ABOVE: The opening spread of the 2000 Coastal Magazine cover story
Building a program for fall 2003 kick-off
It would have been the perfect setting for a collegiate football game. The smell of autumn was in the air, the sound of the band could be heard across campus, and the cheerleaders were stirring up the excitement in full spirit. Coastal Carolina University students, faculty and staff walked with a little bounce in their steps on the afternoon of November 10, 1999, as they eagerly made their way inside Wheelwright Auditorium to be part of a historic moment. The auditorium had quickly taken on a stadium-like atmosphere: the seats were full, it was loud and everyone inside was excited.
"This is a great day for Coastal Carolina University," said President Ronald R. Ingle, who stepped up to the lectern to make the long-awaited announcement. "I am pleased to announce that Coastal is officially pursuing the addition of football to our university intercollegiate athletic program. The university is dedicated to providing quality higher education and we feel that the addition of football will contribute to the total fabric of the premier undergraduate experience. Football will aid in developing a sense of community for our students, for our alumni and will contribute to this entire region of South Carolina."
The university's Board of Trustees approved the addition of football following several years of careful study and evaluation. Coastal's NCAA Division I-AA football program will become the school's 17th intercollegiate varsity sport. An aggressive fund-raising effort is currently under way to bring in the estimated $5 million needed to construct the facilities necessary to start the football program. If proper funding is secured in a timely manner, plans are set for the Chanticleers to play their first football game in the fall of 2003. To assist in the university's effort in developing a successful program, an impressive football advisory committee had been formed.
"I am pleased, along with this outstanding advisory committee, to help make this dream a reality for the university," said Ingle, who was proudly wearing Coastal's first football jersey. "We have made a commitment to establish the highest quality football program and we refuse to compromise the integrity of any of our existing programs with this addition. I look forward to working with students, alumni and friends to make this a wonderful and exciting addition to our entire campus community."
With the decision to establish a first-class football program, Coastal students, alumni and friends will have the opportunity to rally around a team of their own, creating a sense of pride and commitment to the school area. The addition of football will allow Coastal to gain even greater visibility as one of South Carolina's top undergraduate institutions.
Student and Alumni Support
For a number of years, Coastal students have often asked if or when the university planned to start a football program. Two years ago, Coastal's Student Government Association (SGA) conducted a survey concerning the addition of football. Of the 1,365 students who participated in the survey, 93 percent voted in favor of having a football program. "The students have indicated that they want football here," said Ingle. "They have also said they are willing to have their fees go up in the neighborhood of $100 per semester. That was the overwhelming response of the student body."
Peter Green Jr., president of the SGA, agrees. "The students are very excited about the arrival of football at Coastal," said Green, a senior biology major from Glen Burnie, Md. "They feel it will bring much needed spirit to the campus and create a traditional university environment. It will help make the campus, and not the beach, the primary focus of student life activities. Hopefully it will get the community and alumni more involved with Coastal Carolina University at a higher level."
According to Mona Dukes, Coastal's director of alumni relations, many former students also have expressed an interest in seeing the alma mater establish a football program. Since the November announcement, alumni response has been extremely positive.
"Most of the alumni I have talked with are ready for football," said Dukes. "After we announced that we were starting football, I e-mailed our newsletter out to about 500 alumni. I received numerous responses and many of them were very excited about Coastal having a football program. One person emailed me and just wrote 'Yessssss!'"
Coastal proudly boasts more than 10,000 alumni, and according to Dukes, about one-third of them live just a short distance away from the Conway campus. Considering the large alumni population in the area and the interest it has expressed in the football program, Chanticleer games will likely be well attended.
"Many alumni are saying they can't wait until 2003," said Dukes. "They have that date etched in their minds. That homecoming will probably be our biggest one ever. Fall is the season most people associate with homecoming: the football weather, the tailgating and those types of things. Many of the older alumni are thrilled and amazed at what Coastal has become academically and athletically. I believe we are going to have an overwhelming show of alumni support for the football program."
Stadium/Field House Plans
Dave Blank, Coastal's director of athletics, is spearheading the fundraising effort for the Chanticleer's new state-of-the-art stadium and adjoining field house. The facilities will be constructed where Coastal's soccer stadium currently sits. The field will be turned to run east to west to accommodate the addition of the field house.
According to Blank, approximately $3 million will be needed to construct the field house. It will house locker rooms for football, baseball, softball and men's and women's soccer. It will also have a weight room, medical training facility and office space. Located on the third floor will be a hospitality suite, which could hold 500 to 600 spectators during a football game. The fourth floor press box is designated for working media.
Approximately $2 million will go toward rebuilding the stadium. Phase 1 of the stadium construction will have 4,000 seats on the home side and 1,000 visitors. The money would also be used for new electrical and lighting systems, scoreboard and overall stadium needs. The stadium will be a work in progress, designed to grow with the program, with seating capacity likely increasing to 20,000.
"If we could sell tickets right now, we would probably have to build a bigger stadium," said Blank. "The response has been just great. Everybody is saying they want to buy tickets."
Blank said the addition of football at Coastal will involve much more than just playing games on Saturdays.
"Football will bring national recognition to the university," said Blank. "It also has a lot of flavor in attracting local participation, in the classroom and athletic arena, but mostly in the participation of activities surrounding the university. I think football will bring will a whole new element to the school. Many universities, particularly in the Southeast, put a lot of stock in football as an activity on campus. Many Saturdays during the fall are planned around football. There are so many activities that go on in addition to the football game itself. It really builds camaraderie, unity and school spirit. It seems to be something that people in the community and people at the university can really latch on to and rally around."
Coaches, Players, and Schedule
An essential step in building a successful program, perhaps just as important as having impressive facilities, is the selection of the right person to lead what will be the Chanticleers' most visible athletic program. Blank says the Chanticleers' first head coach, whether he has name recognition, comes from a national championship team or is a seasoned assistant coach, will have to have extensive experience in one extremely important area.
"The person must have the ability to recruit at the collegiate level," said Blank. "He must also be able to put together a strong staff, because relationships with the high school student-athletes are built by the staff. The assistants are the ones who go out and find the talent necessary to field a competitive team."
Initially, Coastal will likely field a football team that features in the neighborhood of 85 student-athletes. When it comes to recruiting, the coaches may not have to look very far away to find quality talent as the Grand Strand area has produced many outstanding gridiron student-athletes through the years. With the addition of Chanticleer football, future standouts will have the opportunity to show their talents at the collegiate level right in their own backyards.
"Recruiting begins with what you can offer the student-athletes," said Blank. "First, they are going to look at our academic programs, where I feel we have a strong product and a variety of choices. Secondly, they want to know where they are going to play. That is why I think it is paramount that we build the best facilities we can."
The Chanticleers, who will compete at the NCAA Division I-AA level, will likely play a majority of their games in the Big South Conference. According to the Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander, the conference does not currently offer football as a league sport, but plans are under way to add football as a league-sponsored sport in the next couple of years. Three Big South schools currently play football: Charleston Southern University, Elon College, and Liberty University.
"Coastal Carolina University adding football is very exciting for the Big South Conference," said Kallander. "During the last couple of years we have been looking to add football as a conference sport. We have three members right now who play football and Coastal would be the fourth. We need six to form a league. Our decisions with other institutions have moved along very well. We are currently looking at six or seven other schools. I feel the league we could put together would be very competitive at the I-AA level. We are committed to I-AA football at its highest level. Coastal Carolina would be a great addition to the league."
With the announcement of football at Coastal generating such a positive response, it appears there will be many more days like November 10, where everyone is eager and excited about Chanticleer football.
"I think it's a natural step to make in the evolution of Coastal Carolina University," said Ingle.
This is the cover of the 2000 Coastal Magazine issue. Story was written by current Coastal Carolina staff member Jerry Rashid