SCOOBA — In the midst of a recession, when most schools are scrambling to cut costs, East Mississippi Community College committed nearly $5 million last year to build a brand-new football stadium.
The new Sullivan-Windham Field makes its debut, Sept. 1 for a rematch between the 16th-ranked Lions, 2009 Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state football champions, and the No. 2 community college team in the country, Mississippi Gulf Coast, the 2010 MACJC state champion.
Despite the down economy, with construction costs at an all-time low, EMCC decided it was time to build.
“We have 14 other community colleges in the state, not to mention four-year universities. You”ve got to realize that students don”t have to come to your school. You”ve got to make them want to — that”s free enterprise,” said Dr. Rick Young, president of EMCC. “As we looked for ways to make our college more desirable to the general public, we realized a need to re-establish a niche we had in the past, and that was through the sports program.”
With the football program on the rise under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Buddy Stephens, who led the Lions to a state title in his second season, it was time for EMCC to build a new house as a marketing tool to compete against stadiums at other community colleges.
“Whether you like it or not, sports is what people want,” Young said. “We”re using sports to keep young people in school. To give our campus an identity that makes it an exciting place to be, a place people want to be identified with.”
“It”s a gold nugget for recruiting,” Stephens said. “It says everything you get here is quality.”
Stephens now has an arsenal of previously unavailable enticements at his fingertips. There”s the 5,000-seat capacity, the EnviroTurf artificial field surface, the 11-foot by 15-foot “Juco-tron” video screen, new locker rooms and a double-decker press box.
On average, more than 20 EMCC players receive football scholarships to four-year universities each season.
Those athletes who made stops in Scooba on their way to bachelor”s degrees are EMCC”s loudest cheerleaders, ambassadors for a program that teaches more than tackling.
Gabe Poe of Pheba, a 2008 West Oktibbeha High School and 2010 EMCC graduate, is starting at middle linebacker at the University of West Alabama.
“As a person, EMCC taught me accountability. I had to be on time for meetings and practice,” Poe said.
“After you leave your parents” house, you have to do it on your own. I”ve got even more places to be now … sports medicine treatment at 6:30 a.m. to get yourself healthy, then you”ve got to get breakfast so you”re full and not unfocused in class. It all correlates.”
T.J. Ballou, a 2007 graduate of Northeast Lauderdale High School and current starting cornerback for the University of Alabama-Birmingham, said the parent-child dynamic at EMCC is real.
“I had a lot of personal things going on in my life at that time. Being in that environment with the coaches, they talked to me a lot about their experience in college. Coach Marcus Wood told me, ”You”re going to suffer through pain in life. I”d rather you suffer through the pain of discipline than the pain of disappointment,”” Ballou said.
Apart from recruiting, the stadium also breeds benefits like more traffic on campus. A jamboree in May brought 20 high schools to Scooba along with scouts from Division I schools. The field could also host high school playoff games if a school in EMCC”s district gets rained out.
For ticket information about the Sept. 1 grand opening of the new Sullivan-Windham Field, call 662-476-5063.
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