DU Alumni

Atlanta’s ‘Peach Pioneers’ celebrate their alma mater’s lacrosse successes

A surreal scene, to say the least.

For 11 years I had lived in Atlanta, convinced I was the only DU alum here. It was like I was trapped on a red clay dirt and kudzu island, surrounded by a sea of sweet tea (or maybe it’s Coca Cola?).

Well, that wasn’t the case. I was living in a small town, not an island. Not only are there other DU alumni here, I’m about to address dozens of them at a pregame party for the lacrosse opener against Duke.

Now, this article is not about the showdown at Kennesaw State University itself. I’m here to talk about the small but fierce Atlanta alumni chapter getting together to show the team some “Southern hospitality.” However, I still feel obligated to mention that No. 1 DU took it to Duke 17-13, thanks to freshman Trevor Baptiste owning the Blue Devils in the faceoff.

“I have one word,” I tell the audience inside the upscale bar and grill where the party is being held. “Wow.”

Then I pause before opening my mouth again. “Actually, no, I lied. I have two more words: Go Pioneers!”

Like me, the “Peach Pioneers,” as I have dubbed them, are not afraid to have their voices heard.

An estimated 900 DU alumni live in the Atlanta metro area. Mickey Desai, who got his master’s in counseling psychology from Denver in 1995, has been president of the alumni chapter for the last five years.

I hate being unoriginal, but I’m one of many who have told Desai, “I had no idea there’s an alumni group out in Atlanta.” So with that in mind, I have to ask him: Is there a camaraderie in being a smaller group so far from “home?”

“Absolutely. There is a definite sense of familiarity among the people who join us for events throughout the year,” he says.

Desai continues: “I try to make it clear that I’m happy to get together with any ‘new’ alumni who land in Atlanta for a while to show them around and introduce them to my local connections and other DU alumni.”

His willingness to meet anyone one-on-one isn’t just talk. I first met him when we set up a meeting at a very down-home barbecue joint near Atlanta’s airport.

Cindy Hyman, DU’s director of alumni career programs and student engagement, gave up her weekend (and a stretch of unusually warm Denver winter weather) to come help out with the party.

According to Hyman, DU has roughly 120,000 living alumni, split evenly in half between the Front Range and elsewhere around the U.S. or abroad.

She and I sit in the chilly stands at Fifth Third Stadium bank in Kennesaw, watching the Pioneers on their way to victory. I thank her profusely for her help. But really she makes it sound more like a passion than a job.

“My favorite part of working in alumni relations is getting to meet alumni all over the country and help them connect with the University,” she says.

Also at the game is Steve Fisher, who moved to Atlanta last October. He was a member of the first DU lacrosse squad in 1966. In complete contrast with the well-nurtured program we have now, he said students had to “ramrod” to get the first squad started.

I ask him how it feels to come out and see other Pioneers so far away from Denver.

“It makes me want to play again,” he says. “It makes me want to come to more events.”

After so many years, and now living in a place where Denver is not an extremely well-known school, I ask the Henry Winkler look-alike what makes DU so special.

“To me it was the friendships that I made there, the lifelong friendships,” he says. “I’d still be there if I wouldn’t have graduated.”

Hyman says that now is the time for disconnected alumni to get involved again: “We feel like we are still in a rebuilding time, where we really need to get the word out about the fact that we have alumni chapters all over the country.”

And with events like this game between collegiate powers fueling the rise of lacrosse in the South, chances are good DU will be back. And the chances are excellent that the “Peach Pioneers” will be there cheering them on.

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