriel and North Carolina State in 1961.
He was in Albuquerque when the Cowboys shocked Gonzaga in the first round of the 2002 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. He was at the Arena-Auditorium when UW bounced Top 25-ranked rivals Utah in 2000 and UNLV last season.
There’s another historic moment that stands out in McKinney’s mind. He was one of just a few to see it.
“I’ll never forget that day when we hung the first flag on the corner of Grand and Third. I was so proud of that,” says McKinney, UW’s senior associate athletic director. “It just made Laramie look so much better.”
Since that landmark day in 2007, the Poke Pride campaign has evolved into a statewide UW Pride initiative that transcends athletics and fosters a sense of togetherness between Wyoming’s university and its far-flung communities.
The campaign also has expanded to include yard signs, billboards that crisscross the state and a marketing component that includes videos and other materials to support President Tom Buchanan’s vision and goals.
“Poke Pride began as a community and athletic initiative and has since expanded into a statewide opportunity to foster pride for Wyoming’s landmark university,” says Montica Willmschen, director of UW Institutional Marketing.
“UW Pride encompasses education, research, arts and culture, outreach and athletics. UW Pride also focuses on the individuals behind this institution including students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors, as well as the unique relationship with the people of this great state.”
The flags that once flew only in Laramie can now be seen from Torrington to Wheatland to Worland as the Cowboys prepare to kick off the 2012 football season. UW’s home debut is Sept. 8 against Toledo following its Sept. 1 opener at Texas.
The Cowboys’ quest to qualify for their third bowl game under Dave Christensen—Coach C is 18-20 entering his fourth season—isn’t the only storyline this fall.
The UW volleyball team returns all six starters from last season’s 21-win squad—including senior outside hitter Jodi Purdy, one of the Mountain West Conference’s premier players—and the Cowgirls’ women’s soccer team, coming off the best season in program history, will begin anew under first-year coach Pete Cuadrado.
The UW fall sports schedule also includes men’s and women’s golf, swimming and diving and cross country.
And, across Wyoming, Poke Pride/UW Pride flags will be flying in support of the Cowboys and Cowgirls.
“It wasn’t always easy to know that there was a football or a basketball game in Laramie a few years ago. There weren’t many decorations. We hadn’t necessarily captured the spirit of Laramie and the university on game days,” says Shaun Ziegler, UW Trademark and Licensing office manager. “But, when you come to Laramie now, you look around and say, ‘Whoa, there’s something going on here!’
“What we’re seeing, too, is that people want to take this campaign home with them. And when someone sees their neighbor with a Poke Pride sign, they want a sign too. It is exciting to see this program grow.”
While UW athletics will likely continue to be Poke Pride’s rallying point, UW Pride is about more than touchdowns, goals and 3-pointers. It’s a unifying force in a state where people puff out their chests when they don the brown and gold.
“The great thing about it, to me, is that it began locally and has grown out into the state,” says McKinney, who worked to initiate the project with Fred Ockers and the Albany County Tourism Board, which continues to be a strong supporter. “It really is fun to go to another community in the state and see the flags we’ve seen here in Laramie for the last few years. It’s statewide now and that’s what it should be, because we’re all Wyoming.”