While other hockey coaches may have spent their pregame drawing X’s and O’s on a whiteboard, Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik instead presented a $13,000 check to the United Heroes League to provide sports equipment and game tickets to military families across the U.S. and Canada.
Instead of looking up to a flag in the rafters during the national anthem, the hockey crowd saluted a 20-by-36-foot garrison flag, unfurled by 41 Ohio State student veterans, military and ROTC members, honoring the military for Ohio State’s Military Appreciation Night.
The Buckeyes’ Feb. 15 game against Minnesota was the second year in a row that the hockey team honored the armed forces, which Rohlik said was indicative of the team’s desire to recognize veterans and their sacrifices.
“We’re pretty thankful to be able to do what we do because of what they do,” Rohlik said.
Honoring the military has become a tradition at Ohio State, according to Mike Carrell, director of the Office of Military and Veteran Services. The first recognitions came at basketball and football games, but is now branching out toward other sports, Carrell said.
“With the start of our office in October 2011, we really began to include student veterans much more prominently with athletics,” Carrell said.
Carrell said men and women who are serving or have served are invited and recognized for their engagement. The Ohio State Athletics’ Fan Experience and Promotion division sends out an announcement to all military-adjacent students before a sporting event.
The Veteran Community Advocate program and Ohio State Athletics Fan Experience arrange all appreciation events, said Devin Zeisset, a veteran community advocate.
Ohio State has roughly 2,200 student veterans, military dependents, military and ROTC members, and about 1,400 faculty members who have served in the armed forces. Those who are interested in an event RSVP to receive further information. The coordination is then done through a liaison with Ohio State ROTC.
The Veteran Community Advocate program helps promote military participation for these occasions. Carrel said that since 2012, the participation has continued to improve year after year.
The importance of honoring service members, especially during a hockey game, was not lost on members of the Ohio State team. Ronnie Hein, a junior forward, said he knows that the work of the armed forces impacts everyone at some level.
“Whatever they do over there lets us come out here and play a game,” Hein said.
The honor of representing the entire Ohio State veteran population comes from everyday student veterans. Zeissest said these events are meaningful to him.
“It’s a humbling experience to have the athletic department manufacture these events for student veterans and military members in which we’re recognized by the fans, coaches and players,” Zeisset said.
This past fall when Ohio State took on Nebraska on Nov. 3, 25 student veterans took the goal line after the first quarter to represent and honor the 2,200 student veterans at Ohio State.
There will be 14 military appreciation games this fall and spring semesters, according to Chris Oswalt, a student Veteran Community advocate.
There are also events called Scarlet and Gray Salutes, which honor military members, veterans and first responders from the community. Oswalt said Ohio State has about 40 Scarlet and Gray Salutes planned for the 2018-19 school year.
The military appreciation has caught the attention of the student population as well. Nicolas Moore, a student veteran at Ohio State, said it feels good that veterans get the recognition they deserve.
“It gives me a sense of joy to see that the hard work that veterans put in doesn’t go unnoticed by the leaders of Ohio State,” Moore said. “It’s nice to know that as a whole, veterans are appreciated here.”