story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
Razorback spirit loomed large Saturday night (Feb. 22) at the 17th annual Red Tie dinner and auction, which raised funds for the Razorback Foundation and honored exceptional student-athletes at the university.
More than 650 attended the event at the John Q. Hammons Center, including notable coaches like Frank Broyles and Bret Bielema.
Scholar-Athlete awards went to Keri Wood and Nathanael Franks; Makeba Alcide and Kevin Lazas were the Athletes of the Year; Bailee Zumwalde and Kiero Small won Razorback Spirit awards. The awards recognized students for their achievements aside from athletics: academics, leadership, community service and school spirit.
The event raised tens of thousands of dollars for the foundation. Dinner with Coach Bielema sold for $12,000 and dinner with basketball coach Mike Anderson at center court sold for $20,000. Exactly how much money the event raised this year or last year is uncertain, however.
“We will not know our fundraising numbers for another week or two,” said Elizabeth Sullivan, assistant director at the foundation. “We will have to do an internal audit.”
Track and field athletes dominated the awards; however, that was not intentional, said Sean Rochelle, Ph.D., executive director of the Razorback Foundation. Only gymnast Zumwalde and football player Small were not track and field athletes.
"Track and field has done a great job in competition but they also have some truly exceptional student-athletes,” Rochelle said. “We didn't want to not recognize someone just because there were already other student-athletes from their sport represented."
Student-athletes were nominated for the awards by their coaches, “who know them best,” Rochelle said. Coaches, athletic directors, associate athletic directors, and the
Office of Student-Athlete Development all decided who received Red Tie awards.
“Making the decision is one the hardest things to do,” Rochelle said. “It's almost like choosing between your own children – you love them both, you're proud of them and they're both exceptional and you're forced to pick one."
Bev Lewis, associate vice chancellor and executive associate athletic director, started the Red Tie dinner in 1998 to honor exceptional female student-athletes. When the women’s and men’s athletic departments merged in 2008, the event transitioned to honor male athletes as well. The more inclusive Red Tie awards "has allowed more people to be exposed to all sports–for example, football fans who come to the event see, wow, look at the success of the gymnastics program," Rochelle said.
Lewis will be retiring this summer from her career at the university that spanned three decades. To honor Lewis, athletic director Jeff Long announced the creation of the “Bev Lewis women’s leadership graduate assistanceship.”
"These young people make me proud,” Rochelle said. “I'm passionate about it because it's a chance to recognize them for things that people often don't write about. The media addresses wins and losses and competition, but sometimes these other accomplishments get lost."
In addition to its two fundraisers, the Hall of Honor in the fall that recognizes former student-athletes and the Red Tie dinner that honor current student-athletes, the Razorback Foundation raises money through its annual fund and capital campaign.
"Funds are used to support student-athletes in a lot of different ways, including programs, scholarships and facility enhancements," Rochelle said.