Southern Utah University re-claimed the title of 2017-18 National Outdoor Champions. After four weeks of the Mother Nature meets March Madness-style competition, Outdoor Nation officially announced SUU as The Most Outdoorsy School in the Nation.
SUU has developed a reputation for being an active outdoor campus since winning the 2015 Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge. SUU officials took a break in 2016, but were personally invited by Outdoor Nation to return this year. The number of competing universities since 2015 nearly doubled in size, amplifying the competition. Having previously won, the stakes were high for SUU to emerge victorious.
SUU dominated the challenge winning with 291,729 points, a 97,971-point lead over the next closest university. With 91 other schools competing, such as Utah State University, University of Maryland, University of Arizona and University of San Diego, SUU maintained a healthy lead from the very beginning of the competition.
The ON Campus Challenge began on September 18 and ended on October 15. More than 2,300 people participated for SUU ranging from students, faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends who logged a total of 14,974 outdoor activities.
“We proved once again that SUU is the most outdoorsy school in the Nation,” said President Scott L Wyatt. “We are surrounded by national and state parks and recreational areas that act as extra classroom space. SUU the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors.”
The President’s enthusiasm and support for this challenge kept everyone motivated throughout the competition. President Wyatt proved that he’s the most “outdoorsy president” by personally earning 3,477 points placing him second for SUU and seventh in the nation.
President Wyatt even hosted a campus campout on the last weekend of the competition with over 150 campers sleeping under the stars at SUU. The event included music, free food, outdoor activities, campus ghost tours and morning yoga.
During the four-week competition, participants downloaded the Outdoor Nation app and posted photos of their outdoor adventures. Approved activities included biking, camping, hiking, swimming, caving, climbing, stargazing; anything that helped people recreate outside. Participants could post up to five times a day and receive points depending on the difficulty of the activity.
Amanda Runge, SUU Event Coordinator, took first place for SUU and third in the nation. Runge posted five activities every day of the challenge. She led daily runs and helped organize the campus campout.
“SUU is amazing because we have a winning spirit and fight in all that we do,” said Runge. “We sometimes feel like underdogs, overshadowed by bigger schools in the nation, but we always hold our own, give it our best shot and frequently end up on top. It’s time that others realize that Thunderbirds are a force to be reckoned with.”
Having been recently trademarked the “University of the Parks”, students, faculty, alumni, families and the community were all encouraged to demonstrate school pride as they participated in the competition.
Abigail Wyatt, SUU’s student representative for Outdoor Nation, was critical to the university's success. After signing SUU up, Wyatt established an organizing committee assembled of individuals and departments across campus who worked together to create multiple events that students could easily participate in during the four-week competition. Events included daily hikes and runs, weekly yoga sessions, outdoor classrooms, climbing clinics, service projects, mountain biking experiences and hammock villages.
“Our committee had so much enthusiasm for the event across campus,” said Abigail. “This is why SUU is so deserving of this award. Everyone contributed in various ways and found creative solutions to make SUU victorious. We really came together and made this a campus-wide experience.”
Departments that planned and hosted events consisted of staff, faculty and students from the Community Engagement Center, Ashcroft Observatory, HR, Presidential Ambassadors, Frehner Museum, First Year Experience, SUU Outdoors, Marketing, Faculty Senate, Staff Association, the SUU Greenhouse, Rural Health Scholars, the Outdoor Engagement Center and SUUSA.
Even local businesses found a way to participate and give back to SUU. Outdoor Vitals donated backpacks and sleeping bags and Cedar Sports offered discounts for participants and sponsored a free mountain biking clinic every Friday.
ON Campus Challenge is committed to reconnecting individuals with the outdoors. It is an initiative dedicated to inspiring and encouraging college students and the community to be outdoor enthusiasts. It also aims to combat the inactivity crisis prevalent among many youth and young adults in America. Being active and outside also reduces stress, increases one’s ability to concentrate and positively affects physical, mental and emotional health.