Inaugural gala raises over $100K for athletics


Natalie Meyer

NKU men’s basketball coach John Brannen (left) and University of Cincinnati basketball legend Oscar Robertson (right) chat during the “Night with the Norse” gala Oct. 8 at Great American Ball Park.

During the VIP reception at the first “Night with the Norse” gala, Mackenzie Laumann began handing out yellow bracelets to anyone who would be participating in an activity later in the evening.

Laumann, a senior on the woman’s golf team, has been a development intern in the athletic department since  2015. In her role she has been working with the athletic department to make this dream of the gala a reality.

“I am grateful that I can see both the athlete’s side and kind of working internally so I can get to know the donors better and just really thank them,” Laumann said. “I have been able to go on trips out west and places I have never been because of golf, and if we didn’t have this support and funding from our donors and our supporters that would not be possible.”

Donors and supporters raised more than $100,000 at the inaugural gala to support NKU athletics on Oct. 8 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. President Mearns, along with 350 VIP attendees were present, including former NBA player Oscar Robertson.  

Daryl Landrum, men’s and women’s golf coach, said it was a chance to meet some of the people that support Norse athletics.

“We are here to get to know 350 new people that were all friends and we just didn’t know it yet,” Landrum said.

Landrum thinks that this event will help people to understand more about the university’s athletic programs.

“We are kind of on the upswing with going to DI,” Landrum said. “Hopefully this will help get more people at the basketball games and everything else.”

The gala began with a VIP cocktail hour, which allowed sponsors to be able to interact with the NKU athletic department.

Robertson, University of Cincinnati basketball legend, said that he was at the gala to support the growth of  NKU athletics.  “It’s nice to have events for people to get out, and if NKU can show them a very good time maybe it will help and they will support the basketball teams and the athletic programs at NKU,” Robertson said.

Robertson said that he was invited by a few friends who are connected with NKU, and he said he was grateful to be apart of the event. “I have met the men’s basketball coach, and I think he is going to be able to do a great job with the team,” Robertson said. “I met the college president, and I think they are very nice people and I appreciate them asking me to come over.”

Mearns said the event was a chance to thank the people who support NKU athletics.

“You know we have great student athletes,” Mearns said. “They are competitive on the field and on the court. “They are also outstanding students as well, this is a testament to the hundreds of people who support our institution and support our student athletes.”

Although the athletic department did not specify how many tickets they had available for sale, they said they were able to sell all of the tickets they had, an accomplishment they credit to the Go Norse Fund Board, an advisory board in the athletics department made up of community members.

Mearns said a lot of work went into this event to make it the success that it was.

“Certainly it is a great kick off for our final transition to DI,” Mearns said.

A silent and a live auction were other components of the gala. All of the auction items were donated, according to Ken Bothof, director of athletics.

In addition to selling all of the tickets, Bothof said the Go Norse Fund Board was able to get donations for the live auction and silent auction items as well.

“We did pay a small rental fee for the venue, but we very much appreciate that the Reds gave us the rate that they did,” Bothof said. “And then from the benefits that we are going to receive in terms of the auction items, ticket sales and the live auction, we will be able to put back in to support our student athletes.”

Men’s basketball coach John Brannen said the gala provided an opportunity for NKU to celebrate athletics with all of the supporters as well as raise money for scholarship funds, which will continue to provide resources for student athletes.

“Our athletic department is made up of our student athletes, so (the gala is) the opportunity to provide them with scholarships and an opportunity to provide them with the things that they need to be able to accomplish both in the classroom and on the court or on the field of play,” Brannen said.

Jeff Baldwin, director of development for athletics, said the gala celebrated the process of NKU’s move to Division I athletics.

“This event serves a number of purposes,” Baldwin said. “It celebrates where we have been as an athletic department and everything we have achieved but then making that final step into DI in the NCAA. It takes a group of people to really put together a program that can be successful and those people are in this room tonight.”

Women’s basketball coach, Camryn Whitaker, said the event supports NKU athletics by helping the program raise money.

“This is something that we as a department are wanting to grow and continue to make it a really nice event where it gets bigger and bigger and we get a lot more support,” Whitaker said.

Baldwin said the biggest benefit for NKU athletics is having the platform to show who the university is to a large number of people.

“Half of the people in this room right now have never been involved with NKU athletics before, so this is a great opportunity for us to show them who we are and what we are capable of doing, and that is the biggest benefit for us,” Baldwin said.