The unique, and somewhat ill-advised, act of drinking a shot of hot sauce will help kids in Connecticut receive free tickets to UConn athletic events – welcome to social media in 2021.
“The Hot Sauce Challenge” has taken UConn Nation by storm since a January 5 men’s basketball victory over Marquette. UConn was trailing the Golden Eagles by 15 points at halftime in the Huskies’ third game back as a member of the Big East Conference.
Bryan Jackson ’06 (CLAS), or @BpenfieldJ, as he is known on Twitter, proclaimed at the half that he would do a shot of hot sauce if the Huskies came back and won the game.
Sure enough, the team played spectacular in the second half and posted a 65-54 victory. UConn then won its next three games and entered the national rankings for the first time since 2016.
Jackson, a Husky of his word, did his shot on Twitter, and a movement was born. Luminaries of the passionate online subculture of fans known as UConn Twitter, known by such monikers as @CalhounColonel and @MisterHotBalls, soon followed suit.
It was at that point that the three UConn graduates who run the Husky Ticket Project took notice. The project solicits donations from UConn fans to buy tickets to Husky games, which are given to youth groups to expose young people the thrill of attending a contest in person.
“After the win on Monday [Jan. 11 vs. DePaul], I woke up the next day and my timeline on Twitter was full of UConn fans doing hot sauce shots,” says Kevin Solomon ’14 (BUS), ’15 MA, one of the founders of the Husky Ticket Project. “I thought we could tie into it and raise some money, maybe $5,000. By 8 a.m., I sent a Tweet and by noon, we had raised $6,000. It was crazy. Four days later, we were at $50,000.”
The numbers continue to grow.
Hot Sauce Huskies 🥵
Can’t wait to see all these kids at our games next year!
— UConn Women’s Basketball (@UConnWBB) January 15, 2021
Solomon, along with Jeremy Longobardi ’12 (BUS) ‘13 MSA and Kevin Kortsep ’12 (BUS), founded the Husky Ticket Project in April 2018.
Longobardi and Kortsep both grew up in Connecticut and were UConn fans from the beginning. Solomon, from New Jersey, came to UConn originally as a baseball student-athlete following the footsteps of his father Les Solomon ’74, who played football for the Huskies.
Since graduating, they have all started careers, live in the New York City area, and can’t get to games as much as they would like. But they still want to see UConn venues as full as possible, and the idea for the “Husky Ticket Project” was born during a conversation in Solomon’s apartment.
To date, over 2,000 tickets have been donated to youth groups, and those numbers should greatly increase with the funds raised from the Hot Sauce Challenge.
Since Jackson’s momentous first slug, “The Hot Sauce Challenge” leapt from the world of UConn Twitter and reached viral status when former UConn quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky ‘17 (BGS) did a shot.
“Dan-O jump started the whole thing,” says Solomon. “He was at something like 40,000 views in just two hours.”
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) January 14, 2021
Men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley and his wife Andrea were next, followed by the women’s basketball team and coach Geno Auriemma.
“The baseball team has come up huge with coach (Jim) Penders and something like 20 current and former players,” says Longobardi. Among those were pitcher Anthony Kay, who made his major league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays two year ago.
President Tom Katsouleas, golf coach Dave Pezzino, the son and grandson of Jim Calhoun — James Jr. ‘89 (CLAS) and Sam – and the men’s ice hockey team have all been among those to get in on the act.
— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) January 18, 2021
Basketball greats Chris Smith ’92 (CLAS) and Rod Sellers ’92 (CLAS), from the early days of the Calhoun era, have done a shot.
It has even spread to the world of television news reporters and members of Congress, such as U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney ’78 (LAW), who represents Connecticut’s Second District in Washington.
— Dan Hurley (@dhurley15) January 15, 2021
Even Marc D’Amelio ’91 (CLAS), who leads the “first family of TikTok,” did a shot with his daughter Dixie.
“I think everyone is looking for something to get excited about at this time with COVID and all the political stuff,” says Longobardi. “This has brought the UConn community together and you can really see the passion and enthusiasm from all these fans and these crazy Twitter personalities.
“For us, it is really just about spreading the awareness of the Husky Ticket Project and making sure we can get as many kids to games in the future once COVID dies down, which is hopefully sooner rather than later. It’s just amazing to see the generosity from so many different people.”
Jackson, whose post-victory shot of hot sauce started it all, says he never imagined a reaction this widespread or uplifting.
“There are two aspects to this that really blow my mind,” he says. “First is just the selfish aspect of how cool it is to see so many people do this crazy thing that I started. The second, and more important, is that we were able to channel this crazy energy into something positive. I am blown away by how generous the UConn community is, and it makes me really proud to be part of it. We really caught lightning in a bottle.”
To donate to the “Husky Ticket Project,” please visit www.huskyticketproject.com.