NEW BOWL, NEW OPPORTUNITIES
It’s two days before Christmas, the Atlantic waves are hitting the sand, and Boca Raton is ready for its inaugural bowl game tonight at 6 p.m. ET. Whether it’s the Florida natives’ excitement over hosting their first bowl game or the visitors’ delight in receiving the city’s warm welcome, there’s a feeling that something big is happening in Boca. And there is. It’s called impact, and the city, players, spirit squads, and fans can all feel it. Community Florida Atlantic University recognizes that, for many of the fans about to fill the school’s 4-year-old, 29,914-seat stadium, the bowl will be their introduction to the Boca community. “It’s really, really important that we put our best foot forward to allow these folks to see what we do on a daily basis and welcome them to our city and our community,” said Mitch Silverman, assistant athletic director of facilities at FAU. Boca’s efforts at hospitality have been rewarded with an influx of activity, spending and tourism to the city. Boca Raton resident Justin Ullestad believes the bowl has the potential to bring even more to the city in the future. “For a first-year bowl, I think it’s a good sign of things to come for the venue as a whole,” Ullestad said. Heather Dobbins, another citizen of Boca Raton, noted that the bowl has contributed to a growing interest in the city. “It’s definitely created more conversation about Boca,” Dobbins said. Players The Florida sunshine is a welcome change for the players of Northern Illinois University and Marshall University, where the temperatures are 20 to 30 degrees lower this time of year. Aside from practicing for the big matchup, players have taken advantage of the many activities planned for them in the days leading up to the game. They visited local hospitals to interact with children, caught some waves at the team beach bashes, and explored the city of Boca Raton. Northern Illinois linebacker Michael Santacaterina enjoyed these opportunities to experience the city before taking the field. “We actually had a beach party yesterday and had a little chicken fight in the water,” Santacaterina said. “It was a great time, great to get out and enjoy the weather and actually get to relax and get our minds off football and practice.” For many of the players, playing in this bowl game is like playing in their own backyards. One such player is Marshall’s Miami-born quarterback, Rakeem Cato. To him and his other Floridian teammates, the Boca Raton Bowl is a chance to win on home turf. “We have thirty plus Florida guys on our team who really miss their families,” Cato said. “It’s an honor and a blessing for each of us to come down here and showcase our talent in front of our fans and families.” Spirit Squads The Boca Raton Bowl has given the schools’ spirit squads something else to cheer about: the chance to experience a new city. Haleigh Hallam, a sophomore on Marshall’s color guard, explains, “[The bowl experience is] great because we are given the opportunity to come to places. I know there’s a girl that’s never seen the ocean before, and she got to see it for the first time today.” The spirit squads are also grateful for the opportunity to be such an integral part of the bowl season. “It’s one of the best feelings ever that Marshall gets to come to something so big,” said Carly Gandee, a sophomore cheerleader. “And it’s a new bowl, so we get to be a part of that new tradition.” Fans Fans agree that their experiences during bowl week have set the standard for future bowls in the community. While describing his time in Boca, football fan Charles Jarrell pointed to the welcoming nature of Boca’s residents. “Everybody we’ve run into so far has been really nice, really open and excited to have us here, so we’re really enjoying the experience,” said Jarrell. Mariah Preast, a graduate student at Marshall, also spoke highly of the community, praising it for its support of the bowl game. “We went shopping at an outlet mall earlier today, and we had at least three or four people stop us and wish us luck at the game,” Preast said. “It was just really cool to see that.” For alumni and other life-long fans, getting a chance to see their team play in a new location is a rewarding experience. Jim Czocher, an NIU football player from the class of 1970 said, “This is a dream come true — to listen to the drums and to see Mission, the new husky. It’s just a thrill to see old friends and be down here — I wouldn’t miss it.” That’s advice worth taking, for it’s clear that anyone missing the Boca Raton Bowl is really missing out.