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Gonzaga’s basketball success amazes longtime fan Tony Higley, who helped start Bulldog Club

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 19, 2017, 7:17 p.m.

Tony Higley, attending Saturday’s game against Pacific, helped start the Gonzaga Bulldog Club. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Tony Higley, attending Saturday’s game against Pacific, helped start the Gonzaga Bulldog Club. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Tony Higley remembers when there were a lot of vacant seats at the Kennel on game day.

The Gonzaga alumnus even remembers in the 1970s and ’80s when season tickets were only $50, a price that still seemed a bit too high for a team that couldn’t get much attention past the Spokane borders.

Back then, “There was nobody coming to the games,” Higley said.

That’s definitely not the case anymore.

On Saturday, Higley and his family sat up in the stands to watch the top-ranked team in the country inside a McCarthey Athletic Center that was taken over by students, faculty and hundreds of season ticket holders – a sight he never thought he’d see. Gonzaga defeated Pacific 82-61.

“If somebody had said 30 years ago that we’d be No. 1 in the country, nobody would have believed it,” Higley said.

He remembers the not-so-good-old days when getting support for the Zags was not as easy at it’s been for the last ten years. But even after Higley graduated from Gonzaga in 1978, he made an effort to grow a fan base in Spokane for the so-so Zags.

And it began with the Bulldog Club.

Higley helped start the club of Gonzaga athletic donors nearly 40 years ago in 1978 when ex-Zags coach Dan Fitzgerald became Gonzaga’s athletic director. Fitzgerald, who died in early 2010, put together a handful of Gonzaga supporters to start fundraising for the basketball team.

Higley was one of those select few to get the club up and running.

For the first 10 years, Higley worked as only a volunteer for the Bulldog Club, setting up fundraisers and selling tickets to games. In 1988 Higley took on the role as president of the club.

“We worked on different events to try and raise money and we tried to sell basketball season tickets when they were $50 and you couldn’t find buyers,” Higley said.

In 40 years, the club has grown dramatically and has accumulated hundreds of members who donate to the basketball team and other sports teams at the university. When Higley was working in the club, he said it managed to raise in a year what the Bulldog Club can get in donations on any given weekend today.

In 1998, Higley left the Bulldog Club’s administration and went on to volunteer in other parts of the Gonzaga athletic department.

Today, he enjoys just being a die-hard fan. And a Bulldog Club member, of course. He attends the club’s socials before every showing and roots for the Zags from his seat in the upper half of the stands where he can keep watching a team he’s remained loyal to year after year.

“It just got better every year. It’s what gets me through the winter,” Higley said. “It’s great to follow them.”

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