Home can mean a lot of things. It can be where you’re from, where you spend most of your time, where you feel most comfortable. For myself, my family, and so many people, Ames is home. Iowa State is home.
The Cyclone Family is often referenced by players, coaches, and fans of ISU athletics. It isn’t a unique phrase, but I’d venture to say the legitimacy behind it is. Few schools can boast the attendance for sports other than football and men’s basketball that Iowa State consistently sees. This support extends to the athletic department as well, as athletes, coaches, and staff all support each other both publicly and behind the scenes.
It’s one thing to see the tweets from one coach to another or the teams supporting each other from the stands. But to experience the genuine care and connection between each branch of the department is a truly special thing. I’ve had the great fortune of being a member of the Cyclone family for basically my entire life. I was given a letter of intent to play for coach Bill Fennelly as soon as I was born. My mom had coached with him at Toledo for years before I was born, and two years after I came along, we moved to Ames. Soon after, my brother was born, and we had officially settled in Ames for the long haul.
Our true induction came on my sixth birthday when my mom went back to coach under Bill again, this time at Iowa State. For someone who had grown used to a stay-at-home mom, this was pretty devastating, but I quickly grew to love the players as the older sisters I never had (the vacations to places like Hawaii, the Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands didn’t hurt either!). For over a decade, everything I did was supported not only by my family, but by the greater Ames community as well. Fans would stop us at games to ask how school or sports were going, applauding our success as much as those they were actually there to see. With all of our extended family residing outside of the state, the support of the community was truly invaluable in making us feel at home and connected. When it came time to pick a college, I couldn’t see myself anywhere other than Iowa State.
As I said, the Cyclone family is real. Besides my mom’s job, my dad had a stint doing color commentary for her games. I attended ISU for college and worked at Cyclones.tv, and my brother is currently attending Iowa State, initially working in sports information but now living the dream as a walk-on for the men’s basketball team. He scored his first college points in the Maui Invitational with our dad present and my mom and I watching from afar.
The experience of seeing a place and a person you care about so much coming together is incomparable. When I found out Eric wanted to walk on, I was excited but a bit worried. You never know how a team will accept someone coming in seemingly out of nowhere, least of all as a fairly unknown non-scholarship player. Now, after watching them swarm him after hitting his first shot, I see nothing but an extension of a massive family we were already fortunate enough to belong to.
We aren’t the only ones with such a deep connection to ISU. Plenty of athletes come after being lifelong fans, and staff members send their kids to school by the dozen. On staff with my mom is a Fennelly father and son duo. Nick Weiler-Babb’s older brother played at ISU years before him. In the end, everything truly comes back to family.
Though I’m not currently living in Ames, it’s still my real home. Visiting is a tour of places I grew up in, trying desperately to give time to all of the people there that I love dearly. Most of the people I still count as my best friends I met on campus at AHS or ISU, many of whom accompanied me to games in our time at school. Not everyone will have the level of connection we have, but I think much of the extended Cyclone family can understand the thrill of watching a team and school you care about succeeding. Whether it’s your sibling, a kid from your hometown, or someone who reminds you of a younger version of yourself, there’s a personal connection to a school that so often seems to be the underdog, the kid next door, not quite ignored but not quite celebrated, either. As many of our programs rise together to national significance, there will be setbacks and losses. In sports, there always are. But like a family, we’ve always got each other, and that’s what sets us apart.