Towson's victory celebration should be allowed to go on

September 20, 1994|By BILL TANTON

It's interesting how the lasting memory of an athletic contest can be something that had nothing to do with the game.

That's how I feel as I reflect on a football game that was played last weekend in a baseball park in Wilmington, Del.

Towson State defeated Delaware State, 42-18, and being there was a pleasure.

It was a pleasure because Towson played a terrific game, offensively and defensively, and beat a pretty good team.

Towson's quarterback, Dan Crowley, is as good a passer as you're likely to see in NCAA Division I-AA. If he were two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier (he's 6-0, 177) he'd be an NFL prospect.

Mark Orlando, who has been playing with Crowley for four years, can catch passes with the best of them.

Brian McCarty, who scored four touchdowns in this game, is a tough, 196-pound running back who fights for every yard. Linebacker Mike Arbutina is all over the place tackling people. The cornerbacks, Marcellus Campbell and Chad Scott, are first-rate.

But you know what comes to mind when I think about that game?

The scene on the field, at the 50-yard line, minutes after the game, when Towson coach Gordy Combs stood there talking to his squad, 63 players -- sweaty, dirty, tired but exhilarated -- who were on one knee, encircling him.

Combs himself was pumped as he congratulated the players for their good play. Combs would compliment a player and 60 guys would cheer.

These young men had been through the punishing two-a-day practices of August. Now on a hot September late afternoon in Delaware, they were 2-0 in a season in which they feel they have to go undefeated to make the I-AA playoffs.

You don't see that part of athletics on TV. You don't even see it when you go to a game and leave after the final gun, as most people do.

But as the stadium began to empty and I stood in the grass at the 50-yard line, watching those proud and happy Towson players and their coach, I was reminded once again that nothing stirs young people like an athletic triumph.

I saw that last year when little Boys' Latin School upset Calvert Hall in football and afterward Ham Bishop, then the BL headmaster, said:

"Nothing excites kids the way a big win in athletics does. Other wonderful things happen -- a lovely piano recital, or a student making the National Honor Society -- but only a success in athletics exhilarates the whole school."

Driving back to Baltimore, I remembered that this football season marks the end of an era at Towson. This is the last year the team will have scholarship players. The standouts now are seniors.

As they move on, players of lesser skill will take over. The team won't be as good. Towson will stop playing the Delawares and Delaware States and the James Madisons and the William and Marys.

Next year Towson opens at Wagner. Its second game will be against Mercyhurst. If you know where Mercyhurst is, chances are you either went there or you're from Erie, Pa., where the school is situated.

Last weekend Mercyhurst lost, 35-11, at Frostburg State. These are Division III schools -- a big step down from where Towson State has been playing.

Why must this happen?

Why must Towson State, the second largest university in this state with a student body of 15,000, situated in a dream location, drop back to non-scholarship football and a program that will have less appeal?

"I don't know why everybody's saying it won't be as good," says Billy Hunter, the ex-Orioles player and coach who is retiring as Towson's director of athletics at the end of this year. "I'll bet you the program does well. We'll be competitive against the schools we're playing.

"I know that the type of program we're going to is not where Gordy Combs wants it to be. It's not where [head trainer and former TSU kicker] Terry O'Brien wants it to be. It's not where the football alumni [like Sean Landeta and David Meggett] want it to be.

"But our athletic program is fee-driven and with the financial restrictions we have the choice was either where we're going or nothing."

There are many at Towson who hope something can be done to salvage what it has taken the school 26 years to create. Some hope that a new A.D. will somehow be able to accomplish that.

There's so much potential at Towson State. It's a shame to see things shrivel up. It seems to me it would take only one thing to save it. That's institutional desire.

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