For 14-year volunteer Steve Leach, the Fiesta Bowl is more than just a mega college football game on New Year’s Day.
“It’s an organization that gives you unlimited opportunities. If you want to come in and work hard and dedicate yourself in some small way to the Fiesta Bowl, it allows you to do so and the organization is open to giving volunteers the chance to continue to grow,” Leach said.
“When I started in 2004. If somebody would have said you know 14 years you could be chairman of the board you’re crazy. I still feel like it’s crazy that I got to where I got and it’s because of the people who are part of it. The mentoring and the open mindedness and just the support you get. I’m very thankful for that.”
Leach was originally introduced to the Fiesta Bowl through two friends who were already involved.
As the marquee bowl game’s role in the community has evolved over the years, so has Leach’s position. Leach’s first year on the Yellow Jacket Committee was in 2006. That year he was awarded “Rookie of the Year,” a title given to a newcomer who demonstrates a combination of participation, fundraising, and impact.
In the years to follow Leach held several leadership positions, including Committee Chair from 2010-11 and then joined the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors in 2011. Leach’s current role is Chairman of the Board, the first person to hold a two-year term in organization history.
As a member of the board Leach contributed to the Fiesta Bowl’s increased focus on the organization’s efforts to give financial benefits to Arizona nonprofits.
“We as a board made a decision years ago to build our community impact on charitable giving. Jose (Moreno) and others came up with the idea for Wishes for Teachers. It has become a phenomenal program and the Board has chosen to support that and to ensure that it’s adequately funded through our Fiesta Bowl Charities,” Leach said. “We definitely had a role in it, that’s the great thing about the Fiesta Bowl is that it has elements, the committee, the board and the staff, really everyone is working together for the same good and that’s to improve the community in whatever ways we can.”
In its first three years, Wishes for Teachers granted over $2.2 million to Arizona teachers, impacting over 100,000 kids across the state. In total, the Fiesta Bowl will donate over $2.5 million to over 60 Arizona nonprofits in the 2018-19 season and nearly $13 million over the last eight years.
Leach’s college football fandom dates back to his time as a member of the University of Iowa marching band where he played the trumpet.
“I had an opportunity to participate in the Rose Bowl, Peach Bowl and Gator Bowl and just have lifelong memories developed at all three of those events. They were really amazing opportunities to see the parts of the country and to experience things that a relatively small-town Iowa kid normally doesn’t get to do,” Leach said. “Years later I began to realize as I matured that some people worked really hard so that I would have those opportunities and those memories. I began to think about ways to repay that.”
This personal exploration has provided Leach with many memories over the years. One specific memory comes to mind.
“At the Kickoff Luncheon this year being part of an act of introducing a whole host of folks who have been personally affected and benefited by our charitable activities was really touching to me. They came on stage and gave a little speech to the thousand people explaining how challenges impacted their lives. That was meaningful and kind of emotional being part of that on stage.”
The Fiesta Bowl is what Leach describes as his free time. When he’s not volunteering, he is working as the Executive Director of Business Development at Learfield, the largest multimedia rights holder in college athletics. Leach manages multimedia rights and sponsorships for over 130 colleges, conferences and stadiums all over the country.
Leach has invested countless hours into Fiesta Bowl. It’s the organization’s full package of football and charitable giving that ignites his passion and brings him back year after year.
“I mean I could talk about the Fiesta Bowl for hours,” Leach said. “I would just say that I’m extremely lucky to be part of it. Hopefully I’ve made an impact along the way that’s been positive.