The Mountaineers defeated Michigan State by pulling together through social media Western faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members and families.
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GUNNISON, Colo. — It was a classic David-Goliath story. But instead of hurling stones, the underdog, Western State Colorado University, swung social-media prowess to knock out a giant.
Each year, the National Wrestling Coaches Association hosts a nationwide branding contest to promote sports marketing at all levels. The Western Mountaineer Wrestling team's 2013-2014 schedule poster earned a spot among 12 finalists in this year's NWCA Best of Brand, “Better than Good Graphic,” competition. All other finalists were large, NCAA Division I powerhouses, such as Stanford, Minnesota, Purdue and Oklahoma State.
Faculty, staff, students, alumni, families, community members and fans came together to ensure Western's victory over a much larger institution, Michigan State University. Our Mountaineer Nation reached out through email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media outlets to rally support. The fan voting competition began on Monday when the Mountaineers knocked out the University of Iowa. On Tuesday, Western upset No. 3-ranked University of Illinois. On Wednesday, we nailed Purdue University.
The message to vote spread like wildfire. Soon everyone who could was voting as often as possible, using different devices, browsers and more to bolster the tally. In the end, Western, with 2,400 students, didn’t just defeat Michigan State and its 47,000 students. We crushed them 5,171 to 3,336, racking up almost two-thirds of the total votes.
“I am humbled and completely blown away by the support from our Mountaineer family," said Miles Van Hee, head wrestling coach for the Mountaineers. "I would have never thought we could go up against Division I and Big 10 giants like Iowa, Illinois, Purdue and the No. 1 seed, Michigan State and walk away the winner.
“I can’t thank you enough for the 5,171 votes in Best of Brands. But more importantly, I was delighted to see the synergy and positive energy throughout OUR university, alumni and fans. What a proud day for us all! We were clearly the underdog, but in true Mountaineer fashion, we found a way to win!”
Even Best of Brand coordinator Coyte Cooper was impressed.
"The run that Western State Colorado University made during the Battle Round voting was extremely impressive,” he said. “It was really clear that it was an entire university initiative, and our committee was extremely impressed with their efforts. We would like to congratulate the entire Western community for an outstanding accomplishment!"
The excitement poured through all levels of university administration, faculty, students, alumni, community members and families. University President Greg Salsbury joined in the celebration and shared an inspirational quote from Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
Chris Luekenga, Western associate vice president for Student Affairs, echoed Salsbury's sentiments: “This is a wonderful reminder what can be accomplished with teamwork and collaboration.”
Brian Barker, director of Western University Communications, emphasizes social-media marketing to support the school's rebranding and recent name change.
"We have an army of intelligent, talented, loyal Mountaineers out there who love to show their pride and spread the good news about Western," he said. "With our new, collaborative website and University Communications team, we can better share the message that Western offers an amazing academic experience in an environment other schools can't match."
Said Cyndi Smith, Western's web manager who helped lead the social-media charge, “I attribute our success to following a simple recipe for triumph: Take one small university in the scenic Rocky Mountains, add two heaping heartfuls of spirit and determination, sprinkle in creativity, stir in social media and stand back! ”