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Jake Weidner with boys at Cornell Hockey Association event

The Cornell Hockey Assocation hosts an annual "Skate with The Big Red." Above, at the 2013 event, forward Jake Weidner '17 with five boys who clearly collected quite a few autographs. Photo: provided.

Sports associations connect alumni, families, friends of Big Red athletics

Cornell alumni give back to the university and current students in many ways. In the Department of Athletics and Physical Education, one of the most popular options for alumni who want to stay involved is through formal sports associations.

Cornell Field Hockey Association members with current Big Red field hockey players

The Cornell Field Hockey Association was founded in 1999; above, current Big Red field hockey players pose with CFHA members at a regional tailgate held at the Delaware game earlier this season. Photo: provided.

These groups aren't reserved solely for former student-athletes. "A great number of alumni are involved in these groups, as well as parents and fans," says John Webster, director of athletic alumni affairs and development. "These associations are a wonderful avenue for them to engage with the teams."

Of Cornell's 37 varsity sports, 24 have formal associations, with two others in development. Additionally, the Big Red Band and the Cornell Outdoor Education program have associations. While each group has its own mission statement, the majority of them focus on mentoring current student-athletes, fundraising for the program and providing an outstanding game-day experience for the players and fans.

The Cornell Field Hockey Association (CFHA), founded in 1999 by former Big Red All-American Cari Hills '98, was the first Cornell athletic association solely for female athletes.

"When I was a student-athlete, former players including Meg Bantley Whiteford '88 and Mary-Beth Delaney Hahn '89 came back to watch some games and hang out with the current players," says Hills. "Interacting with them was so important because I admired their passion for their alma mater, and I loved the valuable school and life advice they provided. When I became an alumna, I wanted to create a formal alumni engagement platform where former field hockey players and their families and friends could come back and be a part of the growing Cornell field hockey family through team-building activities and meetings with the current team."

Scene from a recent Cornell Football Association tailgate event. Photo: provided.

CFHA, like several of its counterparts, has developed a formal mentoring program for student-athletes and also provides social outings, like regional tailgates at Big Red away games.

"We found that by building and maintaining an association, many of the women who get together in Ithaca or in other parts of the country at regional events start new relationships or strengthen old friendships," Hills says. "Just recently at our regional event in Maryland, we had four generations of field hockey players all connecting after a game with the team -- pretty cool stuff."

Mike Schafer '86, the Jay R. Bloom '77 Head Coach of Men's Hockey, has seen firsthand the benefits of the Cornell Hockey Association as a player and as the head of the Big Red program.

"I think our hockey association is one of the best organizations in the country," he says. "They've been there since the day I walked onto campus as a player. They've been involved in everything from major fundraising to giving us the support to get over to Europe last summer, and getting us the support we needed to start the games we play annually at Madison Square Garden in New York. Their support has gone beyond just the student-athlete to the support of the whole program."

In addition to mentorship and fundraising, a critical part of some associations' role comes on game day. In particular, the Cornell Football Association prides itself on welcoming back alumni and fans to Schoellkopf Field.

"For a while, there was a sense that when football players came back for a game, they were disconnected from the program," says Webster. "So the CFA has developed this wonderful tailgate tradition where they host a tent at every home game, and many away games as well, and every football player knows that it is there and that they are welcome to join the CFA and reconnect with friends and fellow Cornell supporters."

For more information on how to join one of the Big Red's sport associations, contact Kevin Sackett at

Cornell Field Hockey Association members at New York City regional event

The Cornell Field Hockey Association held a regional event in 2012 at The Cornell Club-New York City: "Doing it all: How our women balance giving back, career development, and family time." Photo: provided.

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