Fans perch at Westminster for look at Ravens 'Opening day' draws 200 to see practice

July 17, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Eager Ravens fans came early to Westminster's Western Maryland College for the practice session of Baltimore's new NFL team.

The early arrivals and a smaller-than-expected turnout -- 200 fans instead of the 2,000 or more that were anticipated -- made for few logistical problems as the small Carroll County city played host to the new football team.

"We have a beautiful first opening day, no traffic problems and everybody seems to be having a good time," said Lt. Dean Brewer of the Westminster Police Department.

Cathy Poole, an Eldersburg resident, skipped sleep after an overnight work shift that ended at 7 a.m. to visit the pro camp with her husband and their 9-year-old twins, Dwight and Dwayne.

"It's all my husband's been talking about all week. I got home and came right here -- no nap, no nothing," Poole said. "We thought we'd have to fight traffic -- it was no problem."

Ravens fans enjoyed a sunny, breezy day punctuated by the characteristic whistles, thuds and grunts of a professional football team at work -- sounds that had not been heard at the college since the former Baltimore Colts practiced there in the 1970s.

"This first day might not be as much, but when the veterans come, then we'll see something," predicted Joseph McKinney, a Westminster Streets Department employee, who manned a Ravens parking site off Monroe Street.

Barbara Beverungen, Carroll County's tourism administrator who helped staff a visitors booth on the college campus, was ecstatic about the turnout.

"We've had at least 100 come to our booth this morning. It's great," she said. "The thing I'm interested in as a tourism person is, it's really a chance, a big fat opportunity, to introduce people to Carroll County."

Although the crowds were smaller than anticipated, Westminster officials rejoiced in the team's presence.

There's a lot of people that really genuinely do welcome them here," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works. "It's nostalgic. They talk about when the Colts were here -- and I think Art Modell has to feel those vibes -- he has to."

Although sets of bleachers were available -- including sections shaded by canopies -- the crowd's clear preference was for a steep shaded hillside between the college's Gill Physical Education Learning Center and the practice field.

The elevation gave a good view of the wide green playing fields -- fields that didn't exist when the Colts used the campus for their summer training camp.

Most important, the hill was where affable Ravens wandered over to chat and sign autographs for the eager children, teen-age girls and grown men.

The football players pleasantly responded to their new fans, especially to the children who shoved papers and footballs at them.

"Is that s-t-e-v-e-n?" quarterback Eric Zeier asked one young fan. "There you go," he said, with a warm smile.

"I said please," 9-year-old Dwight Poole earnestly reported to his mother, Cathy Poole, upon returning with his fifth autograph.

But as fans raced toward the players, quite a few tumbled and slid down the slippery slope, and at least one injury -- of an ankle -- was reported. The injured man apparently was part of a large crowd that surged toward Coach Ted Marchibroda.

During the lunch break, campus groundskeepers Blair Cunningham and Sonny Dayhoff installed green mesh on the hillside to prevent a recurrence of the mishap.

Yesterday's manageable crowd gave the Ravens Welcoming Committee -- a group of college, city and county officials and business people -- some breathing room to assess its plans for coping with the team's presence during the next five weeks. It will meet again this morning to review the first day.

"You have to plan for the worst and hope for the best: That's what you do in a situation with no track record," Beyard said. "We want to see as many people as we can accommodate come here, but we do hope what we've planned for is enough to handle it," he added.

Westminster businesses were ready for the crowds.

"It's been crazy around here," said Amy Boston, who, with her husband owns the Boston Inn on Route 140. "It's good and bad."

Their inn is getting the overflow from the campus-owned Comfort Inn, which has been taken over by the Ravens. In addition to Ravens fans, crews from several large construction projects need rooms, she said.

Thor Johnson, manager of the college store, said he sold dozens of Ravens shirts and other knickknacks during the morning practice, and it seemed that every other spectator in the crowd had a team T-shirt.

Everyone, that is, but 1-year-old Michelle "Michi" Thomas, who laughed from her encampment on a blanket at the top of the hill, complete with toys, crackers and juice.

"So I'm making her a little outfit," mother Tina Thomas said. It will be a purple romper emblazoned with Ravens patches.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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