Members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Drew Boyd and Dylan Hite approach the podium. Boyd begins talking into the microphone only there’s one problem: He didn’t turn on the mic.
“Yeah, I forgot to turn on the mic to start the show,” Boyd said with a laugh. “That was the biggest logistical problem.”
Overall, this was the only problem athletics had when they hosted the “We Are Portland” Awards on Sunday, March 31 in the Chiles Center. The awards show was a rebrand of what was known last year as the Wally’s, which stirred controversy both on campus and in national news after former UP tennis player and Wally’s emcee Goutham Sundaram made several controversial remarks.
There were several changes made to this year’s event. The program was split into two parts, with the actual awards showing coming first and dinner being held after instead of being combined like in years past. Instead of one singular host, there was a variety of speakers and awards presenters, including the head coach or a representative from all 16 varsity teams.
Only members of the athletics department were involved in this year’s program whereas in the past people from other areas of campus were invited. Along with this, all varsity programs were recognized for the first time, with each team presenting a most inspirational award.
The only student athletes who spoke at the event were members of SAAC, who helped organize the event along with other members of athletics. Otherwise, only coaches and administrators spoke and presented awards.
The rebranding was only one of the changes athletics have made over the course of the year. Athletics replaced their spring talent show with a community service day on May 9, which will involve student athletes working in conjunction with Special Olympics of Oregon for the department’s Special Olympics Field Day.
The actual awards portion of the show went quicker than expected, lasting about 45 minutes after starting at 5 p.m. sharp. The quickness of the awards portion was a positive in the eyes of athletics as well as Boyd and Hite.
“The event moved pretty quickly,” Vice President of Athletics Scott Leykam said. “It was early and gave people a chance to still have a lot of their evening.”
The awards portion ending quickly meant more time for dinner. Instead of Bon Appetit catering the event, athletics had local restaurants help cater the event, including Bamboo Grill, Laughing Planet Pizza and Cha Cha Cha.
The event itself was more casual this year than in years past. While in the past athletes were required to dress formally whereas this year student athletes just had to dress business casual.
“In the past, obviously, there had been varying opinions,” Senior SAAC member and track and field team member Dylan Hite said. “People would be like ‘I want it to be the fanciest event ever!’ and other people being like ‘Can it just be more casual?’...There’s definitely a variety of opinions on that but that was a decision that we made.”
The casual feel to the event was something athletics strived for in the creation of the “We Are Portland” Awards. The awards almost felt like a high school athletics event, with students sitting in the bleachers of Chiles Center dressed in everything from dresses and heels to just a polo shirt and khakis. During dinner, student athletes were able to partake in a variety of activities, including giant Jenga, an inflatable pop-a-shot, cornhole, ladder ball and a photo booth.
“I think we love playing games together,” redshirt sophomore on the soccer team and SAAC member Drew Boyd said. “I know I was shooting hoops with some of the basketball guys and basketball girls, the girls soccer players and it was awesome to have everyone over there just kind of having fun...and there was a photo booth which I took like 12 rounds of photos on.”
“It felt relaxed,” Hite said. “It felt so much better. I didn’t feel stressed out, it wasn’t a stressful experience at all. It was just a celebration, which is nice.”
For SAAC, the Wally’s turmoil last year shaped how they would do the event moving forward, forcing them to hit reset.
“Coming into the year, we had to basically just reset,” Hite said. “This year it’s like ‘Why are we here? What are we doing?’...This year it was just about ‘What do we want? What message do we want to be sending?’”
With that in mind came the creation of the We Are Portland theme, which has guided the department throughout the academic year and was decided on over the summer. The department held a “We Are Portland” dinner on Sept. 2 last fall which set the precedent for how events can run in the future. Using that event as a model for the awards was a good “capstone” as Leykam describes it for the work put in this year.
“I think this event was a good culmination of [We Are Portland],” Boyd said. “This is what we want. We want to be an impactful part of our community.”
Overall feedback about the event has initially been positive. While Leykam said that they’ll debrief more thoroughly the event in the weeks to come, it was still and all-around enjoyable experience.
“I was very pleased,” Leykam said. “The purpose of the awards was to recognize our student athletes and create a fun night...and I think we accomplished all of that.”
The most important thing for Leykam, however, was that every team got to be recognized.
“The thing I really enjoyed though is that every sport had their moment,” Leykam said. “I don’t think we can have always said that in the past five or six years and that was definitely accomplished this year.”
While Leykam said that he was pleased that every athletic program had their moment to shine, the quickness of the event this year signaled that there’s an opportunity for more awards to be added. One thing that Boyd specifically talked about was the addition of more awards that all student athletes could vote on.
“I wish we had more awards that were voted on by student athletes,” Boyd said. “Like maybe we recognize one of the admins in the athletic department that did extra for us or something like that.”
While Boyd said it was understandable why athletes were not allowed to talk at this year’s awards, he also mentioned that more student involvement in general could benefit the show in the future.
“Understandably students weren’t allowed to speak because it had to all be scripted and everything,” Boyd said. “But it’d be nice to be able to express, maybe like, certain people can come up and talk about how their coach helped them this year or something like that. Just an additional piece where like we can give back.”
One of the goals for athletics was to make the “We Are Portland” Awards something that the University of Portland could be proud of again, to start over and learn from the past. For Leykam, the awards show was a good start but is only part of the process.
“We’re really pleased with where it finished,” Leykam said. “We’ll take a step back and look and see how we can do even better next year.”
Kyle Garcia is the sports editor for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.