by Thor Thompson
The Dragon Red and White Celebration marked the end of an exciting year for MSUM athletics. There were many things to celebrate at the Courtyard by Marriot on Saturday. From the men’s basketball team’s run in the Elite Eight to several top performances on the track by both the men and women, not to mention Blake Bosch’s All-American honors, this was definitely a year to remember for Dragon Athletics.
In addition to the athletes, both the men’s and women’s basketball coaches were honored. Women’s head coach Karla Nelson was recognized for her 20 years at MSUM and men’s coach Chad Walthall for his Division II Coach of the Year award. The biggest moment of the night, however, was the unveiling of the design for the new Scheels Field, with artificial turf among other facility upgrades, to what was formerly known as Nemzek field.
President Anne Blackhurst noted it was the Scheels’ donation that really started the year out with a bang. The ‘Laps for the Long Run’ event held in September brought in more than 1.2 million dollars, including the Scheels’ gift, which went to academic scholarships as well as the field upgrades.
“Being able to announce that Scheels had given a total of $1 million to allow us to put artificial turf on our football field, I can’t think of any better way of building momentum,” she said. “It was just a really important signal to the community that we were serious about putting our resources into our athletic programs and doing what was necessary to make them successful, and also a really important message that the community would be willing to invest in us.”
Beyond the athletic achievements of this year, there were many signs of progress for the university and athletic program as a whole to get excited about.
“This has been such an exciting year on a lot of levels, and I think certainly we owe a debt of gratitude to the men’s basketball team for a fabulous season that everybody seemed to enjoy,” said Larry Scott, former MSUM Sports Information Director and current professor. “It brought the students even closer, the crowds picked up and the media attention. The last month we were all over the paper and TV and radio stations and that was pretty wonderful and it seemed that a lot of people got excited about it, got on the bandwagon and really appreciated what they did.”
Blackhurst also spoke about what this excitement and level of exposure brought to the university.
“The visibility we received because our men’s basketball team was so successful was priceless,” she said. “I think it really helped the campus community and the Moorhead community understand the role athletics could play. They’re not our central reason for existing, but they can help elevate our reputation and our visibility in a way that helps everyone, including our academic programs.”
Not only does the school benefit from these stellar athletic performances, but one student-athlete thinks other sports can also use it as motivation.
“I think the success of the men’s basketball program is going to be a little fuel for all the sports and to the university as a whole going forward,” said men’s basketball team member Aaron Lien.
The idea is catching on that using athletics as a medium of promoting a university is effective and a means of gaining media attention. That’s clearly the case for NDSU and their football program.
“It’s the kind of thing, honestly, that North Dakota State and some of those higher-powered programs maybe are used to, so it’s fun to see us get that same kind of recognition,” Scott said.
The idea of being on the same level as NDSU is definitely something to get excited about in the future, but it seems that Dragon Pride is already catching on in the F-M area.
“It just seems like it’s pretty trendy to be a Dragon fan around town and on campus,” Scott said.
As another academic year comes to a close, MSUM recognizes it made strides in its relationships with the community and local businesses, and the university is looking to maintain the momentum it has gained this year.
Blackhurst said the plans for the future would include larger fundraising campaigns that will support both academic and athletic programs, which may include more academic scholarships and a new indoor track facility. Those plans are still just that, but 2015 will surely go down as one of the most successful years at MSUM.