HUNTINGTON – It’s a week of great ceremonies for Marshall University athletics.
The first one is about our storied past, where we’ve come from.
The second one is all about the future, where we are going.
On Wednesday of this week, the annual Memorial Fountain Ceremony remembering the Nov. 14, 1970 football team plane crash and its 75 victims was at the Memorial Student Center Plaza.
The commemorative event brought to campus the brothers of New Jersey kicker Marcelo Lajterman, who was killed in the tragedy, and Mo Lajterman was the featured speaker at the ceremony.
There was also a representative from Tuscaloosa, Ala., which lost four Herd players from Druid High School on that sad night 42 years ago.
And while we will never forget those men and women who perished in the crash and their loss is woven into the fabric of our university and Herd athletics, we also move forward.
On Friday at 2 p.m., at the site of the former Veterans Memorial Field House, we will have the formal groundbreaking for our new soccer complex that is part of the facilities enhancement funded by the ongoing — and crucial — Vision Campaign.
It will be a special day, too.
All Herd fans will then begin to see the honest-to-goodness progress on the new facilities.
The soccer complex construction will be followed by our indoor practice and 6-lane track and field facility, a sports medicine research and treatment center, an academic enhancement center and MU Athletics Hall of Fame.
I am hoping that the construction that follows in the weeks and months after the groundbreaking will spur more fervor and participation in the Vision Campaign, which is raising $19 million in private funding toward a total of $30 million for these projects.
That groundbreaking at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 26th Street is going to be a big day for more than our men’s and women’s soccer programs.
It will be an event that begins to fuel more pride in our entire athletic program and our university.
It also will excite soccer enthusiasts in the Tri-State — and across West Virginia, really — as our area and state get a new facility that can and will be used by more teams than the Herd.
Just one example of that is the return of the U.S. Youth Soccer regionals to the Huntington region in the summers of 2015 and 2016. Nine months from now, the Herd will be moving into its $6 million soccer complex.
Our student-athletes and coaches will go from a difficult 2012 season of playing on the road to one of the nation’s finest major college facilities for the sport.
At the same time — similar to the Memorial Fountain Commemorative ceremony — our soccer complex will honor those who have died in wartime with the words “Veterans Memorial” in the official complex name.
The Field House is gone, but those it memorialized will still be honored.
Next August, what will be there when you come to a Herd soccer match? The complex will have permanent seating for 1,000, with the potential for an additional 750 temporary seats.
The use of chair back seats or back rest rows for bench seating will be determined by the eventual costs and the complex budget. A turf playing field will measure 120 by 75 yards.
There will be locker rooms for both the men’s and women’s teams. There will be an equipment room, and training room for both, a visiting team locker room, an officials’ locker room. It will be a selfsufficient facility.
All of the Marshall 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 complex. There will be separate offices for head coaches and assistant coaches, plus a large meeting room for both teams to use. That’s the ground level. Upstairs, there will be booths for home and visiting team radio broadcasts, a working press area, public address booth and a film room.
There will be on-site parking and an adjacent half-acre park dedicated to veterans.
The sculpture and frieze that overlooked Fifth Avenue from that side of the Field House was carefully removed, saved, put into storage and will be remounted on the soccer facility.
ERECTED 1950 A.D. DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO GAVE IN FREEDOM’S CAUSE. THE LAST FULL MEASURE OF DEVOTION. 1917-18. 1941-45.
There also will be a naming of the field in future months to honor a major supporter for the project. In that regard, I want to offer a major “thank you” to local businessman (and former Herd soccer coach) Sam Hood, who stepped forward in a big way when our soccer programs needed a home next to Edwards Stadium, and provided funding for our former field at what will become part of the footprint for our wonderful indoor facility.
Sam played a big role in helping our men’s soccer program make needed advancements back in the mid-1990s, and all Herd fans and soccer supporters should appreciate that.
The soccer complex will elevate the sport here at Marshall, as well as in the Tri-State.
I am hoping that once the facility begins to rise from the site, it will spur more of our supporters to become involved in the Vision Campaign.
The complex is a big step for us, but it is only the first of many we want and need to take to keep our athletic program competitive in Conference USA and nationally.
This past summer, longtime Herd men’s soccer Coach Bob Gray — he’s ranked among the top 10 coaches all-time in major college wins — was asked about getting a new home for his sport.
“To be honest, no, I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime, like I tell people,” Coach Gray said. “When Mike Hamrick told me they were going to build a soccer complex, 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.”
He’s right, but it’s going to take more than us turning over a few shovels of dirt on Friday to get where we really want to go.
I don’t need an optometrist to tell me our vision needs to be as farsighted as possible.
A great soccer complex is just a good first kick.
LET’S GO HERD!