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The UConn Huskies’ red-hot road trip inspires scorching fundraising effort

Twitter user and friend of the blog @BPenfieldJ started a revolution that has somehow led to over $20,000 (and counting) in donations for the Husky Ticket Project.

Tabasco hot sauce seen at a supermarket... Photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

UConn President Thomas Katsouleas stands in his kitchen with a bottle of Coconut Harry’s hot sauce. “Straight from Costa Rica,” he says as he pours it on a spoon and downs it followed by a tortilla chip. Husky football legend Dan Orlovsky chokes down a children’s medicine cap full of Cholula hot sauce. By his own admission, he had to borrow the bottle from his neighbor. In the brand new baseball facility, head coach Jim Penders and his assistants all down their own shots of hot sauce (pitching coach Josh MacDonald goes in for seconds).

To untangle this web of insanity, even for 2021 standards, you have to go back a few weeks.

UConn was down 18 points to Marquette in their second Big East game since their return to the conference. Star guard James Bouknight went down with an elbow injury, and things looked bleak. Husky fan Bryan Jackson (@BPenfieldJ on Twitter) saw a lot of negative scrolling down his timeline and shared this promise with the web.

And a movement was born.

“I saw that people were very down on Twitter and I just wanted to add some levity to the situation,” Jackson told the Associated Press. “I thought people might get a chuckle out of it.”

Penfield is also the designer of The UConn Blog’s Titletown t-shirt collection as well as the legendary #NFG shirt. This man was a legend way before this folks.

He described his promise as “an offering to the basketball gods,” and sure enough, the Huskies were able to pull off a monstrous comeback, trouncing Marquette in the end behind five 3-pointers from Tyler Polley. He might not have expected it at the beginning, but Jackson enthusiastically took down a shot of Black Bison hot sauce, chanting U-C-O-N-N while taking a swig.

Fast forward a few days, and while the Huskies were nearing their next game, against Butler on January 9, UConn Twitter moved in solidarity with Jackson’s hot sauce-swigging dare. It reached another mini-crescendo on the night of the game when Jackson issued himself another ultimatum:

Polley was on fire again, and Jackson one-upped himself again, dousing a banana with hot sauce and chowing down. More and more fans joined in by the time UConn’s 60-53 win over DePaul came around, and then shooting back hot sauce started to change the world.

The hot sauce craze caught the attention of the Husky Ticket Project, a non-profit that provides children from area community youth groups with tickets to UConn games. Remember the first sports game you went to, either college or pro? Husky Ticket Project is delivering that feeling to some very deserving kids, and it’s really tremendous.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to make this similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge from the ALS fundraiser from a few years ago that went viral,” Husky Ticket Project co-founder Kevin Solomon said. “We could get people to donate $5 for every hot sauce shot they take.” Solomon appeared on The UConn Pod in December to share the story of his organization and what they’re doing these days with games closed to fans.

This move played out better than anyone could have imagined, as the fan interest in the challenge took off. Donations came pouring in, and some major UConn celebrities joined in on the action.

Thursday was the biggest date yet for the hot sauce challenge, with videos made by the UConn baseball coaching staff, Katsouleas, News 8 multimedia journalist Suzie Hunter, former Husky pitcher Mason Feole, as well as athletic director Dave Benedict. Our own Aman Kidwai has promised to do a shot of hot sauce with a whole jalapeno chaser when the Husky Ticket Project hits $20,000 in donations. (Editors Note: I will do it on Friday)

“I can’t tell you how surprised and grateful we are,” Solomon told the Associated Press. “UConn fans are the craziest, most passionate fans, and now we’ve found out they are also the most generous.”

The Husky Ticket Project has raised over $20,000 as of Wednesday evening, and Jackson has promised to down hotter and hotter sauces as the foundation raises more and more money. Throughout the week, the hot sauce phenomenon came closer and closer to their ultimate target: Men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley. Then, on Wednesday night, it finally came:

“I think it’s great how much the fans are involved in our season, even though they can’t be at the games,” Hurley said. “And I want to get involved in what is a really good cause and helps kids get to our games. I’m not a big spice person, but I’m ready to suck it up one time.”