|AP Photos PX203-206|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 28 September 2007 18:24|
MANSFIELD, Pa. (AP) -This is an old-school weekend at Mansfield University, which is celebrating its distinction as home of the first night outdoor college football game in America.|
Except there's a twist to this year's anniversary: Mansfield no longer plays football.
More than 10 months after the school dropped Division II football, the die-hards at Mansfield are pressing on with Saturday's re-enactment of that first night game in 1892 between Mansfield and Wyoming (Pa.) Seminary.
``We aren't changing history for anything,'' said Steve McCloskey, Mansfield's sports information director and the re-enactment's organizer. ``It will be the only football in Mansfield this year.''
Not everyone is happy a scripted exhibition game that features period uniforms is the only game in town.
The decision to drop the sport opened a debate that simmers under the surface at many college campuses: Does football get too much money and attention?
School president Maravene Loeschke cited finances as the primary reason for dropping a sport that had been played at Mansfield since 1891, except for a three-year stretch during World War II.
It cost roughly $500,000 to pay for Division II football in 2006, a price tag that trailed other teams in the competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, school officials said.
Plus, the Mountaineers were awful, finishing 0-10 last season, and 2-29 from 2004-06.
``We had been through five years of cutting, and we had gotten to a point where the only thing left to cut was something major like academic programs, and I wasn't going to do that,'' said Loeschke, who in July 2006 became president of the school near the New York state line, about 145 miles north of Harrisburg.
``Our seasons and our record pretty much demonstrated we couldn't do it well,'' she said.
The decision angered some alumni and former players. While bad in recent years, Mansfield had its moments, they noted, such as an 8-3 season in 2003.
``When you eliminate a huge sport like football, you basically take (the school) off the map,'' said Artie DeMarsico, who played strong safety at Mansfield from 1986-90.
DeMarsico, who participated in the first night game re-enactment in 1988, is now medical director of the Altoona Regional Health Center Vascular Institute. He said he will stop contributing to his alma mater because of the decision to drop football.
Playing the sport, DeMarsico said, helped him develop leadership qualities and meet lifelong friends.
``I feel like part of me has been amputated with the football team torn away,'' he said.
Lucas Ingersoll, an offensive lineman from 2001-05, understood the decision, though he did not agree.
``Money was always tight,'' said Ingersoll, who now works in Orlando, Fla. ``But I'm more saddened than surprised.''
Other teams on campus benefited. Money from the student activity fee that used to go to football could be spent to other sports.
For instance, the school hired a new women's track and field coach this year after men's coach Mike Rohl did double-duty last season. Two high school recruits chose to attend Mansfield for track in part because there would be more time in training facilities without having to compete with 80 football players.
``I love football, and I don't think there's anything wrong with having football where there's plenty of resources,'' Rohl said. ``But the reality was, other teams were dying because we were spending so much on football. We couldn't be competitive.''
There's a glimmer of hope for Mountaineer football fans, though: The university is considering joining the Collegiate Sprint Football League, which limits players from weighing more than 172 pounds.
Navy, Army, Cornell, Penn and Princeton are the other schools with teams in the non-scholarship league.
McCloskey and a group of alumni desperate to have some sort of football on campus broached the idea with Loeschke earlier this year. The estimated cost of about $150,000 a year sounded reasonable, Loeschke said.
``I was concerned about the values of football that we would lose. ... We wanted to have it back if we possibly could,'' she said. ``This looked like a way to get our values back.''
DeMarsico maintains sprint football won't be enough to change his mind. Ingersoll was more hopeful.
``It will be a vast improvement of getting the right steps to bring football back,'' he said.
Tom Elsasser, who coached Mansfield from 1982-94, thought so highly of the idea that he's volunteering to become director of football operations for sprint football next year when he returns to Mansfield to retire. He currently coaches high school football in Passaic, N.J.
Upset at first about the decision to drop Division II football, Elsasser said ``Everybody's happy we're going to have a kickoff again on a football field. One day at a time, one kickoff at a time.''
As they finalize those details, there are more immediate concerns, like getting ready for the big show.
The ``game'' filled with now outlawed mass-formation plays like the ``flying wedge'' is carefully scripted, complete with sight gags and period uniforms - tight pants laced up the front and canvas-like vest tops over shirts.
Home field for the re-enactment is a park in town, while practice is held at Mansfield's football field. Members of the track team typically play many roles since, in previous years, the football team would either be away or resting after a home game.
``To be missing it, it's like, 'Where did it go? What happened,'' said Mike Gray, a member of the track team who plays defensive end in the reenactment. ``It's just strange.''
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