Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2009 [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
First Person: The Zona Zoo

By Tori Willis

Welcome to the Zona Zoo at McKale Center.

Tori Willis is a senior at University of Arizona and a crew member for "The Zona Zoo."

I came up with the concept for this year's road trip to ASU with "The Zona Zoo." The accompanying t-shirt reads, "1997: Where's your national championship?" We'll be wearing it Thursday as well for the Pac 10 Tournament opener.

You see, no one has fans like the University of Arizona.

The Zona Zoo is an enthusiastic, raucous mob of students in a dizzying frenzy of red, highly visible on the side of the football field, in the stands behind the basket, and grouped together in between third and home base. Students clad in red and blue can be seen at least four hours before any game.

ZONA ZOO TV

The Zoo is the largest student section in the Pac 10, helped by some administrative decisions: in a year our prices went from being the most expensive in the Pac 10 to being the cheapest, most comprehensive package deal for students. For $70 (blue pass), a student can attend every home football game, as well as unlimited games in any other sport on campus, excluding men's basketball. For an upgrade of $35, a student receives a red pass, which allows them unlimited men's basketball games for the season.

"The Zona Zoo Program at The University of Arizona is one of the most well-developed, focused and effective entirely-student-run programs in the country, and it's only in its sixth year of existence," notes Student Body President Tommy Bruce, whose government helps manage the Zoo.

THE UNIQUENESS OF THE ZOO

Zona Zoo has its own YouTube channel online; these shows include news, sports analysis, and live interviews with coaches and athletes. The crew has produced some promotional videos, and just produced an official "Zona Zoo Anthem."

From 2am to 5am every Friday morning before a home game, the Zona Zoo Crew (the student leaders of the section) get University Blvd. blocked off and paint a 10-foot wide red stripe down the center of each side of the street for two full blocks. The intersection is also painted red and has two large block A's in the center. A full parade follows later that afternoon.

Arizona has one of the oldest homecoming traditions in the US. This year, we began the week by lighting the "A" on our campus' mountain on fire (don't worry: the Tucson Fire Department helped us out, leading to a semi-awkward moment in my posing with them, when I said "I've never been with this many men before!") During Homecoming Week, a giant mud pit is set up in front of Old Main (the historic first building created on campus) where different spirit groups challenge each other to tug-of-war in the giant plot of wet mud and grime. We end the entire celebration with a bonfire and fireworks show.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES WITH THE ZOO

We finally made a bowl game this year, after an embarrassing 10 year drought. Thousands of students and fans journeyed to Las Vegas after finals and watched as the Wildcats beat BYU 31-21. One fan had a t-shirt that read, "The only cougar I like is my aerobics instructor Lisa. Bear Down!" What happens at Arizona, happens in Vegas.

During my sophomore year, we hosted UNC in hoops. The Zona Zoo was buzzing with excitement about the game; it sold out within an hour online, Security guards were staffed on Friday afternoon; no one, not even Zoo Crew members, were supposed to line up at the McKale Center before 7am on Saturday.

No one heeded this request and the party started around midnight on Friday.

I thought it'd be a great idea to hang out at a fraternity party the night before, take a quick nap, and get in line. Mind you: this was the end of January and despite the stereotype that Tucson is a hot, dry desert, it also drops to below freezing on a nightly basis. After dying strips of my hair bright blue and dancing on frat tables all night, I settled down in my dorm room with four of my girlfriends and took a two hour nap. We awoke at 4am, got ready for the game and headed to McKale at 4:30am, surprised to find an already-winding line around the outside of the arena.

The Zoo celebrates a win, and takes the mascot for a ride.

We lay down on the frozen concrete and tried to stay warm, despite the fact that any body heat we could create would just be sucked into the blisteringly cold stone below us. After an hour of flirting with the idea of hypothermia, I held my best friend in my arms inside a blanket and tried to ignore the stabbing pain slicing through our bodies. This game, regardless of its outcome, had to be worth it. I had no doubt.

The Zona Zoo showed up for the game, complete with breakfast, coffee, happy spirits, loud cheering voices, noisemakers, signs and posters galore; there was enough spirit to bottle up and sell. Too bad the team didn't show up. Arizona lost to North Carolina by almost 30 points. My parents asked me on the phone if it was worth it to have almost caught sick from being out in the miserable winter for over four hours.

Did they really need to ask that question?

THE VALUE OF ZONA ZOO

Student sections give a sense of community to the university and provide lasting memories of the ultimate college experience.

Since I've been here, Arizona hasn't been to the Final Four, or had a shot at a BCS title bowl game—but the crowd's energy and passion for our school and athletics could rival any national contenders. As a student section, it's not just about the defeats and victory, but about the journey and the enjoyment during the season.

For me, Zona Zoo means so much: where history happens, where "I can't believe that just happened" seems to happen constantly, where nonstop energy seems to gravitate towards the center of the arena and burst over the crowd at that one spectacular winning play.

Zona Zoo is, truly, where it all happens. See you Thursday at Staples with my '97 taunt shirt at the ready.