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Race : Division-III Stagg Bowl to be on national TV for 1st time since 2001

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ The standing-room-only crowd that packs into Salem Football Stadium captivates the community every year. For Carey Harveycutter, the feeling was ‘electrifying’ when the Stagg Bowl was shown on primetime television for the entire country to watch.Back in 2001, Bridgewater College — the hometown favorite located just two hours from Salem, Va. — fell to perennial powerhouse Mount Union 30-27 in the Stagg Bowl, better known as the Division-III national championship game.Ten years later, Harveycutter, who is the director of civic facilities for the city of Salem and the Stagg Bowl game manager, is optimistic the electrifying feeling will be back with the recent announcement that the game is returning to primetime.Officials announced on Sept. 20 that Stagg Bowl XXXIX would be broadcast live on ESPNU on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. It’s the first time since the Bridgewater-Mount Union matchup that the game will be shown on television.‘I think it’s outstanding,’ Harveycutter said. ‘It’s a great way to highlight Division-III athletics and the community of Salem.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSalem has hosted the bowl game for 18 years, ever since it moved to Virginia from Bradenton, Fla., in 1993. For the past six years, the game has featured the same two dominant teams — University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union — but excitement in Salem has never waned.The players become a part of the community, said J.J. Nekoloff, assistant commissioner of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference — the organization which hosts the game. Each team is assigned a host family in Salem, who acts as a ‘liaison’ to the area.The host families help find places for the team to eat, direct the team to laundromats to wash practice cloths and sit with the players at team banquets. The host families do it all.Nekoloff calls them the ‘adopted family’ for each school, and by now they are a familiar face for Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union.‘It’s the same host family, it’s a face they recognize,’ Nekoloff said. ‘They tell jokes about it, say that they’re here so much, maybe they should buy some summer property. It feels like home to them. It’s what Southern hospitality is, and we want it to feel like home and feel special, and want people to look forward to coming back.’Thus, the game isn’t just for the fans. The city of Salem embraces inviting the teams in for the Stagg Bowl each year. It turns into a community function with extensive tailgates and social events leading up to the game.The players from both teams do community service during the week, visiting elementary schools and veterans’ hospitals in the area. This creates a connection for those who live in Salem year-round.‘Those elementary kids become fans,’ Nekoloff said. ‘They go to games, and they like to cheer for No. 80, who read a book with them that week.’And when it comes to Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union, locals have begun to choose sides — since they’ve become so accustomed to seeing the two teams there.Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union are again ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the country, respectively, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make it to Virginia, Harveycutter said. With four weeks of playoffs leading up to the game, any team could fight its way in.That makes the switch to primetime even more exciting for the community and the teams, as Division-III games aren’t typically aired on any type of national television platform. With the news of the switch that moved the game under the lights on a Friday night, Harveycutter and his committee members are planning a more elaborate tailgate and series of banquets to celebrate the teams.In addition, they will be handing out the Gagliardi Trophy during the week, which Nekoloff likens to the Heisman Trophy of the Division-III level.Harveycutter loves the planning and preparation for the Stagg Bowl because he thinks the athletes deserve it the most. They might not be as fast on the field as their Division-I counterparts, but they play with ‘the same heart and enthusiasm,’ he said.Organizers like to think of making the week of events as memorable as possible. The experience in that type of environment is what players dream about, Nekoloff said.‘For the student-athletes, it will be outstanding for the exposure,’ Nekoloff said. ‘But also to get that experience on that type of stage, in that type of game … it’s what you dream about — outside of playing Sundays in the NFL.‘We treat it like a national championship. The premiere event they’ll play in their life.’[email protected] Commentscenter_img Published on September 26, 2011 at 12:00 pmlast_img

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