Ram Alumni Athletes Association formed 30 years ago to reconnect former athletes, maintain CSU's Hall of Fame
By John Hirn
CSU Athletics Historian
Take a look inside a small room on the west side of Hughes Stadium at halftime of any CSU football game and you will find several former Aggies and Rams gathering to reminisce about their playing days.
On any given Saturday you will see Aggies that played in the Raisin Bowl like Frank Faucett, or Aggies that played on the 1950 College World Series team like Don Straub, talking to Rams like Kevin McDougal, Mike Newell and Matt Phillips. Former CSU men's and women's athletes gather together to remember and connect with others.
The Ram Alumni Athletes Association was forged with the help of many former athletes like Bill Woods, Ren Jensen, Jim Smith, Alan Ashbaugh and many others. Recently Jim Smith was interviewed about the early beginnings of what was then known as the Former Athletes Association. Smith remembered that he and Ashbaugh had approached then athletic director Fum McGraw in the mid-1980s to investigate forming a club where former athletes could reconnect with their alma mater.
The idea did not take off under McGraw, but when Oval Jaynes took over as the new athletic director in 1987, he saw the need to have former athletes come together again. Jaynes had Smith, Ashbaugh and a few others put together a new organization that would not only reconnect its former athletes, but also form a hall of fame to honor the best athletes of the school's past.
The organization was named the Former Athletes Association and this dedicated group put together lists of the school's former athletes. These lists were forged from the ground up, with people cold-calling former athletes to get their information and put together a list of the men and women that would eventually make up this association.
Jim Smith remembered in a 2015 interview, "We did not have a list of former athletes, so we just looked at the old yearbooks and wrote down the names of the people that were letter winners or just athletes. We did not want to limit the group to just lettermen. From there we started calling them to verify their information to build a formal list. Only about 20 percent of the names we called got us anywhere to build this database."
A committee was formed that included John Toliver, Bob Pike, Dave Yurosek, Frank Faucett, Sharon Rady, Red Eastlack and Norm Cable, along with Smith, Jensen, Woods and Ashbaugh. These people became the first historians for CSU athletics, digging deep into the school's records, yearbooks and photo collections so they could recognize former athletes for the new hall of fame class in 1988.
Alan Ashbaugh, in a 2008 interview looked back at the early days and said, "We combed the library for photos and asked other former athletes to send us their photos so we could build a sense of history."
When it came time to have a hall of fame banquet, Jim Smith was adamant about having it be a formal affair with the men wearing tuxedos and women in formal dresses. It was meant to be a really great event honoring the school's athletic history. It was held at the Holiday Inn (which is now the Hilton) in Fort Collins and although ticket sales were slow to start, they had a sold out dinner for the event.
The organization continued to host its annual hall of fame banquet over the years, but Jim Smith made sure to say in 2015 why the FAA was founded. Smith said, "The main purpose of the FAA was to reconnect former athletes to CSU." He and his fellow former athletes understood that in athletics there is a sense of not only teamwork, but responsibility and togetherness. The athletes of yesterday deserved the ability to keep in touch.
In his 2008 interview Ashbaugh looked back and said, "We also decorated the lounge at Hughes Stadium, fixed it up and made a space where we could have refreshments and get together during the games." John Toliver, a member of the 1933 conference football championship team stood behind that refreshment counter for many years. At one time a sign was made that stated "John's Bar" and proudly hung in the lounge, but like a lot of history it has been lost over time.
As time marched on the organization changed names with several athletic director moves. It went from Former Athletes Association to Varsity Athletes Association and is now known as the Ram Alumni Athletes Association. The purpose of the RAAA is the same as the FAA, to bring former athletes together to reminisce, talk sports and be remembered for all the things they have done at CSU. It also is dedicated to supporting CSU Athletics and continuing the tradition of the sports hall of fame. Former athletes receive their first year's membership free upon graduation in an effort to keep them involved with CSU.
Jim Smith served as president of the association for two years and chairman of the hall of fame selection committee for three years. Smith moved on to help his alma mater establish the Ram Masters golf association to raise money to help fund the CSU golf teams. He has won three Distinguished Alumni Awards and helped raise money for many other CSU Athletics needs. Alan Ashbaugh continued to be an integral part of the association and is the person who started the 35-year-old tradition of the Proud Parent Buttons that remain popular today.
To sign up and become a member of the RAAA click here.
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