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ASU student veterans to headline Final Four ceremony

The Pat Tillman Veterans Center is working with the NCAA to have ASU student veterans as flag bearers at Final Four


Members and guests of The Pat Tillman Veterans Center on the 2024 Men's Final Four court at State Farm Stadium on Saturday, April 6, 2024 in Glendale.

The Pat Tillman Veterans Center will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for ASU student veterans at the Final Four.

A group of 30 Sun Devils were chosen as flag bearers for a pregame ceremony before the first game at State Farm Stadium. The experience will allow student veterans to play a small but meaningful part in college basketball’s biggest game.

"We're pretty excited," said Michelle Loposky, the director of development and strategic partnerships for Pat Tillman Veterans Center. "We will all be wearing the salute-to-service T-shirts. So that's the way to really show the distinction of ASU."

The ASU athletic department recommended the Pat Tillman Veterans Center for flag-bearing responsibilities due to the organization's prior experience with Salute to Service games, Loposky said. In such games, the center has students hold a gigantic American flag on the field at Mountain America Stadium.

The NCAA contacted the center to organize the flag-bearing effort with Loposky's office. She then had to figure out how to fairly offer students the chance to participate in the ceremony. Loposky chose to operate on a first-come, first-served basis to give ASU's 15,000 student veterans equal odds.

Some veterans, like Fred Buhat, a senior studying criminal justice, quickly saw the email from Loposky extending the opportunity to attend the Final Four. Buhat immediately knew he had to throw his name in the running.

"Being able to take this opportunity that was offered and we get to do it practically for free, I have no words for it," Buhat said. "I'm just so excited, and I honestly can't wait."

Veterans like Buhat will hold four large flags with the competing teams' logos before No. 11 seed NC State and No. 1 seed Purdue face off on Saturday. Making the experience even more memorable is the opportunity for student veterans to bring a friend or family member with them on the court.

"We want them to share with a loved one or a fellow veteran because it's such a big deal for us," Loposky said.

Buhat is taking one of his good friends, who is an avid college basketball fan, with him. One veteran is bringing their service dog, another is bringing their father and another is bringing their spouse.

Savino Anguiano, a junior studying project management, will man a flag next to his girlfriend, a Purdue student. Loposky is planning on having Anguiano and his girlfriend holding the black and gold colors at what will be the Boilermakers' first Final Four appearance since 1980.

Sarah Cundari, a post-baccalaureate student studying nursing, plans to take a friend and fellow Sun Devil to the Final Four. A seven-year Navy veteran, Cundari believes flag-bearing experiences like Salute to Service games recognize that a veteran's sacrifices still matter.

"It's nice and humbling to be acknowledged because sometimes it just feels when you leave service, you lose that feeling of pride," Cundari said. "Maybe people like realizing how much that means to you. I think it's such a cool experience for them to acknowledge that and allow us to come out and represent our service and represent ASU."

The student veterans will have the added benefit of watching both Final Four games with their loved ones. They’ll enjoy the otherwise expensive basketball games for little to no cost while being one of only a few people to walk on the court.

"I can't tell you how many once-in-a-lifetime things I've already done through the Pat Tillman Veterans Center," Anguiano said. "So it's such a huge honor, especially when we get to do this stuff."

The flag-bearing opportunity is one of many that the center offers for students every semester. For one, Anguiano, an army veteran, has been given tickets to hockey games, NASCAR events and even shagged baseballs with the San Diego Padres during spring training. The center also organizes dances similar to corpsman balls, allowing veterans to have fun in a familiar setting.

"I think it's a cool time to really circle back to that familiarity and have that sense of camaraderie that we had in the military," Cundari said.

Loposky sees the center's efforts as a testament to ASU’s support for student veterans. She said other schools claim to be military-friendly, whereas ASU actively takes steps to be military-supportive. Pat Tillman’s legacy of selfless service weighs heavily on his namesake center and the students it supports.

Loposky, an Army veteran herself, has walked the same path as the University’s 15,000-plus student veterans. Reflecting on the sacrifice of service, she said each veteran has already given so much to their country – now it's time for the University to give back to them.

"If we can do little things, like having them do flag-holding at the Final Four, that's a little thing," Loposky said. "It adds value to their experience and helps them get acclimated back to the civilian world to build on that camaraderie and feel like they still matter, that they're still part of this community."

Edited by Walker Smith, Sadie Buggle and Caera Learmonth.

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