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Staging the world’s biggest pep rally

Published: September 25th, 2009

Category: Spotlights

Matt Sloan

Matt Sloan

Graduate student, producer of Gator Growl

On Oct. 16, University of Florida graduate student Matt Sloan will see the fruition of a year’s worth of hard work when 500 volunteers will stage Gator Growl, the world’s largest student-run pep rally.

Sloan is the producer for this year’s Growl, which is expected to attract thousands of students, alumni and community members to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Homecoming weekend. Sponsored by Florida Blue Key, the family friendly rally will include professional musical and comic entertainers, student skits and recognition of UF’s football team. To honor the team’s senior class, this year’s theme is “Legends of the Swamp” and will include appearances by past Gator greats.

As an undergraduate, Sloan was the director of sponsorship for Gator Growl in 2007 and increased donations from $25,000 to $140,000 by signing Verizon Wireless, among other large companies. In 2008, he was the associate producer of finance and oversaw eight other directors.

That experience has led him to this year’s role as producer where he is in charge of the $1 million budget, picking talent and putting on the show.

“It’s taught me to prioritize and instead of thinking about doing something—just do it,” Sloan said. “The trick is to find balance in your life. If you take yourself too seriously, you won’t be able to enjoy the moment. Surrounding yourself with the right people, to keep you in check, is the most important part of finding that balance.”

After 11 months, he is most looking forward to the start of the show.

“Getting all 500 student volunteers to move in the same direction—toward the same goal—is difficult, and finally seeing it all come together for one production will be really special,” he said.

This is the first year students had the opportunity to help choose the show’s performers.

“We’ve seen a decline in attendance over the last 10 to 15 years,” Sloan said. “We wanted to change that and ask our audience themselves, ‘Who do you want to see?’”

Students, alumni and community members responded through e-mails with their ideas, and their top choices were added to a survey. They included comedians Demetri Martin, Jimmy Fallon, Darrell Hammond and Dana Carvey and bands ZZ Top, Sugarland, Third Eye Blind and O.A.R.

After alumni and students voted on both categories, Carvey overwhelmingly won the alumni vote for the comedic act and O.A.R. won the student vote for the musical act. The JabbaWockeeZ dance group has also been added to the show. Its members are best known for wearing white masks and have performed at the NBA All-Star game with Shaquille O’Neal. They came to stardom by winning “America’s Best Dance Crew.”

“It can cost $100 to see Carvey’s act or $50 for an O.A.R. concert, but now you can come to your own backyard and see them for $15 or $25,” Sloan said. “The value is there.”

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