Student Section Stories: Matt Cranston - Gonzaga Kennel Club (Part 1/3)

This 3-part blog series was written by Matt Cranston, former Zags Kennel Club Prez (2019-2020). His blogs highlight his experience as a student at Gonzaga, what it's like to lead one of the best student sections (part 2) with a top basketball program and specific insights into the Kennel. (part 3)

Is it Gon-Zawg-uh or Gon Zag(like bag)-uh?

The summer of 2015 was five years ago. The biggest song topping the charts was “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap. A LOT can change in five years.

That summer I went on a road trip from my hometown of Billings, Montana to Seattle, Washington looking at all of the universities on the way. Initially, I didn't even want to look at Gonzaga, to be blunt, I had no interest. I knew that they had basketball, but I was more focused on finding a place where I could further my education.

My Mom actually forced me to look at the school. She scheduled a tour for me without my knowledge and told me I had to go on it. Thank God I did. I fell absolutely in love with the school. The people, the history, and the culture surrounding it were enough for me to go from 0 to pretty much committed two weeks later.

The Fall of 2016 was my first semester at Gonzaga. During the week of Freshman Orientation, the coolest group of people on campus was the Kennel Board (The Board is comprised of 14-17 leaders who lead the entire club which has 1,800+ members). Welcome Night is a very traditional night for incoming Zags and during it, the Kennel Board teaches all the new blood the traditions and chants for Men’s Basketball games. Zombie Nation is a staple of this night. (If you haven’t seen Kennel Club’s Zombie Nation check it out here:

At the conclusion of this night, the Kennel Club Board revealed that they would be selecting a Freshman to join them and help lead the student section that year. At first, I was intrigued and thought that this would be a cool opportunity, however, while adjusting to my new life in college I decided I really did not want to get involved with anything.

Spring 2017 comes and our basketball team is HOT. We are ranked #1 in the Nation and were finally considered Final Four worthy. In February, the Kennel Club Board opened applications for the next year’s group and I decided to apply. Although I only caught 4 (!!) games in the Kennel my Freshman year, I knew that my love for Gonzaga Basketball was starting to run deep.

About the time I decided to apply for the Kennel Board I was finally settled into my new life at college, I started living my life by a simple principle: Stay Uncomfortable. Comfort, especially in a student organization [student section] brings repetition and stale ideas. I realized college is a time for growth and I felt that student leadership was an excellent step.

By applying for Kennel Club Board and being offered the position, I was about to be among some of the most recognizable faces at the school. I really put myself out there. This can be a scary thing, it's human nature to want to be comfortable and becoming a face for the students in both good times and bad is very challenging. However, I stayed committed to that principle.

My first year on the Kennel Club Board my Sophomore year was great. The other sophomores and I all gained a lot from the upperclassmen that were on the board that year. My position was “Business Manager”. During that time, all Kennel Club members were given a card where they could go out to participating restaurants on Game Days and redeem promotions. My job was to go out and find the businesses to participate. Here’s the kicker though: The restaurants would pay US for promotion, we were seen as a form of advertising for them. We would usually get about $500 for a single restaurant to do $20 game days throughout the year. This included all Gonzaga sports, not just men’s basketball.

In February that year, I experienced a lot of burnout from being on the Board. During Conference play in basketball season, each Board member would put in 20+ hours a week. As the regular season came to a wrap, I was not sure if I was going to apply for the Board the following year.

I then realized; I was burnt-out because I was uncomfortable. This challenge was pushing me towards growth. Never in my life before had I needed to balance my schoolwork, activities, friendships, and relationships in such a way. I decided to apply again my Junior year and push my personal envelope further. I applied for the Social Media coordinator (traditionally a Senior held position).

At the time I did not have ANY personal social media.

So how was I qualified to run a social media presence that has over 50,000 combined followers? I had some past experience with social media, but I was able to portray in my interview to the president that year, even though I was personally not on it, I still knew how to use trends on various platforms to our advantage and engage people on a personal level as well as a large audience.

I was stoked when I got the position, I knew that this was going to be a challenge. My year as Social Media Coordinator was a blast. My biggest take away from that year, especially because I was essentially seeing all of the interactions that our club had, is that no matter what you do or say someone will probably disagree with you. It took a lot of mental conditioning to ignore the occasional toxic interaction with someone on Twitter and keep focus on what my overall goal was in the end. Being Social Media Coordinator paid huge dividends when it came to taking on the role of the President the following year.

Back to that realization I had after I became burnt-out my sophomore year. I actually was weighing this decision so much that it kind of came to the last minute. I had so many people telling me to continue with student leadership and others telling me I shouldn’t because of how much time it took up. The day before the application was due, I ended up going skiing by myself just to clear my head. On one chair lift ride after a thigh-burning mogul run, I came to the realization that skiing and my time with Kennel Club relates.

Even though my thighs were burning up from the run before I still went on more runs because I wanted to get better and perfect my technique. It hit me that Kennel Club was the same way, even though I was burnt out I needed to continue to grow. I realized how enriching the process of being a student leader is at that moment. I also set out two personal goals for myself: that I was going to be Social Media Coordinator my Junior year and that I was going to be President my Senior year.

Right before the WCC tournament my Junior year I found out that I had been selected as the new Kennel Club President. In my next two blogs, I am going to go into a lot of detail about the specifics of that year.

The takeaway from my story is that student leadership and fandom usually doesn’t come naturally. For me, it definitely did not. The entire purpose of student leadership is to grow. As I saw my fandom for Gonzaga Basketball starting to grow, I realized I had the opportunity to apply myself and become a leader for others that share in this passion.

So my advice to you is to attract leaders within your circle that look for growth and have a high ceiling for growth potential. This will not only expand your student section but also will personally develop all of the leaders. I am glad that both former Kennel Club Presidents took a chance on me because I have gained so much from my time in Student Leadership and I am excited to share some more of it with you!

BTW it’s Gon Zag(like bag)-uh

Matt Cranston