Trio of UConn alums giving to the next generation of fans through Husky Ticket Project

During their undergraduate years, they witnessed the glory days of UConn athletics.

The men's and women's basketball programs captured national championships, the football team won Big East in 2010 and played in the prestigious Fiesta Bowl.

Then as alums, good friends and passionate fans living in the New York City area, Kevin Kortsep, Jeremy Longobardi and Kevin Solomon saw the decline that followed that success and an unwelcome move to the American Athletic Conference. Apathy set in among the fan base and attendance dipped. They grew tired of the negativity on message boards.

So the trio decided to take action.

They created the Husky Ticket Project, a non-profit organization helping to support UConn athletics, provide free tickets to youth organizations and build the next generation of fans.

"The idea was born from a lot of the apathy for the athletic program that we were reading about and hearing about from other alum living in the city," said Kortsep, a 2012 UConn graduate from North Haven. "We were all at the school during probably some of the best years from an athletic perspective. ... Some of our fondest memories were from going to those athletic events.

"We just refused to believe that there wasn't something we could do. We would go on message boards and forums and see them argue in circles about what the program needs to do and we got sick of it. We wanted to say, 'hey, let's do something about this in whatever way we can. Let's try and support the program we came to love so much.' "

In just its second year, The Husky Ticket Project is off to a terrific start.

Kortsep, Solomon and Longobardi are well on their way to reaching their goal of raising $10,000 to purchase tickets for the upcoming athletic year. A prominent donor has agreed to match all donations up to a $5,000 maximum. Last year, they handed out 600 tickets — 500 for football and 100 for men's and women's basketball — despite just starting to get their project off the ground.

One hundred percent of donations are allocated for tickets that are distributed to youth organizations.

"Our donors know exactly where their money is going," Solomon said. "We're sharing photos of the organizations and the kids that are there enjoying the games. We found our donors really appreciate that and they feel they are making a difference because they can see it."

They've partnered with several youth organizations like Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters and New Britain PAL, an organization that former UConn football standout Byron Jones, now a member of the Dallas Cowboys, works with.

The Husky Ticket Project was recently granted 501(c)(3) status by the IRS, allowing donations to be tax-deductible.

"That was a huge win for us," Longobardi said of the IRS approval. "We've been branching out and trying to market ourselves and get more fans to realize our cause and make sure that everyone jumps on board.

"... All the feedback we've gotten online through Twitter and stuff like that has been overwhelmingly positive. It's been pretty awesome this year."

When they started the Husky Ticket Project last year, they really had no idea where it would take them or how successful it would be.

The impact is beyond what they expected.

"We started this, as alumni, to try to support the program and support kids that would may be able to benefit from it as well," Kortsep said. "It really didn't hit home until when we distributed the tickets we asked for pictures of them at the game. Seeing (them) there with the smiling faces, it was unbelievable.

"And some of the letters that we've gotten, too, can be just as touching as well."

Take what transpired at last year's season opener against Central Florida at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The Husky Ticket Project sent 60 people from Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters to that game.

They heard about how a Big Brother, who was struggling to connect with his Little Brother, made a breakthrough in their relationship while attending the game.

"They were able to talk about life and going to college," said Solomon, who is a proud football season ticket holder and works in advertising for Verizon. "It was the forum of a UConn football game where they were able to talk about things that are super important and foundational for them growing up. It was pretty cool to hear that they were talking about his future at a UConn football game."

It makes all their hard work worthwhile.

They've learned to juggle their full-time jobs with Husky Ticket Project duties. They all bring different strengths — Longobardi and Kortsep majored in accounting, Solomon in marketing.

It's been a blast, according to Kortsep.

"It's definitely a nice change of pace working on something that you're truly passionate about," Longobardi said. "Obviously, we're all huge UConn fans. We really want to see us thrive in the situation that we're at, even though it might not be the greatest conference affiliation at this point. But we love to see the teams do well, to see the stadiums packed.

"It's really just awesome to help that cause and try to get us to the top where we all want to be."

For more information or to make a donation, email HuskyTicketProject@gmail.com

g.keefe@theday.com

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