June 5, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - Fourteen months from now, Marshall will be moving into a $5.4 million soccer stadium. The Thundering Herd men's and women's programs will go from a year of inconvenience to a future of more than convenience ... and one of increased promise.
"When recruits see the (drawings) of what we're doing, there's nothing but excitement," Marshall women's soccer Coach Kevin Long said. "Hopefully, it helps us grow soccer not just here at Marshall, but in the community. There's an excitement in the local soccer community that sees the new stadium as an elevation of the sport ... and it will be."
The 2012 season is one of displacement for the Herd men and women, as preparations will begin on the Sam Hood Stadium site for the Herd's new indoor practice and sports medicine facility.
Before that - likely sometime in October, according to Scott Morehouse, MU's Associate Athletic Director for Facilities - construction will begin on the soccer stadium at the Fifth Avenue and 26th Street corner site of the Veterans Memorial Field House, the one-time 6,500-seat Herd hoops home that will be demolished in the coming months.
Target for completion is August 2013.
The Herd men's and women's programs will play limited 2012 home schedules - six games apiece -- at Hurricane, Cabell Midland and Huntington high schools, as well as at the Trace Fork Complex off Corridor G in South Charleston.
Long doesn't even want to hear one of his players begin to spell "inconvenience."
"Who are we to question what's being done, when you consider what we're going to get?" Long said. "We have a new facility being built for us, and we should look around and see some of the challenges other sports have had here with places to play. We don't dare for a second complain.
"It's going to be state-of-the-art facility; it's nothing but win-win on our end. And it's great to know that the veterans who served their country and died will continue to be honored by something that will be so nice. The interest in continuing to remember them is very important. The stadium will be renewal of that honor."
Under the heading "good things come to those who wait" is the Herd's stadium, which will have the words "Veterans Memorial" in its official stadium title.
"To be honest, no, I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime, like I tell people," said Bob Gray, 60, the Herd men's 411-win veteran coach. "When (Athletic Director) Mike Hamrick told me they were going to build a soccer stadium, I had to look at the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1st and he was joking.
"Then when he said they also were building an indoor facility, too, hey, it's a win-win for all of our programs."
The Marshall delight is in the little-known design detail of the soccer facility.
"There will be locker rooms for both the men's and women's teams," Morehouse said, scrolling through the stadium plans. "There will be an equipment room, and training room for both, a visiting team locker room, an officials' locker room. And it will be a self-sufficient facility. All of our soccer operations will be down there."
The Herd men's and women's soccer offices will move out of the Henderson Center and into the new stadium. There will be separate offices for head coaches and assistant coaches, plus a large meeting room for both teams to use.
That's just on the ground level.
"Upstairs, we'll have booths for home and visiting team radio broadcasts, a multipurpose room of 500-600 square feet that can be used for receptions, a working press area, public address booth and a film room."
Morehouse said the stadium will have permanent seating for 1,000, with the potential for an additional 750 temporary seats. The use of chairback seats or back rest rows for bench seating will be determined by costs and the stadium budget, he said.
The turfed playing field will measure 120 by 75 yards.
"What I like to tell people is, I've been here 18 years, and Marshall has been a pretty good sell no matter what," Gray said. "It's got a beautiful campus, the community is tremendous for the athletic department ... They've done all of the right things in regards to expanding the campus with the new Rec Center, new dorms and the academics have gotten stronger.
"And now we have the coup d'etat by getting a brand new soccer facility, and that's going to make so much easier and better for us because we were lagging behind tremendously when it came to facilities in comparison to the rest of the conference (USA).
"Scheduling will be so much easier, and with our own facility, we won't have to squeeze our training around football (Edwards Stadium has been the Herd soccer practice site)."
Meanwhile, the stadium can't start going up until the venerable Field House comes down. The hazardous materials abatement period in that 62-year-old former Herd hoops home continues. The memorial frieze and sculpture on the Fifth Avenue side of the arena is being removed and will be placed at the new complex, which will include a half-acre park dedicated to veterans.
The sculpture below the roof-edge frieze reads:
ERECTED 1950 A.D. DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO GAVE IN FREEDOM'S CAUSE. THE LAST FULL MEASURE OF DEVOTION. 1917-18. 1941-45.
Demolition of the Field House is expected to start by June 18. "By the first week of August, the Field House will be gone," Morehouse said. "I'd say by the end of September the site will be ready to go and we'll probably bid out the project right after that."
Long also said the new stadium will be "an elevation of the scenery in the city as well as an elevation of the sport of soccer."
Marshall plans to allow high schools and community teams to play there on occasion, too.
"We love the idea that the administration is behind the soccer programs," Long said. "It shows the kind of support we have from the university. It's exciting for me on many different levels.
"First, to be working at a school where you can visibly see the investment in your sport, from the president, to the athletic administration to the community, making soccer a priority, that excites me. Then, there's the other piece of it, from the coach's standpoint, where we'll finally be in a single environment that's our own, where our training facility will match our playing facility (the same field). That's huge."
Gray has been through a soccer facility introduction before, just after he arrived at Marshall in 1995, when the Herd opened Sam Hood Field in '96 thanks to then-AD Lee Moon, who turned what had been a football tailgating site into a soccer stadium, thanks to Hood's support.
"It's served us well, and we've had a great following there, really good crowds," Gray said. "But compared to other schools, we were lagging. Now, we'll have a facility that will be the envy of many universities in the country."
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The 2012 home scheduling plan for the Herd men and women is firm.
The men will play four C-USA games at Hurricane High, and two non-conference dates at Trace Fork's new complex, starting with an Aug. 24 opener against Wright State. The remainder of the Marshall men's schedule will be announced soon, Gray said.
Long said the Herd women will play their Aug. 17 "home" opener against Ball State at 3 p.m. at Huntington High School. The women will play three other Friday night games (St. Francis, Pa.; Colorado college, Tulsa) at Cabell Midland High, and two Sunday afternoon C-USA dates (UTEP, SMU) at Hurricane.