BY DEAN HOCKNEY
Courtesy of the Kokomo Perspective
KOKOMO, Ind. - Now in its second season – and first in the NAIA – the Indiana University Kokomo athletic program has gone from a vision by the chancellor to a four-team program in less than 24 months. What started as a small group of young women volleyball players joining together as the school’s first team is now a program that includes men’s basketball and men’s and women’s cross country.
As with every organization that looks to continue its growth, funding is a key issue. Thankfully for Cougar Nation, several businesses have stepped up over the course of the last two years to help the program grow. Local media, including the Perspective and the Sports Journal of Central Indiana, have given the program a voice in the community. And now the community is taking notice; at the last home basketball game more than 600 people were in the building to see the Cougars defeat Purdue University North Central 81-76.
But one local business is ready to take its support of the IU Kokomo athletic program to new heights. Solidarity Community Federal Credit Union has announced it will be the official financial center of Cougar Nation with a new program called IUK Cougar Checking. According to Diana TenBrook, vice president of marketing at Solidarity, this is a win-win sponsorship for the two institutions. Not only will the local college have a new marketing identity, the scholarship fund will grow by $10 for each new Cougar checking account opened.
“We have started a special checking account program to support our IUK Cougars,” said TenBrook, who was taking a break from hosting an IUK tailgate party at Solidarity’s Southway Boulevard location. “We have a debit card with the Cougar logo on it and a free checking account to help our students (the checks also sport the Cougar logo). We have this for anyone who is associated with Indiana University Kokomo. We just feel it is important to support our future leaders and our community.”
Sarah Sarber, IU Kokomo dean of students and athletic director, is thrilled to have Solidarity on board as a sponsor of the Cougars athletic program.
“Solidarity has been a great partner as a sponsor of our athletic program – both last year and this year,” said Sarber. “It is a great relationship. They have not only donated money and resources, but they have promoted the program to the community, and I think that is really important. I can’t thank them enough for everything they have done. From sponsoring Homecoming to shot clocks and practice gear, they have been there for IU Kokomo’s student-athletes.”
TenBrook said the word community is a key to the Solidarity organization – as noted in the credit union’s official title.
“We have ‘Community’ in our name and the only way to be part of the community is to get involved,” said TenBrook. “And we want to show IU Kokomo that we are proud of them and want to be involved with the Cougars. IU Kokomo has been supportive of us and we have come to quite a few games as employees. We actually have shirts on today supporting the Cougars.”
Community is one of the reasons Solidarity exists today. The credit union was founded in 1954 by Delco employees who needed to collect money in a cigar box so they could loan money to a co-worker to purchase a car. Now, 58 years later, they are still giving back as a major sponsor of the start-up Cougar sports program. TenBrook said having a college sports program in Kokomo is not only a source of pride, but also brings positive publicity to the City of Firsts from around the state. And she is personally excited about the basketball program.
“We are very proud to have a college basketball team here in Kokomo and we are helping IUK promote the Cougars to the community,” she said. “We need more fans to come watch them play basketball.”
Fresh off a Solidarity sponsored Homecoming victory, the IU Kokomo basketball team returns to the court on Dec. 15 when they host IU Northwest at 3 p.m. at Kokomo High School. And no doubt, Solidarity Community FCU employees will be on hand to cheer the Cougars to another victory.