For many people Labor Day signifies the end of the summer and the start of fall. As I was addressing the Merrimack athletics department staff last Wednesday night I realized just how much change has taken place over the last couple of years both in personnel and in expectations.
We started off the new athletic season with five new head coaches (volleyball, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s basketball and softball), two new sports (women’s rowing and women’s golf) and a set of expectations that continue to grow.
We completed a new set of imaging projects over the summer which included the baseball and softball fields and are continuing to progress on the Volpe Expansion Project, which we hope to break ground on late this fall. Our newly revamped scholarship plan is in place which is designed to allow our coaches more flexibility in recruiting student-athletes while at the same time being more consistent with how the regular admissions aid process of the college is administered. We are continuing to analyze where Merrimack Athletics fits in the overall structure of the NCAA and as it relates to the College’s overall Strategic Plan, of which Athletics continues to play a major role and we plan on shortly announcing the addition of 2-3 more sports that will begin intercollegiate competition in 2012-13 and continue to assist the College in it’s enrollment initiatives.
With so much change having taken place I think it is important to remember our four priorities and how what we are doing relates to them. With that in mind I thought I would review them and how they fit into the coming year.
Recruiting – I already alluded to our adjustment in the scholarship process and this wouldn’t have been able to take place had we not gotten tremendous cooperation from our Enrollment Management team led by Kristin Greene. We want to recruit students not only from New England, but also from throughout the country and quite frankly the world. If Athletics is to be a leader for the College in this area we needed to make some of the changes we have made, and I think the results will speak for themselves in the next couple of years. These changes will also allow us to continue to recruit talented academic students as well as talented athletes, and as I always tell our recruits we want individuals who can excel at both.
Winning – Heading into this year I am very optimistic that we will improve in almost all of our sports and we certainly got off to a good start over the weekend. Every fall team that competed won at least once including our field hockey team, which upset the sixth ranked team in the country, East Stroudsburg! Winning continues to be very important to us, and my sense is that our student-athletes have worked very hard this off-season to be very successful this year.
Revenue Generation – While we have been somewhat successful in raising money for some major projects such as the Lawler renovations and the Volpe Expansion Project, our overall giving rate amongst student-athlete alumni is not nearly what it needs to be. We now have a plan in place that will feature more outreach and strategic initiatives that will hopefully result in a renewed connection and just as importantly a renewed trust in what we as a department are doing that ultimately will allow us to increase participation and annual fund dollars we can spend. We have a non-capital project goal of $1 million dollars this year. From a capital project standpoint we are about halfway to our goal of $300,000 in order to build new tennis courts. We got off to a great start in ticket sales for football over the weekend equaling what we normally sell for a Homecoming game. The Blue Line Club is already sold out, and we have already doubled the total number of season tickets sold from this point last year. Within the business community we are projecting a 25% increase in corporate sales. As a reminder we reinvest all of our revenue throughout all of our sports.
Student-Athlete Experience – Ultimately this is our number one and most important goal, and why we come to work every day. As we continue to refine our staffing and increase our resources I am confident (and our surveys back this up) that our student-athletes are having a good experience. Two initiatives we are adding this year to help us in this area are: 1) incorporating a faculty program similar to what we instituted last year with the Augustinian’s on campus in which one faculty member will be assigned to each of our teams and provide support as necessary throughout the year and 2) we are revamping our student-athlete council (SAAC), and I will personally take a much more active role as we change the focus to specific issues that student-athletes are dealing with as well as giving them more insight as to what issues the department administration is facing.
One thing that is undeniable with so much change happening in the department and on campus is the enthusiasm level. We saw much of it last year during the hockey season and it has continued with the incoming freshmen class and this link certainly backs this up (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gkQBFLt8Co). The amount of pride and excitement the new class has shown has been overwhelming. Much of the credit for this goes to our campus life department and in particular Allison Gill and Donna Swartwout not to mention the resident life advisors (RA’s). I was speaking with one of them at Saturday night’s football game, Mollie Fitzgerald, who is also a member of our tennis team, and she reiterated what a great freshmen class we have coming in. By the way almost 600 of them were at the football game Saturday.
And with all of this change it is also important to remember that Merrimack has been built on the hard work and efforts of many people, three who have been coaching for nearly 30 years here. Bert Hammel (men’s basketball), Tony Martone (men’s soccer) and Gabe Mejail (women’s soccer) have touched the lives of so many of our student-athletes, and we will be honoring each of them this fall and hope you can join us in doing so. On October 1st between the men’s and women’s soccer games we will be holding a ceremony to formally name the turf field Martone-Mejail Field. Then on October 22nd at 11:00 a.m. we will be having a similar ceremony in Volpe to name the basketball court Hammel Court. In each case this will properly honor individuals who have given so much to this institution. It will also allow us to formally kick off mini-fundraising campaigns to build additional seating, a new press box at the field and to purchase a new basketball/volleyball court at Volpe.
So that is what is going on right now here at Merrimack. We still have a lot of work to do and my expectation is that this year will be even more transformational and more successful than the previous two years. As always, if you have questions or comments about the department (not student-athlete playing time!) please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope everyone had a great summer and I look forward to seeing you on campus this fall. Go Warriors!