Beer and sofas? Not for this game

Football: Western Maryland College's football success imposes form, fees, even a fence, on freewheeling, downhome school athletics.

November 18, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Western Maryland College, where students drag sofas and beer to the football field to watch games, is scrambling to get ready for its first-ever home playoff game -- confronting a ream of NCAA regulations, erecting bleachers and planning press conferences, all in less than a week.

The day after the Green Terror (10-0) finished its third consecutive undefeated season last Saturday, WMC officials got an 84-page book of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules (No beer, and everyone older than 5 pays admission. The book is mum on sofas.)

With only three days to go before the big game on Saturday, the NCAA-required fence around Scott S. Bair Stadium isn't up (wind problems), and the extra seats aren't in place. But excitement builds.

The local radio station and cable channel plan to broadcast the game. Calls for tickets are pouring in from fans of the opponent, Catholic University (9-1).

Green Terror crowds average 2,000 to 2,500 a game, and the Catholic Cardinals could draw nearly as many, said Joyce Muller, director of public information at WMC. The visitors could swell the crowd to 5,000 -- which could cause parking problems.

"We do have to charge admission, which we don't during the regular season, so the stadium has no permanent fencing," said James M. Smith, director of athletics, who joined the college in September.

"We don't have gates, so we're going to have to reconfigure our field with some temporary fencing and staffing, gates, parking. Literally, during the regular season they can pull their cars right up and watch the game from their cars if they want."

The college rented a lift to move in portable bleachers and bought green plastic fencing to enclose the stadium. The grounds crews had to wait until late in the week to start erecting the fence, because gusty winds would blow it down -- as they did Tuesday to a small section along Main Street.

"The college has a lot to get ready," said Scott Deitch, publications editor for NCAA -- and a former sports information director at Western Maryland College. "They have to print tickets, get the field ready. They'll have to do a certain amount of work to get that whole Bair Stadium area secure -- not like in a regular game where you can just walk up."

The grandstand at the stadium seats about 1,000, but portable bleachers will add another 1,000. Other fans can use lawn chairs or blankets. Admission is $5 for adults, and $3 for students and schoolchildren.

"It's like planning a wedding or any other large event: It requires an awful lot of work, but on the day of the event you forget all the trouble getting there," Muller said. "We're thrilled to be hosting."

Before Saturday's season-ending win over the Johns Hopkins University Blue Jays, Western Maryland officials thought they might be chosen to hold a playoff game, but they weren't sure because the 1997 and 1998 playoff games were away.

They got the call Sunday afternoon.

That left just days to erect the temporary bleachers and fences and reconfigure parking areas and entrances so admission can be collected.

Early this week, the stadium bowl looked forlorn, all activity put off until the wind died down. But adorning a small fence next to the scoreboard were painted window shades with three years of game scores -- the handiwork of H. Richards Tillman, who runs an 83-year-old family business, the American Shade Co. on North Howard St. in Baltimore.

He's a University of Maryland alumnus, but son H. Richards Tillman Jr., 25, is a senior at Western Maryland, and his late mother graduated with the Class of 1925. He has served as chairman of the college's parents' council.

Father and son -- "the two crazy Tillmans" -- go to almost every game, the senior Tillman said, and traveled last year to the playoffs in San Antonio with about a hundred Green Terror fans.

"We're excited, to say the least," said Tillman, who was preparing an 11-foot banner ordered by Westminster's mayor and Common Council urging the team to victory.

His son usually paints his face (Green Terror green and gold) and sometimes his boots.

The younger Tillman said he's "totally and completely excited, and then it was even more exciting when we found out we were going to host it.

"I think we have a better chance of making it past the first game, with the home-field advantage," he said.

Western Maryland lost its playoff games in 1997 and 1998 but beat Catholic University when the teams last clashed -- in 1948.

Division III colleges have no athletic scholarships and range in size from 15,000 to 500, such as Westminster College in Missouri, said R. Wayne Burrow, NCAA's assistant director of championships. Western Maryland's enrollment is 1,500.

The Green Terror must win four playoff games if it is to get to the December championship, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va.

The current champion is the Mount Union (Ohio) Purple Raiders -- whose 52 consecutive wins just broke the record for all three divisions, set by Division I University of Oklahoma in the 1950s.

"It's a very special division," Burrow said. "These are well-rounded student-athletes. They're not going to be the pros that you'll see on Sunday, but they are good students, good athletes, very competitive. Let no one say the quality of football is not outstanding."

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