Out of 292,117 UCF alumni, 148, 572 do not live in Central Florida. Imagine shopping in Target and seeing someone else’s hometown team represented instead of yours. Upsetting, right? This is the life over half of our alumni population must lead. But thanks to our UCF Alumni chapters and clubs, a common bond is found, Watch Parties are hosted and UCF pride is reaching far beyond the 32816 area code.
One of the spots it has spread to is Phoenix, AZ. (Hey! That’s where the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl is!)
Chris Fleming ’06, who moved out to Arizona for work in February of 2016, is the current chair of the Phoenix UCF Alumni Club.
“Getting involved with the alumni group out here is actually one of the first things I did when I found out I was moving,” Chris explains. “I wanted to figure out if there was a group because if there wasn’t I was going to start one.”
Chris is really passionate about the importance of alumni chapters and clubs. He’s also really helpful as a guide for us longtime Floridians that don’t really know what to expect when planning a trip to Arizona. So we asked him about both!
What was it like for you when you first got involved with the Phoenix UCF Alumni Club?
My wife and I moved here after the 0-12 season, so our Alumni group had kind of been getting kicked around. We had some bad luck before I got here, it seemed like every restaurant we went to got closed down the next year. But my goal was and is to make this the best alumni group in the country. For last year’s season, we had our first kickoff for a game at 4 o’clock on a Thursday. We had found a bar called Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers — which is a great name for a place and the food is amazing — we asked if we could start coming as an alumni group. That first game was just my wife and I, and Adam, who was the chair before me. Now we’re somewhere between 20-30 people on a Saturday. But according to LinkedIn there are 500 alumni in Phoenix! My goal is the group keeps growing.
Why do you think it matters that alumni far and wide be a part of community together?
We already have a common bond and that’s the hardest thing about a community. In so many neighborhoods across the country, people close their garage doors, go inside and don’t ever talk to each other. So when we were building this community, we knew we already had something in common. Honestly, at a lot of our Watch Parties there’s a lot of not-watching going on. It’s more of catching up with each other.
Let’s talk Fiesta. What was your response when you found out that was the bowl game UCF was heading to?
It’s good to have it close to the west coast. I know it’s a lot harder for people to travel from the east coast, but there are a lot of hungry fans who couldn’t make it last year to the Peach Bowl from places like San Francisco, Vegas, Seattle…and now they can come and see their team play. Plus, Phoenix is probably one of the most friendly cities I’ve ever been to. It’s a really cool town.
What’s the food situation?
First off, right next to the airport there’s a place called Speedy Street Tacos. Whenever someone comes to town, that’s where I take them. It’s a little shipping container that they cut out a restaurant in and they cook all the steak and chicken outside on a charcoal grill. And Cold Beers and Cheeseburgers is a great spot to get together and they definitely deserve some of our business for being as great to the Alumni group as they are. There’s really good food across the board. There’s a big influence from Chicago and the Midwest, so there’s a lot of really good deep dish pizza.
Besides the game, what should people do when they’re in town?
As far as things to do in the valley, golfing is a big one. I think we have more golf courses than McDonald’s. There’s a cool little course in north Phoenix called Rancho Manana that I always take people to when they come to town. It’s up and down the side of a mountain. It’s a real outdoor city, so Camelback Mountain is great. There’s a lot of ability to hike this time of year because it’s 70 degrees and gorgeous outside.
Let’s pretend I’m a lifelong Floridian who doesn’t understand enough about geography to know how to pack for a trip to Arizona. What advice would you give me?
Well, there’s no humidity. So bring chap-stick and lotion. It does get down in the low 50s, high 40s this time of year, so at night you are going to need a jacket. It’s the opposite of Florida, with the mountains and the ability to be outside and hike — it’s a different atmosphere.
We know a lot of you are heading out to the Phoenix area for the first time ever and are clamoring for more tips for how to spend your time. We’ve gotten some great feedback through friends on social media that we thought we’d pass along!
Cartel Coffee and Jasmine Jo – Jay Veniard
You have to go to Dutch Bros. Super popular, several locations and there’s a secret online menu! Also, Snooze for breakfast and coffee. The pancakes are amazing -Jessica Combest
WHAT TO DO WHEN I’M NOT WATCHING FOOTBALL
Watch basketball! There are a couple Phoenix Suns games happening right around the day of the Fiesta Bowl, so catch one.
Taste it Tours. It’s a food tour with a 5-star rating on Trip Advisor and exposes guests to 5-6 of the not-tourist trap restaurants in Scottsdale, Phoenix and Gilbert. – Jay Veniard
Must check out Old Town Scottsdale. Great shopping off Main Street, Old Town also has free trolleys you can jump on and off. A lot of people like the Musical Instrument Museum. I recommend going to Sedona, it’s breathtaking. -Jessica Combest
FOR THE OUTDOORSY FOLKS
FOOD: WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO ORDER
Barrio Queen. Order the green chili pork appetizer, the pollo and chorizo taco and the cochinita pibil taco, along with a house margarita. And Cornish Pasty. Everything on their menu is amazing and made from scratch. I like their salmon pasty and Pilgrim pasty. You also have to try the tomato soup! – Jay Venierd
JUST SOME TIPS FROM A FAN WHO WAS THERE IN 2014: