January 18, 2013
Leatherneck Basketball Fans:
On behalf of Jim Molinari, his staff, and your Leatherneck men's basketball team... THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for your attendance at Thursday night's game versus South Dakota State. While the game didn't end with the result we all wanted, it was an awesome college basketball environment for Western Illinois University and the Macomb community. Our Marketing/Promotions staff did a great job with the "Western White Out" promotion. "White Out" promotions are common at colleges and universities across the country and to those of you who came wearing Western White... thank you. Even if you didn't wear white, your attendance is appreciated and valued.
We had a great crowd on Thursday, almost 4,200 loyal fans (faculty, staff, students, community members) cheering for your Leathernecks. It was the largest crowd to watch a conference game in 25 years. Your attendance helped create a traditional NCAA Division I college basketball atmosphere. Western Hall looked awesome. Coach Molinari commented to me after the game that he had goose bumps walking onto the court prior to tip-off. It's no secret that he's worked very hard for five years to experience that kind of environment.
But we're not done yet. We have another very challenging game on Saturday night versus North Dakota State. The Bison are currently in first place in the Summit League standings. Your Leathernecks are in second place. A victory on Saturday night will put us back in a tie for first. We need another great home court advantage, and we need you, and all your family and friends to come to Western Hall.
Saturday night is "Purple Pride" night. Put on your favorite Purple Leatherneck gear and come to Western Hall to support your Leathernecks. Game time is at 7 p.m.
Once again, thank you so much for your interest and continued support of our coaches and student-athletes.
August 8, 2012
It’s August, and this time of year signals the end of summer for most of us in Leatherneck Athletics. Last week the 2012 Leatherneck football team arrived. I was privileged to meet with the team during one of their first team meetings. At that time I told the team how excited we are (campus and community) that football is around the corner. When the football team arrives on campus, the environment seems to change: there’s a buzz in Western Hall and that buzz and excitement permeates throughout the campus and into the Macomb community. A common question at this time of year is: How’s the team going be this year? Certainly a fair question. Optimistically, I always respond in a positive manner. Ask Coach Hendrickson, or any of the coaches, or any of the players…..and you will get a much more definitive and enthusiastic response. Looking back on last year, we were disappointed in the 2-9 record, but on the other hand, we were so close in almost every game. I mentioned that to the team as well. Generally, every football game will be decided by maybe six plays…..six critical plays that impact the outcome of the game. The challenge we have this year is to control those six critical plays….no false starts, no delay of game penalties, no mental mistakes. There is a lot of optimism this year. Since spring practice, I have noticed a new attitude. As most already know, we have four new assistant coaches, three of these coaches arrived at Western during the recruiting process. I have noticed a very positive vibe and chemistry within the coaching staff and this has translated into a positive chemistry throughout the team as well. There is a commitment to excellence and all our coaches have worked very, very hard to motivate our team, and this hard work will pay dividends, on the field and off the field. We also have a new defensive scheme, and some very impressive leadership from the upper classmen. From this writing, there are about three weeks before we kick-off against Butler University. I know the coaches and the team will be preparing for a successful 2012 season. A quick commercial…..please buy tickets, come out and support the 2012 Leatherneck Football Team.
While football generally steals the headlines in August, let’s not forget about the Summit League Men’s Soccer Defending Champions…..the Fighting Leathernecks, led by 2011 Coach of the Year, Dr. Eric Johnson. The 2011 season marked the 5th time in 8 years the Leatherneck men’s soccer team advanced to the NCAA College Cup post-season tournament. Coach Johnson will undoubtedly have his team ready to defend their 2011 championship. Also, by virtue of our 2011 championship, Western will host the 2012 Summit League Men’s Soccer Tournament. The dates are November 9-11, 2012 at John MacKenzie Alumni Field. This will be a great event for our campus and for the City of Macomb.
Two new coaches will appear on the sidelines this fall as well: April Hall will lead the Fighting Leatherneck volleyball team. April comes to us from Northern Kentucky University, a perennial NCAA Division II volleyball powerhouse. Her experience on the Ohio State staff will be an asset as well. Then, just a few weeks ago, we hired Ted Flogaites to lead our women’s soccer program, and he has already instilled a much needed boost of energy and enthusiasm. Certainly, some good things ahead for our fall sports programs.
Two other new staff members are: Matt Tanney, Associate Director of Athletics. Matt comes to us from the University of Oklahoma, with previous experience at Dayton. Matt’s primary responsibilities are internal operations (student-athlete experiences), game day operations, compliance, eligibility and financial aid. Finally, we hired Kelsey Homewood as our Director of Marketing/Promotions. Kelsey has been with us since April and she has already made a huge and positive impact on our external promotions and corporate sponsorships.
Recently, we published and uploaded (goleathernecks.com) the 2011-12 Leatherneck Athletics Annual Report. Anyone interested in a thorough review of our coaches and student-athlete successes from last year should log-on. Quite frankly, sometimes we forget the many positive things that have occurred over the past 12 months. To point out a few major things that occurred since last year: it was a year ago that Hanson Field was under construction and renovation. The installation of the new Matrix Turf has been a huge improvement for our department and for the entire campus. Unfortunately, many thought this new field was earmarked for only the football team. Quite the contrary. Over the past years, its seems almost every sport program have benefitted from this new turf, including several club and recreation sports, and the Marching Leathernecks. Looking ahead, we are scheduled to host two high school football games this year along with hosting the Macomb Area Junior Football League. This is clearly a $1.3 million communiversity investment. As our Target: Western Forward Facilities Initiative continues, there are two other construction projects are worth mentioning. In January we completed a $115,000 installation of a new basketball court in Brophy Hall. This facility has and will continue to benefit our men’s and women’s basketball programs. Then, only a few days ago, we completed construction of a new women’s soccer locker room. Finally, our women’s soccer team will have its own private locker room space. The next project on our facility improve list is a women’s staff locker room. We have the space identified, and some of the funding in place. We hope to get this project started sometime in this fall semester.
The final project I want to mention is the renovation and enhancement of Hanson Field. In 2007 we renovated the east side, with bleachers, concession stands and restrooms. Last year we installed the turf. We must remain committed to finalizing the stadium with an expansion of the west side: press box, coaches’ offices, academic space, corporate suites, and reception rooms. This final piece will help us keep pace with our bench mark institutions within the MVFC. We must keep this project on the front burner towards improving our athletic facilities, which will ultimately enhance our entire campus.
A few reminders as the 2012-13 school year will soon be upon us:
In mid-April, the Leatherneck Club membership renewal
campaign began. Our goal is 1,000
members. Everyone reading this please
consider joining the Leatherneck Club to support our student-athletes. If you are a former student-athlete, please
read this as our plea: only 2% of our
former student-athletes are members of the Leatherneck. Please, consider giving back to support those
who are following in your footsteps. We
need your help and participation. Your
$100 (or more) contribution will directly benefit student-athletes.
August 25th is the 23rd Annual Purple and Gold Gala and Auction…go on-line and sign-up now.
August 30th is the first football game of the 2012 season. Season tickets and parking passes will be mailed on August 10th. Season tickets and single game tickets are on-sale now. Call 309-298-1190 to order your tickets today.
With your help, we can provide our student-athletes with
the very best possible NCAA Division I experience. We want all our student-athletes to leave
Western with two things: a diploma and a
As always, thank you so much for the continued interest and support of the coaches and student-athletes who proudly represent Western Illinois University.
March 27, 2012
This coming weekend (March 31-April 2) the entire nation will be focused on the NCAA Division I Final Four: The culmination of the 2011-12 basketball seasons. The men's championship will be in New Orleans and the women's championship will be played in Denver.
Speaking of basketball, allow me a few lines to comment on our men's and women's basketball seasons. Back in the Fall of 2011, our men's team was predicted to finish ninth out of 10 teams and the women were predicted 10th of the 10. How wrong those prognosticators were, yes indeed. First-year head coach JD Gravina and his staff did an amazing job with our women's team, advancing to the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament and finishing the season with 12 victories. While the number of wins is certainly impressive (most wins in four years), even more impressive was the style of play and watching the team play so hard.....they really seemed to enjoy playing every game. They probably didn't enjoy the losses too much, but the fact they were predicted to finish dead-last in the league, and then finish tied for 5th (7th-seed in tournament due to fourth level tie-breaker) was remarkable. Kudos to JD, his staff, even more praise for the poise and leadership of the four seniors. The future is certainly very, very bright for the Leatherneck women's basketball program.
On the men's side.....nothing short of amazing, wonderful, awesome.....yet still disappointing in some regards. We were so close. Coach Mo has said many, many times that building Western Illinois basketball into a perennial championship team will be a process, and it will take some time. I think all Leatherneck fans felt the "time" had come, but that ball rolled around the rim, waiting to break someone's heart. The ball didn't fall into the basket and our hearts were broken. While the NCAA bid narrowly escaped, the CBI Tournament called resulting in our first ever Division I post-season tournament invitation.
There were so many positive things came from the 2011-12 men's basketball season. Certainly the 18 wins alone were impressive, being picked 9th and finishing 4th, but even more so was the fact we had two games broadcast on national television - the Summit League Championship Game on ESPN2 and the CBI game at Oregon State on HDNet. With these two national broadcasts, Western Illinois University was exposed to millions of households, countless alums and countless prospective students. We have heard many, many times that Leatherneck Athletics can be the front porch to Western Illinois University and these two national broadcasts certainly framed the windows and the door of the porch.
Once again, a really big "thank you" to our fans who attended the tournament games in Sioux Falls, and a big thanks to the many fans, the City of Macomb, Mayor Mike Inman, Chief Barker, Chief Baker and our OPS staff for the wonderful reception when they returned to campus after the tournament.
Congratulations and "thank you" to both Jim and JD, and to their staffs and the basketball student-athletes. I may be biased, and many agree with me, the Summit League Coach of the Year Awards belong in trophy cases in Western Hall in Macomb, Illinois.
As the basketball season comes to an end, spring football is getting started. Mark Hendrickson has assembled a very impressive coaching staff. I've watched them a few times in pre-practice and on the field. This coaching staff is aggressive, knowledgeable, they work well together, and the players clearly respect them. There will be a few changes in both personnel and in philosophy, most notable is the defensive scheme: a 4-3 look (four defensive linemen). We were really vulnerable in the past against the run and this four-man front should solidify the run game. In terms of recruiting, once again Coach Hendrickson proved he can recruit. Even though we were short a few coaching spots, the quality of players who committed to the Leatherneck football family is impressive.
As March, April and May roll along, please take time to enjoy the great weather and stop by to watch some Leatherneck softball and Leatherneck baseball. A home field advantage is always a good thing, especially with the seats full of Purple and Gold. The softball team has the national stolen base leader and just rattled off 10 straight wins. Baseball is in midst of 13-game homestand and already beat #8 Georgia and beat A-10 Conference member Xavier University. It's an exciting time to come out and watch.
Another new and exciting feature.....Mobile applications are now available to download. Leatherneck athletics is now available on your hand-held device, right at your fingertips for Android and iPhone users.
I have always said a NCAA Division I athletics department may be the most dynamic unit on any college campus, especially with personnel. In early March we hired April Hall to lead our volleyball program. April comes to us from Northern Kentucky University, a perennial NCAA Division II volleyball powerhouse. Her experience on the Ohio State staff will be an asset as well. Administratively, in the next few weeks we will announce our new Director of Compliance, a new Director of Marketing/Sponsorships. Finally, Josh Moon, Sr. Associate AD will be leaving to take the AD job at Northern State University. I am pleased for Josh and his family, and I am even more proud of him. Josh has done remarkable things here at Western and now the Wolves of Northern State will be the beneficiaries of his hard work and dedication.
A few important dates to remember:
In mid-April, Leatherneck Club membership renewal campaign will begin. Our goal is 1,000 members. Everyone reading this, please consider joining the Leatherneck Club to support our student-athletes.
June 1st is the Annual Leatherneck Golf Classic (more information available soon)
August 25th is the 23rd Annual Purple and Gold Gala and Auction
August 30th is the first football game of the 2012 season (ticket information available shortly)
With your help, we can provide our student-athletes with the very best possible NCAA Division I experience. We want all our student-athletes to leave Western with two things: a diploma and a championship ring. Congratulations to all our graduating seniors and thank you.
As always, thank you so much for the continued interest and support of the coaches and student-athletes who represent Western Illinois University.
September 21, 2011
The 2011-12 Western Illinois University academic year is in full swing with the month of September almost over (nine days until October). Obviously much has happened since my last posting back in May, so first let me provide some review of the past five months.
The Hanson Field turf project is completed... completed on time and within budget. We played our first game on the new turf on September 10th versus Jacksonville University, with your Leathernecks posting an impressive victory. Actually, this was not the first official game played on the new turf. The Macomb Junior Football League played a game on Sunday, September 5th, so officially the first game played on the new turf belongs to the little guys. Who knows, some future Leathernecks may be on that team.
Let me recognize some people that made this project happened. First, the Western Illinois University Student Government Association. Their interest and support helped fund the entire project. Then, the following individuals also deserve kudos and recognition:
Scott Coker: Project Manager,
Western Illinois University Physical Plant
Primary Architect: Brian Davis, Jeffrey L. Bruce Company, Kansas City, MO
Civil Engineer: Brad Hoots, Hanson Professional Services, Springfield, IL
General Contractor: Dan Pope, Hellas Construction, Austin, TX
Plumbing Contractor: Laverdiere Construction, Macomb, IL
Electrical Contractor: Schaefer Electric, Peoria, IL
Field Design: Neil Warda and Brian Kreps, Western Illinois University Visual Production Center
This was a great team and they did a great job. Here are some more interesting facts about the field:
- 99,000 cubic yards of grass and dirt were removed
- 350,000 pounds of sand and rubber pellets (recycled tires) were distributed over the turf
- Matrix Turf is the official brand name of the field product, used by the Dallas Cowboys, Baylor University
- 365 days of use.....athletics, intramurals, club sports, Marching Leathernecks, community
Again, this project has enhanced our entire campus, and has truly been (and will be) a benefit for all our sport programs. This project has moved our program forward. A personal side note, the field looks really cool, very colorful. The colors "pop", the logos are big, with recognition to Ray "Rock" Hanson on the sidelines. Also, take note, the endzones of the football field are exactly like the endzones of the basketball court in Western Hall, scripted "Leathernecks", providing marketing consistency.
In August we held the 22nd Annual Purple and Gold Gala and Auction. Almost 400 people attended and we generated close to $60,000 (final accounting soon). This was one of the best attended and most profitable events in several years, and this speaks volumes to the campus and community support of the coaches and student-athletes who represent Western Illinois University. Jerry "Hall of Famer" Cremer, John "JB" Biernbaum and the entire committee did a great job and deserve a huge "thank you" for a job well done... lots of personal time and energy made this event a success.
The 2011-12 athletic season is moving forward so quickly we should take a quick time-out before the winter sports begin. Your Leatherneck football team begins Missouri Valley Football Conference competition this week. And, after last week's beating from Missouri, I think our coaches and team are ready to move ahead. A quick comment about the Missouri game - yes the game got out of hand very quickly, and while we are disappointed in the loss and the perhaps the point spread, let's keep in mind the huge resource differential between a nationally ranked BCS program and us. I made note of some other games played in the first few weeks of the season and there are several scores similar to our Missouri score. I'm not trying to minimize the fact that we lost in a very lopsided game and we are certainly disappointed, but there were lopsided scores between BCS teams as well. Even some of the nation's best FCS teams were outscored in the same fashion in recent games. The truth is, Western has been on both ends of lopsided games, but we still prefer to be the victors. On the other hand, let's also remember that Mark Hendrickson led our team to near upsets of BCS teams in recent years as well (Arkansas and Purdue). Bottomline, these games against BCS teams are good for our student-athletes' experience and for our entire department. In future years, we will play at Iowa State, Minnesota, UNLV, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern.
Beyond football, let's recognize the successes of our other fall sport programs. First, Dr. Eric Johnson became the Summit League's All-Time winningest soccer coach. If you know Eric, he will downplay this historic accomplishment as that is his nature. He prefers to keep his team focused on the next opponent, not latest victory. Eric is highly respected in our department and within the national soccer community. I know he and his team is looking forward to competing for a Summit League championship this season. Right now, they have the best overall win/loss record among all Summit League teams. Notable thus far is that Eric has led our men's soccer team to victories over Marquette and DePaul, members of the Big East Conference, a BCS conference.
Still on the soccer topic, the Women's Soccer team is also leading the Summit League in terms of overall win/loss record with a 6-2 record. Despite some very sad personal news about his 10 year-old son Shaymus, Tony Guinn continues to coach and mentor our team in a very, very positive manner. The team has rallied around Tony and Shaymus and they have been inspired to compete and play a very high level. As you read this, please extend your thoughts and prayers for continued progress for a complete recovery for Shaymus as he battles another bout of cancer.
Now on to volleyball. Kym McKay has the Leatherneck volleyball team playing at a remarkable level right now with an 8-5 overall record, the best start to a season since the early 1990's. We are 1-2 in Summit League play and a full-slate of volleyball ahead. Last night we played our first home conference match. In the fourth set we were down 10 points, yet after a time-out the team battled back to win. It was impressive to see their efforts pay off with a victory.
Let's not forget our cross country teams. Chelsea Lynes and Michael Castel both won individual championships at the SIUE Challenge earlier this week. Head Coach David Beauchem has his team poised to be very competitive in Summit League competition.
Before I started writing this latest Leatherneck Insider, I reviewed some of my previous postings. Recall, in a couple of postings, I mentioned the shifting of the conference landscape, suggesting back then that conference realignment would continue. Well, that is certainly true as the Big 12 seems to in the middle of an out of control down-hill spiral. Recent news accounts speculate that the Big 12 could dissolve with only four remaining members and the Big East and ACC membership will certainly be changing as well. Some people have asked me how this impacts us. Well, in the immediate near future we will see little impact. However, as the FBS/BCS conferences continue to both expand and contract, there will be migration efforts by FCS schools and this could impact both the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The dominoes will continue to fall and the realignment issue will always be on the horizon. Some have speculated and fear a larger shift that may include only a few "super conferences" which would totally control the direction and finances within the NCAA. The speculation is probably accurate, but the fear is these super conference would separate from the NCAA and go their own way. I hope this does not happen as it would cripple college athletics.
For us, our task is to be the best we can be within our current situation. That does not suggest we will be complacent. All our coaches, staff, and student-athletes will work to win conference championships and advance to post-season tournaments. We need to continue to improve our facilities and we need to continue to increase our scholarship opportunities. Yes, it is true; we are competing in an arms race, in terms of facilities and resources. Western Illinois University is a willing participant in this arms race and we will do all we can to remain competitive within our respective conferences.
Looking ahead, the annual Homecoming game is on Saturday, October 1st. Kick-off is at 3 p.m. Order tickets now by calling 309-298-1190. Or you can order on-line at goleathernecks.com. Our new website format provides an option to review seating options/locations and then order on-line. It's a great new service to our fans.
Also, during homecoming, we will conduct our annual Hall of Fame Induction Banquet on Friday, September 30th. We have great class of inductees: Patty Cutright, Softball; Amber Hunt Kindt, Swimming; Rick Short, Baseball; Dave Miller, Track/Field Coach; Mike Pendergast, Athletic Trainer, Certified and Rich Seubert, Football. The public is invited.
Thanks again for taking time to read. As we continue in our pursuit of excellence, we could use your support. Please consider joining the Leatherneck Club, purchasing season tickets, or purchasing a Leatherneck hat, t-shirt or sweatshirt.
Finally, remember, its' always a great day to be a Leatherneck.
May 5, 2011
Five months have passed since my last writing (December 2010), and no one could argue that these past five months have been very, very busy for the Leathernecks.
I know most people around campus are probably looking forward commencement exercises on May 13-14th, and we will have several very impressive student-athletes graduating as well. I could list all the names, but suffice to say we have some truly special student-athletes leaving our sports programs. They have impressed us in their chosen sport and have made us very proud with the academic successes and community service activities. In fact, my daughter, Abby will graduate next week as well, (Leah is on track for a December graduation) so there is some additional excitement in the Van Alstine family.
Looking back over the past few months, another basketball season has come to an end. Once again, March Madness proved to be one of the most exciting events across the nation. The mid-major programs (institutions like us) continue to impress and advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. Quite frankly, that's our goal as well. There is no reason why we can't be the next Cinderella Team.
As most already know, we are pleased and very excited to have JD Gravina leading our Women's Basketball team. Obviously, we never like to go through a coaching change, and quite frankly it's very emotionally taxing. The search/screening process is very, very time consuming - reading resumes, contacting references, interviewing candidates, on-campus interviews, etc. Nobody likes the process, but in the end most would agree we have the right person leading our program. I have said many, many times that our decision-making is based on three things: graduating student-athletes, winning conference championships and advancing to the NCAA's, and creating the very best possible student-athlete experience.
Some have questioned the fact that we require a Master's Degree for our coaches and staff. First, this is not a University requirement; this is strictly a requirement of the Athletics Department. Academic Excellence is one of the University's Core Values, and as we expect our student-athletes to aspire to succeed at the highest levels. A Master's Degree is not unreasonable for our coaches and senior administration, in fact it speaks volumes about our commitment to academics and is consistent with our efforts to create an academic behavioral shift.
Spring football practice is completed as well, and by most accounts, it was a success but we did suffer a few injuries. To be perfectly honest, I am becoming more and more concerned about full-contact during spring practice, especially at the FCS level. My rationale is two-fold: student-athlete safety (their bodies take a lot of pounding during the season), along with a small roster size. FCS schools only have 63 scholarships for a roster of approximately 100 student-athletes, so in spring practice, the roster is essentially reduced by 20-25 due to departing seniors. On any given day this spring, there were 10-12 student-athletes not participating due to injuries, and all the attention on head injuries and concussions really have me concerned. But, let me also say that Mark Hendrickson and his staff (along with Chad Cerullo and our ATC's) are very, very conscious of the welfare of our players, and they strategically structure practices to meet team preparation needs but also limit the impact on players. All in all, a very successful spring practice, a necessary evil but in the end successful.
Academically, the Missouri Valley Football Conference honored its best "students" with the Academic Honor Roll, and 32 Leathernecks earned this prestigious recognition. Also, Kyle Glazier was selected as one of two recipients of the FCS Athletic Director's Association Post-Graduate Scholarship. A few years ago, I served on this committee which selects the recipients and it is truly a very competitive process with so many deserving football student-athletes from across the country. Kudos to Kyle and our football program.
Still on the topic of football, as most should know by now, Hanson Field will receive another face-lift this summer with the installation of an artificial surface. Once again, the Student Government Association set a standard of support that is immeasurable with the allocation of necessary funds. I know our coaches and student-athletes deeply appreciate the support of SGA, both with the 2007 east-side renovation and with this summer's turf installation project. An artificial surface will truly enhance the entire campus, both visually and in terms of the students' experience. Obviously football will use the turf (practice and competition) along with several other outdoor sports (men's and women's soccer, baseball, and softball). In addition intramurals, recreation, and club sports will also have access to the field. Hanson Field is the only lighted outdoor facility on campus, and an artificial surface will provide 12 month outdoor athletics and recreational use. The expenditure of these monies is truly an investment in improving the quality of life for all students, including student-athletes. There were also discussions about a new scoreboard, but I'm not 100% confident that will happen this year. The SGA allocated $1.3, and it has become apparent that will be exhausted with the turf. Still, a new scoreboard is in the works, and will probably be funded with external funding.
Some of our spring sports have concluded their seasons, while others are still competing. Congratulations to Lia Lukkarinen and the Women's Golf team as they finished second at the Summit League Championships. A second place finish is the highest ever for our women golfers. The baseball team is still competing for a spot in the Summit League Tournament. Considering the tragedies of last year (death of Stan Hyman and Devin Van Brooker), Mike Villano has our program headed in the right direction with eyes on a championship. Some other individual successes include Nikki Klier and Chelsea Lynes competing in a select invitational track meet in California. Many other track/field student-athletes have enjoyed personal best performances, and they are peaking at the right time as the Summit League Outdoor Track/Field Championships are coming up soon. Western will host the 2011 Summit League Softball Championship on May 11-14th.
You may recall from previous writings my comments about conference/schools affiliations, well, the Summit League has changed again, adding the University of Nebraska-Omaha. We (Western and the Summit League) are very excited to have the Mavericks join in July 2012. Centenary will depart with the conclusion of the 2011 spring sport season and Southern Utah will depart following next year while the University of South Dakota begins its membership in July. Our geographical footprint and our institutional profiles are well suited for Western Illinois University.
Looking back on the 2010-11 academic/athletic year, the Leathernecks enjoyed some wonderful successes, academically, athletically, and in community service. Those of you who are reading this from far distances should be proud of your Leathernecks as our coaches, staff, and student-athletes really do represent Western Illinois University in a very positive way.
We all know the past 18-24 months have been very challenging, especially with funding and budgets, and our programs have suffered as well. Our coaches and staff have unfortunately become accustomed to doing more with less. Yet our responsibility and duty will always remain with the student-athletes: what is best for them, to help them graduate, win championships, and have great experiences as a student-athlete. Hopefully, things will change and we can begin to do more with more.
Some important dates for your calendar:
Leatherneck Golf Classic: Friday, July 15th
Purple and Gold Gala and Auction: Saturday, August 27th
Leatherneck Football Home Opener: Saturday, September 10th vs. Jacksonville
Season Football Tickets are on sale now: 309-298-1190 (www.GoLeathernecks.com)
It's always a great day to be a Leatherneck... if you want to help us do more with more, join the Leatherneck Club. Until next time, Go Leathernecks!
December 16, 2010
Now that we have had a chance to catch our breath following a very busy fall sports season, the timing of this writing is perfect. On Friday, December 17th, I will provide a summary report to the Western Illinois University Board of Trustees. For the most part, I truly enjoy these annual presentations as it affords me a perfect opportunity to brag about our coaches and student-athletes, athletic accomplishments and academic achievements. Those who have followed Leatherneck Athletics should already know one solid fact: We have terrific coaches and wonderful student-athletes. Our coaches, staff and student-athletes are the best ambassadors for Leatherneck Athletics and the entire University.
Looking back on the past few months, the women's soccer program, under the leadership of Head Coach Tony Guinn once again dominated the Summit League, advancing to the final game of the Summit League Championship Tournament. Unfortunately, your Leathernecks fell by a score of 3-1 to North Dakota State. Tony continues to do great things with our women's soccer team. But, let's not forget about the men's soccer team under the guidance of Dr. Eric Johnson. His team was young and inexperienced this year and was under the radar, but just wait until next year, as Coach Johnson will surely have them ready to regain a Summit League Championship. They closed out their season with a 2-1 win over the regular season champion UMKC.
Kudos to our new Head Track/Cross Country Coach, David Beauchem. Despite limited scholarships, his men's and women's cross country teams produced some very, very impressive times during the season. Looking ahead, our indoor and outdoor track teams are poised to surprise the Summit League competition.
With no disrespect to our other fall sports, who can argue that the most remarkable storyline in Western Hall is the resurgence of the Leatherneck Football team. We had 17 terrific seniors who provided the type of leadership a successful football team needs. The other most significant dynamic is the leadership of Mark Hendrickson as our Head Coach, and our two coordinators, Tom Casey and Doug Ruse. Both Tom and Doug have truly had a significant and positive impact on this year's team. Along with a few others, I have been fortunate to be an "insider" with regard to our football program. Two important factors stand out.
First, the coaching staff shares a mutual respect for each other, they truly respect the head coach and the head coach respects them. He values their input and involvement, and there is true sense of "TEAM" within the staff. Second, the players have confidence in the coaching staff and they have a mutual respect for each other. Yes, we had some great players, and they were well coached and motivated, but the "behind the scenes" intangibles certainly played an important part in the success of the season. Some would argue these "intangibles" are immeasurable, but I would offer that these intangibles are measured in wins and losses... specifically: in 8 wins and an invitation to the NCAA FCS Playoffs, the most victories in seven years, the first winning record in conference play in seven seasons, and the first playoff appearance since 2003. The other measurable intangible is the academic success of our football team. The football team's GPA and NCAA mandated APR scores have improved to all-time program bests.
Speaking of senior leadership, congratulations to Matt Barr and Kyle Glazier, as they earned MVFC Player of the Year honors. Both are finalists for a National Player of the Year award (Walter Payton Award and the Buck Buchanan Award). As one of three finalists for the Payton Award, Matt will attend the Sports Network banquet on January 6th in Frisco, Texas. All three candidates have put up worthy statistics, however, Matt's year was outstanding and hopefully will become the first Payton winner in Leatherneck history.
Both Matt and Kyle spoke at the Macomb Downtown Athletic Club luncheon recently. They are the epitome of the true meaning of "student-athlete". Both spoke highly of Mark Hendrickson and the coaching staff, even recalling their recruiting process. Mark Hendrickson was the only coach to recruit them, he sat at their kitchen table, and they came to Western because of him. Recruiting funds well spent, indeed! Many people have commented to me about their disappointment that Mark did not win MVFC Coach of the Year award. Not taking anything away from Trent Miles, Mark Hendrickson was also a very, very deserving candidate. He is still in the running for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year, an award he also deserves.
In previous writings, I mentioned the ever-changing conference affiliation landscape as the membership dominoes continued to fall into place. As predicted, the membership of both The Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference has changed. Again, Tom Douple and Patty Viverito have provided steady leadership for our respective conferences. The University of South Dakota will join The Summit League in July 2011 and join the Missouri Valley Football Conference in July 2012. Also, Centenary College will leave The Summit League in June 2011, and Southern Utah University will leave and join the Big Sky in July 2012. The University of North Dakota declined an invitation to The Summit League and has accepted full membership into the Big Sky. As it stands for next year, The Summit League will have 10 members, then in 2012 nine members. The MVFC currently has nine members and will have 10 members in 2012. Scheduling has now become a top priority for both conference commissioners, so buckle-up as we will probably see some changes in our scheduling for both leagues. We are still trying to finalize our 2011 football schedule. We hope to release the schedule sometime in early February.
Also mentioned in previous writings was the prospect of an artificial playing surface on Hanson Field. Well, the speculations have now become fact, as we expect a new artificial surface on Hanson Field in the fall of 2011. A new video/scoreboard is also in the works. Over the next several weeks, we will work closely with various departments on campus to coordinate the purchase process. Special thanks to the leadership and membership of the Student Government Association, as the SGA has provided $1.3 million to upgrade Hanson Field. Regarding the turf, obviously football will use the turf (practice and competition) along with several other outdoor sports (men's and women's soccer, baseball, and softball). In addition intramurals, recreation, and club sports will also have access to the field. Hanson Field is the only lighted outdoor facility on campus, and an artificial surface will provide 12 month outdoor athletics and recreational use. The expenditure of these monies is truly an investment in improving the quality of life for students and student-athletes.
Some other projects we are working on include an on-campus wood floor for men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball to use as an alternative practice site. As Western Hall is used for many, many other activities and events throughout the year, our student-athletes are many times displaced from both practice and competition. Another practice location keeps Western in the competitive arms race and in the recruiting race. Also, with revenues generated from the Purple and Gold Gala and Auction, we are purchasing approximately $50,000 in new weight equipment. This new equipment will be more efficient and will provide a much safer conditioning environment in the Leatherneck Strength and Conditioning Center.
The Christmas and New Year's holidays are fast approaching and January 2011 will soon be here, so flip the calendar and you will find many Leatherneck men's and women's basketball scheduled in January and February. Please come to Western Hall and support your Leathernecks, and follow all our sports on www.GoLeathernecks.com.
Thanks for reading... until next year remember: It's a great day to be a Leatherneck.September 27, 2010
It has been about two months since my last writing, and a busy two months as well.
The 21st Purple and Gold Gala and Auction was held in late August. Despite a slow start, the committee, led by John Biernbaum and Jerry Cremer, did a great job getting some really nice items. And, the Macomb/University community once again jumped on board. We generated more than $50,000 and more than 350 people attended. It was a great night. This event has truly grown beyond Macomb as we had folks from Chicago, Peoria, Quincy, Burlington and the Quad Cities attend. The level of interest and support continues to be amazing and very inspiring for our coaches and student-athletes.
Then, this past weekend we celebrated Homecoming and Hall of Fame. Over the years we have moved the Hall of Fame event between basketball and football, and following a recommendation from President Goldfarb, we decided to incorporate the Athletics Hall of Fame festivities with the Homecoming celebration. We inducted five very, very impressive individuals into our Hall of Fame. I mentioned this on Friday night at the induction banquet... too many times we get caught up in the numbers: yards, points, victories, etc. But this class provides much more than numbers, these individuals also brought leadership, motivation, effort and attitude, dedication and all the intangibles that result in winning; even into their professional lives. They are what we want our current student-athlete to be, they exemplify that end goal.
They were proud to be back and we are certainly proud to have them back as Leatherneck Hall of Famers. We also hosted a very successful Leatherneck Football Alumni Reunion this weekend. Coach Mark Hendrickson invited all past Leatherneck football players back to campus. For a first time event, it was very successful with more than 100 former players attending. Be assure, we will do it again. It was a perfect weekend, capped off by a wet, but very welcomed, Leatherneck Homecoming football victory.
Speaking of wet, can we get any more unlucky when it comes to raining on home football games? But, if we keeping winning, let it rain. Seriously though, since each of our three home games have been played in the rain (in addition to two others last season), resulting in swampy field conditions, the talk of an artificial surface has become a hot topic. Yes, we are engaging in serious conversations about an artificial surface on Hanson Field.
While it will certainly benefit the football team, it will also benefit most of our outdoor sports (baseball, softball, men's and women's soccer). At the same time, intramurals and club sports will also benefit, along with the Marching Band. Obviously there is a need, and we are exploring funding options with a goal of a new surface next year. Recall in 2001 we launched the Target: Western Forward Facilities Initiative. While there have been more than $10 million in major facility improvements, the one most significant project is stadium's renovation of the West Side and Press Box. This project is still on the radar as a part of the Capital Campaign. But, an artificial surface has become one of our department's immediate needs.
You may recall from my last positing I mentioned the domino effect with conference realignments and how this could possibly impact Western. Well, that has happened. You may also have heard some discussion about The Summit League sponsoring football. This also is true as the University of South Dakota and the University of North Dakota both sponsor football (Southern Utah too). With the addition of South Dakota in 2011 and most likely North Dakota down the road, the Summit League would have six members playing football, the NCAA minimum required to award a conference championship. Our commissioners, Patty Viverito (Missouri Valley Football Conference) and Tom Douple (Summit League) have been conversing regularly about a super-conference agreement with two divisions (similar to the Colonial Athletic Association). The Big Sky Conference has made some overtures to the Dakota schools, but nothing is final or solid so the conversations are continuing. Stay tuned.
of Leatherneck football to be played this season with two difficult road games
to North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
Our next home game is Family Weekend on Saturday, October 16th. We play host to Youngstown State at 6
p.m. We need a huge home field
advantage, so if you have not yet purchased tickets, please do so. Wear purple and come to Hanson Field and support
your Fighting Leathernecks.
All our fall sports programs are in full swing, with many home events scheduled. And, both basketball programs have begun informal NCAA approved practices. Season ticket information will be available soon. So, lots of happenings within Western Hall and lots of good things happening for Leatherneck Athletics. Stay in touch with all the news about the Leathernecks at www.GoLeathernecks.com.
The 2010 Leatherneck Football team has arrived on-campus, generally signaling the end of summer for most us here in Western Hall. Dr. Eric Johnson's Leatherneck Men's Soccer team (2009 NCAA College Cup participant) will be here later next week, as will Kym McKay's 2010 Volleyball team and Tony Guinn's Women's Soccer squad. Many of our coaches and staff are also returning from much needed vacations, including myself. My family and I enjoyed our annual trek north to Legend Lake in Keshena, Wisconsin. All in all I enjoyed our vacation, despite a scary combination of 5-year olds, speedboats, and fish-hooks. The 7-hour drive is a grind, but certainly worth it.
The 2009-10 academic year is behind us. We all know there were some bumps and obstacles, but those are in the past and the prospects for a successful 2010-11 academic year offers all of us the opportunity for newness and a fresh start, and hopefully we can celebrate more academic and athletic successes.
Friday was the first official day of practice for the 2010 Leatherneck Football Team. Vice-President Garry Johnson and I watched part of practice. There were also a few community members out there too. Two things impressed me right away: 1) the speed of our skill guys and 2) the size and depth of our linemen. The D-backs and wide-outs also have some impressive size. The entire team looked sharp and their hustle between drills was refreshing. The coaches were enthusiastic and everything was very organized... the whole team was really focused. There were some noticeable and welcome changes as well in terms of organization and operation.
As I mentioned in previous writings, we have had some staff changes during the summer months, and as with most other Division I programs across the country, staff turnover is expected. New hires include: David Beauchem as our Head Men's and Women's Track & Field Coach, Renetta Seiler as assistant track coach, Chris Kane as our Head Men's and Women's Tennis Coach, Eric Lazowksi as our assistant volleyball coach, Corey Burke as an assistant on our equipment staff, and recently we hired Sean McDonough (not the ESPN Broadcaster) as our Assistant AD. Sean will be responsible for our external affairs area, including his most important job... fund-raising. Sean is "fired-up" about coming to Macomb and be assured he will hit the ground running.
Western Hall is beginning to fill with excitement and enthusiasm. Our coaches and staff are energized. I guess this is natural with the beginning of a new school year. But, this enthusiasm is also on campus and in the community as well. I have had many people in the community comment to me about their anticipation and excitement for 2010-11 as well. Whatever it is, let's take advantage of it and keep it growing.
Right now our primary focus is renewing season football tickets and selling new tickets. Brock Wissmiller and Alicia English have done a great job. They have been on the road, knocking on doors and making phone calls offering sponsorships and advertising opportunities to area businesses. We have some new ticket options that are much more fan-friendly, providing purchase flexibility. Brock has been very pleased with the response to ticket sales and sponsorships, but he is more impressed by the enthusiasm that is quietly building for the 2010 Leatherneck Football team. We have great fans and loyal supporters, and there is no doubt Hanson Field will once again be filled to near capacity. The 2010 schedule is very attractive with six home games. For more information regarding ticket sales, please call 309-298-1190 or log on to www.GoLeathernecks.com.
One final note, the 21st Annual Purple and Gold Gala and Auction is scheduled for Saturday, August 28, 2010. Western Hall will once again be filled with loyal Leathernecks, ready to celebrate and kick-off the beginning of a new academic year and athletic year. The Purple and Gold Gala and Auction is the social event of the year for the University and the Macomb Community. Our committee, lead by John "JB" Biernbaum and Jerry "Hall of Famer" Cremer, has done a great job planning this year's event. Many new auction items are being added. If you are interested in making a donation (cash or item), please contact our office. Tickets can be purchased on the www.GoLeathernecks.com website.
Thanks again for reading. If you ever have any questions or want to know more, please check out our website www.GoLeathernecks.com.
I will end with a quote Dwaine Roche has made famous: "There are no former Leathernecks. Once a Leatherneck, always a Leatherneck."June 2010
The 2009-10 academic year has been completed now for about 4 weeks, and with that so ended all Leatherneck sports for the year as well. Since my last writing, there has been a whirlwind of activity within Western Hall.
First, I extend personal and professional congratulations to Dwaine Roche who will be retiring at the end of the month. Dwaine has enjoyed a storied career with our department, serving the Leathernecks since 1986. He is undoubtedly the most recognizable of all Leathernecks and his voice is also well-known as he has been the public address announcer for football and basketball games for many years. He has also been directly influential in the many facility improvements in addition to providing history, insight, and leadership during his tenure. It is comforting to know Dwaine will still remain a member of our community and we can count on him to regularly attend many athletic events cheering on the Leathernecks.
Second, as a result of Dwaine's retirement we have recently completed interviews for his replacement. We had a very impressive candidate pool and I'm confident we will find the right person. We also have some other positions to fill. Michael Hunt, Head Men's and Women's Tennis coach has resigned and returned to his family in Texas. Matt Morris, Head Track and Field Coach has moved to Montana. Both Michael and Matt provided our teams and student-athletes with wonderful experiences and both programs enjoyed much academic and athletic success. We are in the hiring process for both of these positions, and expect announcements sometime near the end of June.
Once again, our student-athletes performed in the classroom. Our overall student-athlete GPA for the Spring 2010 semester was 3.19... the highest it has ever been and for the third consecutive semester, above the 3.00 GPA threshold. We had some stand-out individual student-athlete performances (64 with perfect 4.00 GPA's) and some very impressive team results. Kym McKay's volleyball team and Matt Morris' Cross Country team have once again led the way. Some other teams had impressive results as well, most notably Men's Track, Men's Golf, Baseball, along with a relative newcomer to the high GPA team score, Mark Hendrickson's football team with a 2.98 GPA. Overall our student-athletes and coaches have grasped the concept of Academic Excellence and they have responded to our challenge for an academic behavioral shift.
One topic that may have drawn your attention is the Big Ten's addition of Nebraska and Colorado's move to the Pac-10. Based on the information I have learned over the past several weeks and recent days... stay tuned as there will be more movement and conference realignments. At this point, I don't anticipate the trickle down to have an impact on either the Summit League or the MVFC, but who knows. Here at Western, we are a proud charter member of both our conferences (the only remaining original member of the Summit League) and we enjoy a very healthy and competitive respect for all our membership colleagues. We will always want to compete at the highest possible level, and to provide the very best possible NCAA Division I experience to our student-athletes, and that includes competing for conference championships and representing Western Illinois University in post-season competition. Despite difficult economic times, we are doing everything possible to meet these expectations, and we will continue to be prudent and monitor the intercollegiate athletics landscape.
Looking ahead, between now and September, our primary focus will be renewing season football tickets and selling new tickets. Brock Wissmiller, our Director of Marketing and Promotions, has been on the road, knocking on doors and making phone calls offering sponsorships and advertising opportunities to area businesses. We have some new ticket options that are much more fan-friendly, providing purchase flexibility. Brock has been very pleased with the response to ticket sales and sponsorships, but he is more impressed by the enthusiasm that is quietly building for the 2010 Leatherneck football team. We have great fans and loyal supporters, and there is no doubt Hanson Field will once again be filled to near capacity. The 2010 schedule is very attractive with six home games. For more information regarding ticket sales, please call 309-298-1190 or log-on to www.goleathernecks.com.
One final note, the 21st Annual Purple and Gold Gala and Auction is scheduled for Saturday, August 28, 2010. Western Hall will once again be filled with loyal Leathernecks, ready to celebrate and kick-off the beginning of a new academic year and athletic year. The Purple and Gold Gala and Auction is the social event of the year for the University and the Macomb Community. Our committee, lead by John "JB" Biernbaum and Jerry "Hall of Famer" Cremer, has done a great job planning this year's event. Many new auction items are being added If you are interested in making a donation (cash or item), please contact our office.
Thanks again for reading. If you ever have any questions or want to know more, please check-out our website www.goleathernecks .com.
I will end with a quote Dwaine Roche has made famous: "There are no former Leathernecks. Once a Leatherneck, always a Leatherneck".
Have a safe and enjoyable summer.
Over the past several months, I have been encouraged to start my own blog. Considering that as Director of Athletics, I do not have my own Facebook page nor do I have a Twitter account, several folks external to the University suggested the blog as a communication vehicle beyond the traditional press release. So, as I join the multi-media age, this entry will be the first, in what I anticipate being a monthly blog about some of the behind the scenes activities within the Leatherneck Athletics Department.
As football spring practice concluded last weekend with the annual Bruce Craddock Spring Game, many folks have asked me about the status of our team. In short, I could not be more pleased. I watched several practices and watched the spring game as well. The intensity and the enthusiasm from players and coaches were very, very impressive. In fact, many fans who attended the spring game echoed that same thought. Although the defense was intentionally "vanilla", there were some very impressive individual plays. Under Tom Casey's leadership, the defense should be steady again this year. On the offensive side, there were some new twists and wrinkles that were a welcome sight, but the most welcome sight was the return of Matt Barr at quarterback. The other noticeable change offensively was the addition of Doug Ruse as our new Offensive Coordinator. Doug arrived in early March and his impact has been immediate and well received by the players. This coaching staff really has the attention of the team. The team is truly focused, committed, disciplined and eager to learn the system and ultimately win a MVFC Championship. The coaching staff did a great job recruiting some mid-year transfers and there will also be some immediate impact players arriving in the fall. Also, kudos to Patrick Stoudamire who recently signed a free agent contract with the 49ers.
Obviously the 2010 Football Season is very important to us, the University, and the Macomb community. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that we must get back to the winning ways we enjoyed seven years ago, which by most measures is a conference championship and the NCAA Playoffs. Two things are critical to make that a reality. First, we need great players. Our recruiting philosophy is much more aggressive and more importantly the efforts of the coaches have been more aggressive as well. We have some immediate impact players coming into our program. The second critical piece is having a "home field" advantage. Again, we have not enjoyed huge fan attendance during the past six seasons, but that is a "chicken and egg" scenario. Does winning beget fan attendance or does fan attendance create winning? Truth is, right now here at Western it doesn't matter, as we need both for the 2010 season. Our players and coaches will give our fans something to cheer about!
I know these are difficult economic times, yet at the same time our department is dependent on external based income sources, including ticket sales. Over the past six years, our football ticket sales have been steadily declining. Just last week our marketing staff developed the 2010 Leatherneck Season Football Ticket Brochure. These brochures are now available around town. One noticeable change is that we have not raised ticket prices. In fact, with six home games this year, the season ticket price remains the same as last year (only five homes games in 2009). Essentially if you buy season tickets, you will get one game free in 2010. There are some fan friendly unique ticket purchase options this year as well. These mini-plans are very flexible, and the new Ticket Exchange Program will ensure your tickets are always used. We still have the Business Backs the Leathernecks packages for our local business owners. Ticket information is available on our website: www.goleathernecks.com or call 309-298-1190. I know our players and coaches will appreciate your support.
Finally, congratulations to our seniors who will be graduating this May. Many very positive things happened during their four years here at Western and we are very grateful for all their contributions as student-athletes. We wish them all the best as they become proud Leatherneck alums of Western.
Also, save the date for the annual Leatherneck Golf Classic on Friday, June 11. For more information, call 309-298-1190.
Thanks for reading my first blog. Again, I expect this to be a monthly endeavor, so stay tuned, and remember....... "It's always a great day to be a Leatherneck".