This week’s annual gathering of Cougars at a “Night With Cougar Football” continues an annual tradition of what has become the Cougar Athletic Fund signature event.
Last year, the four events drew over 1,600 Cougars and raised nearly a quarter million dollars for student-athlete scholarships.
The growth and popularity of the “Night With Cougar Football” events can be traced back to the Pierce County Cougar Club nearly three decades ago.
During the late ’80s, the event was more of an informal gathering, as a handful of Cougars enjoyed lunch and conversation with then-head coach Mike Price.
“Probably eight of us at the most,” remembers Cougar Athletic Fund member and past Pierce County Cougar Club President Jan Lauterbach.
According to Lauterbach, a friend of assistant coach Mike Levenseller was the owner of The Beach Tavern in Tacoma. Because of that connection it made sense to hold an event with Coach Price at the establishment and discuss his signee class.
“We thought it would be a good thing,” says Lauterbach. “It was a lot of fun. Coach Price was very easy to talk to.”
Every February, Cougars came together to talk football with Coach Price, and as word began to spread, attendance grew.
In 1992, it moved to Tacoma’s Engine House No. 9 restaurant and then to the Tacoma Soccer Center.
The event at the Tacoma Soccer Center drew a larger audience but it had its share of distractions.
“I remember we were in a small room on the second floor with a plexiglass viewing window that would overlook the soccer arena,” remembers Cougar Athletic Fund member Maury Hedlund. “When Mike Price was talking, occasionally a ball would hit the glass.”
Distractions notwithstanding, space became more of an issue, as interest had grown to the point that it was determined the event needed to be moved to a larger venue.
“We were getting enough people that where we were was just not big enough,” Maury’s wife and Pierce County Cougar Club Board member Gwena Hedlund remembers.
Still, there was a concern that, while interest had increased, would it be enough to fill a large hotel conference room?
“What if no one comes?” Gwena recalls asking.
The answer was immediate and definite as an estimated 165 people attended.
“Once we got it started it didn’t seem to be a problem,” says Gwena.
“Every year we had a few more, and a few more,” says Lauterbach. “It was fun to watch the event grow.”
Today, the Pierce County Cougar Club’s vision has grown to a series of four state-wide events that draws hundreds of Cougars at each city it visits, and generates thousands of dollars for student-athlete scholarships.
The 2014 “Night With Cougar Football” tour begins, Wednesday, Feb. 5, with the National Signing Day Party at Northern Quest Resort & Casino in Airway Heights, just outside of Spokane. Two days later, Night With Cougar Football visits the Tri-Cities at Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick and then Sunday, March 2, at the Tiger Woods Center at Nike World Headquarters, in Beaverton, Ore.
The final 2014 Night With Cougar Football event takes place Friday, March 7 in Seattle at Bell Harbor Conference Center.
Those interested in attending can click HERE or call the Cougar Athletic Fund office at 1-877-IMA-COUG.