UAB football player tackling an opponent.

Tammi Thomas spent four years running for the UAB cross country and track teams on an athletic scholarship, and she never slowed down.

After graduating in 1984 with a double major in math and computer science, Thomas spent 32 years working for a Huntsville software company, reaching the level of vice president before retiring. “My UAB education served me well,” she says.

Justin Craft can say the same thing. He was one of the UAB football players who helped lead the young program into NCAA Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) in the mid-1990s. Today he is president of the Birmingham-based wealth-management firm Nowlin & Associates.

Thomas and Craft are among thousands of former UAB student-athletes who have gone on to successful professional careers. And many of those alumni remain closely connected to the university through gifts to UAB Athletics.

“I give so I can pay it forward. I want somebody else to have the same opportunity that I had,” Thomas says. “There’s something special about playing a sport and being part of a team. It builds character and strength and makes you a better person. When you put on those colors, you’re representing your school, and that never really leaves you.”

Craft echoes those sentiments. “When I played, there were people who gave to UAB who allowed me to get an education. Now, to have an opportunity to give back is very rewarding,” Craft says. “I don’t think anybody understands the potential of UAB Athletics the way former athletes do.”

The recent revival of the UAB football program put a spotlight on donations from athletics alumni, with 23 former players contributing to the $22.5-million football facility project. But just as important are the smaller contributions that help fund student-athlete scholarships.

athletics alumni pass the ball pullquote“Like everywhere across the country, the cost of tuition continues to rise,” says Jay Anderson, director of annual giving for UAB Athletics. “That’s why it is so important to receive gifts that support student-athlete scholarships.”

In 2017, UAB ranked around the middle of Conference USA’s 14 schools in both the number of donors to athletics and the amount of money raised. Anderson says UAB Athletics has put a focus on increasing those figures to grow the base of support for Blazer student-athletes.

“We want to be the best in all things in Conference USA, and that includes in the support we give our student-athletes,” Anderson says. “We’re looking for people not only to give but also to be engaged. Investment definitely opens the door for more engagement.”

For Craft, increasing the number of individual supporters generates momentum that can benefit UAB student-athletes in every sport—and make an impact beyond the field of play. “There is strength in numbers,” Craft says. “More and more people are realizing that an investment in UAB Athletics is an investment in Birmingham.”

It is an investment that involves fans, the corporate community, and—perhaps most important— UAB Athletics alumni. “The engagement of our former student-athletes has been fantastic,” Anderson says. “This program is a point of pride for them. They want to help it grow, simply because they were given an opportunity, and now they want to try to provide that same opportunity for the next generation. It’s a great story of Blazers supporting Blazers.”

Play your part in the growth of UAB Athletics and become a Blazer Boosters member. Your support will strengthen student-athlete success and help UAB Athletics continue to inspire.

—Cary Estes

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