Pint-size fans get star treatment


Kids' club recruits junior Wildcat fans


Not everyone gets to be a ballroller for the Northwestern University women's volleyball team. You must be devoted to having fun and you must be a big fan of Willy the Wildcat, the school's team mascot. And it doesn't hurt to be a member of the Wildcat Kids' Club.

It's a marketing ploy designed to get the next generation interested in NU sports and at the same time appeal to their parents and grandparents. But it seems to make the kids feel special, according to the Leinenwebers of Evanston.

"They felt as if they were a part of something and that they were performing a task of great value for the team," says mom, Martha Leinenweber, about the experience of her children, Katie, 10, Tommy, 9, Peter, 7, and Mary, 3. "Being in the club has afforded them the opportunity to be associated with something great. They get to experience sports in a different way."

The kids get the membership each year as a gift from their grandma, Jean Yale.

Thanks to Yale, the four oldest Leinenweber kids (baby Betsy is a future member) participated in a collegiate volleyball match. As ballrollers, the Leinenwebers were official retrievers for any errant shots during the game.

As members of the Wildcat Kids' Club for the past four years, the Leinenwebers have attended Northwestern football games, baseball games, soccer games, volleyball games and tennis matches.

People pay $30 each for the Purple Pride Package. Between Sept. 1, 2003 and Aug. 31, 2004, kids get free admission to a football game, a non-conference men's basketball game and a season-long pass to wrestling, women's basketball, tennis and volleyball games. In addition, they get a Wildcat Kids' Club T-shirt, a birthday card from Willy himself ("a big deal for the kids," says Leinenweber), an autograph book, Northwestern athletic schedule cards, magnets and posters. The official membership card allows the kids to get up-close and personal with the university's best athletes.

"The kids are invited to Meet the Team Night for football and basketball, and get to stretch with the football team in the spring before practices," said Brian VanAcker, marketing coordinator for Northwestern sports. "It's a way for kids to learn more about what it means to attend Northwestern and be an athlete. They can get a sense of the friendly and fun atmosphere of the university's athletics up close."

According to VanAcker, there are 207 members in the club this year. The number is expected to grow to 300 by year's end.

It's not all about the kids. As part of the Purple Pride Package, parents can buy football and men's basketball tickets for half-price. Sadly, adults don't get birthday cards from Willy the Wildcat.

For more information, call (847) 491-7504. Brad Spencer


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