RACE : Division-III Stevenson University celebrates first-ever victory

first_imgEd Sweeney has manned the sidelines for various Division I-AA, Division III and high school football teams for more than 30 years.This past Saturday might be the highlight in his three decades of games. Sweeney thinks his most recent game, as associate head coach at Stevenson University, is up there with the best of them.That’s because it was Stevenson’s first win. Not in the conference. Not in the season.First win ever.‘It felt good to accomplish it,’ he said. ‘Nobody expected us to do it.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textTwo games into the Division III Stevenson football program’s first season, the Mustangs came away with a 46-43, double-overtime victory over Christopher Newport University on Saturday. The game was played in front of a sellout crowd of 3,500 in the inaugural home game at Mustang Stadium, located on the former site of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens’ practice facility.But the Mustangs, who now sit at 1-1 and will begin Middle Atlantic Conference play this weekend against King’s (Pa.) College, didn’t just get lucky as the clock ran out.A victory like this has been in the works for years.The university acquired the Baltimore-owned property in Owings Mills, Md., only four miles away from the Ravens’ current training facilities, in 2006. The plan was to build a $9 million stadium at the expense of the school. It would host field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and men’s and women’s lacrosse games.And, once it materialized, the football program would make its home on the former Ravens property, too.There were some snags in the operation. Some professors were concerned about the amount of money being spent on a new stadium and creation of the football team, Stevenson Athletic Director Brett Adams said.But Adams and other officials did research on the possible effects a football program could have on Stevenson in terms of economics, campus demographics and alumni relations. The male population would increase. Students would remain on campus on Saturdays to watch games. Alumni could reconnect to their alma mater by returning to Owings Mills during the fall to watch the Mustangs play — all appealing benefits in the eyes of Stevenson administrators.The stadium — and the football team — were approved.In fall 2010, the coaches began their heavy work. The fledgling team practiced three days a week and worked out two more. But there were no scrimmages, no walk-throughs and no games against junior varsity teams. It wasn’t worth possibly risking the eligibility of the players, Sweeney said.The ‘season’ before the real season culminated in an intrasquad scrimmage in October 2010, on Stevenson’s homecoming weekend.Then the coaches hit the recruiting trail. Sweeney said convincing players to play for Stevenson was easier because of the Division I-type facilities the Mustangs have at their stadium. The locker room contains 62 lockers from the Ravens’ former locker room. The weight room is 6,400 square feet — three times the size of the former weight room — and the stadium seats 3,500 people.‘That’s very significant to me after being at a number of places,’ Sweeney said. ‘It makes it a lot easier to recruit when we can show them what we have. They get to play in front of 4,000 people under the lights in a tremendous facility, which is huge. They can get a good solid education, and they can have a good solid team.’Recruiting hasn’t been the only aspect of Stevenson affected. The changes the team has brought to campus have been remarkable.Forty years ago, Stevenson was an all-female university. In 1994, when Adams was hired, only two percent of students were male. Now, 39 percent of the campus is male — much closer to the national average.‘The school is in a growth mode. They’re increasing enrollment and increasing student housing,’ he said. ‘The increased growth means additional tuition dollars.’The successes are just beginning for Stevenson. Adams said the program is 300 tickets away from selling out all of its home games. The profit the program is bringing in will be able to fund the beginning of a women’s ice hockey program — which will be the southernmost program of its kind in the United States at any collegiate level.Instead of cutting men’s programs to meet Title IX standards, Adams said, the school can expand its offerings for students.And the changes are just beginning for the Mustangs football team.After Stevenson opened its season with a 49-21 thrashing at the hands of Shenandoah, the odds looked stacked against the team Saturday.But Sweeney gave the players some advice.‘Once you play a game, you’re a veteran,’ he told them. ‘You’re not a freshman anymore.’The Mustangs won in triumphant fashion. Freshman Jeromie Miller caught a touchdown pass from junior quarterback C.J. Hopson to push the Mustangs ahead of Christopher Newport in the second overtime.‘They were all really, really pumped up,’ Sweeney said. ‘Kids were running around with the school flag and jumping around. It was every emotion you could think of.’The victory means a lot for the future of Stevenson as an institution, campus and community.‘I was overwhelmed watching everyone’s enthusiasm, and what it means for their experience and their time at Stevenson,’ Adams said. ‘This game will be memorable for more than just the players.‘This victory is transformational; it brings pride to every part of campus.’knmciner@syr.edu Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on September 12, 2011 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Commentslast_img