Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
John Fackler keeps this quote in his office. He says it symbolizes his lifelong passion for athletics—from the time he was a child in awe of college football to today, as he steps down after 15 years leading the U’s wildly successful student cheering section, The MUSS.
When Fackler BS’89 BS’94 MprA’95 was around age 7, his family moved from La Vale, Maryland, to Salt Lake City, where he joined the other kids playing sports in his new neighborhood. “Broke a few windows but never any bones,” he says. Around that time, his dad took him to a game at the U’s then Ute Stadium. “I fell in love with college football that day,” he says with conviction. “From the game to the band to the green grass. I’ve always joked that I asked my dad if we could live at the stadium.” What Fackler couldn’t have known then was that he would grow up to essentially call that stadium home—and that he would become known as Godfather of The MUSS.
In 2000, after working several years as a CPA, Fackler learned that he had attention deficit disorder and was counseled to consider another line of work. His good friend Bill Coen BS’83, on staff at the U’s Alumni Association, called to tell him about an opening for director of business relations. Fackler had served on the Young Alumni Board and thought it would be a “cool” place to work, so he called executive director John Ashton. “Hiring John Fackler was an easy choice,” says Ashton BS’66 JD’69. “He had a unique blend of accounting, finance, athletics, and alumni experience.”
Two years later, Fackler took over as adviser to the Student Alumni Board and was charged with getting more students to attend games. He was confident that he could prove the naysayers wrong—those who said Utah students wouldn’t go to football games—but there were, admittedly, occasional obstacles. “One day, a bit discouraged, I ran into Bruce ‘Woody’ Woodbury [BS’72], the sports information director for the U,” says Fackler. “He said, ‘A lot of people have tried to get students to football games, but you’re the guy who can do it.’ I always remembered that encouragement during tough times.”
Fackler partnered with Kim Sorrentino, assistant marketing director at the Athletics Department, and together they started the Utah Football Fan Club, which one year later, in 2003, was renamed The MUSS (from a phrase in the U fight song, and also known as an acronym for Mighty Utah Student Section). “We knew it would be difficult, but we were optimistic. We went to various campus organizations—Greek row, residence halls—wherever and whatever it took,” says Fackler. They assembled a board of nine students and made a goal to attract 300 students to every home game. Eight hundred signed up. And the rest is, well, history. Today, you can find The MUSS, capped at 6,000 strong, sitting on the southeast side of Rice-Eccles Stadium cheering their hearts out. They’re also a regular fixture at other athletics events including men’s basketball and women’s gymnastics.
Fackler, who has been named national outstanding student adviser twice in his career, admits he’s had an incredible run leading The MUSS. He now passes the MUSS advisory baton to his longtime assistant, Brynn Whitchurch BA’05. “And she’ll do a great job,” he says. “Kevin Stoker [BA’06 MBA’09] also has played a significant role. It wouldn’t have happened without either of them.”
“Coming to work at the Alumni Association is one of the best decisions I’ve made,” says Fackler. And although he’s handing over the MUSS reins, he is not retiring. “I still have a full plate of alumni duties, and will still be involved with The MUSS. I’ll probably also still be busy writing recommendation letters—I write more of those than anyone else on campus!”
—To learn more about The MUSS, read the Continuum feature here.