LAURINBURG — There is no shortage of community support for football in Scotland County, a fact St. Andrews Athletic Director Glenn Batten and football coach David Harper are thrilled about as the university works toward having its first football team in more than 50 years.
Along with providing local residents something to do on Saturday afternoons, Batten is hopeful that football games at St. Andrews will bring people into Scotland County and provide a fairly lucrative economic boost.
“We want people to come and experience Scotland County,” said Batten. “We’re proud of this community, and we feel like this is our way of giving back. Football will probably have a greater impact on the community than some of our other sports.”
St. Andrews announced in February it would add football to its athletic line-up starting in 2017. Despite the team being a year away from competing, it already has 58 recruits who have committed to play for the Knights. The players will report to campus for orientation on Aug. 17 with the rest of the freshman.
Lee Howell, chair of the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, has no doubt football at St. Andrews will have a positive impact on the community.
“St. Andrews is a great economic engine for our community,” Howell said. “By them adding football is just going to enhance what they already do. When the university let us know they were bringing football in, it was just a no brainer. We knew it was going to be a home run.”
Howell, who also owns Scotland Motors, said the program will allow people to see what the city of Laurinburg has to offer.
“I think it’s going to be great,” he said. “You’re going to have a lot of people coming to the community on the weekend. They are going to buy gas, eat at our restaurants, stay in a hotel — and maybe even buy a car.”
St. Andrews alumni Beacham McDougald is pleased to see the university bring football back — St. Andrews’ predecessor St. Andrews Presbyterian Junior College had a football team until the 1950s.
“I think it will do good,” McDougald said. “We see it as a great economic benefit for the whole community.”
The Rotary Club had St. Andrews coach Harper as their guest speaker for July and he updated them on the progress of the facilities and how he plans to run the team.
“He (Harper) gave us a lot of good information about how he plans on modeling the players into community service people and having the players become part of Laurinburg,” said McDougald a member of the Rotary Club. “I don’t think it will reach the level of Scotland High School. That’s always going to be the big show in town. St. Andrews football will be something good for the community to go to and will be a good show to go to.”
Even if they aren’t the biggest or greatest show in town, Harper wants to create a good football atmosphere and players who are contributing members of the St. Andrews community and the Laurinburg community.
“The atmosphere is so important to the game of college football,” Harper said. “How many people go to Scotland High School for the atmosphere on a Friday night? Most people are there to watch the game, but it’s also a social thing to do on a Friday night. Our plan is to then give them something to do on a Saturday afternoon. I’m more excited about bringing in local fans because they are football people, I’m interested to see how that unfolds.”
While the school can help Scotland County economically, the program may also need the community’s support since SAU’s athletic programs are all self-funded through grants, donations and contributions from businesses, alumni and the public.
But not everyone is as supportive as they might be. Elanor Wainscott, a 2004 graduate and former Alumni Council member, expressed concern that graduates were allowed more input into the program.
“The Alumni Council met in February and President (Paul) Baldasare mentioned the school was thinking about starting a team,” said Wainscott. “He made it sound like it was in the exploratory stages — not already decided.”
Wainscott said the university hasn’t posted anything on its website or social media pages updating students or alumni about the progress of the team, which is concerning to her.
“They aren’t providing us with much information,” she said. “I’m worried because I know other schools that have tried to start up teams before and only lasted two years — then the program folds.”
Harper knew coming in that starting a football program from the ground up was going to be difficult, but he feels confident in how the administration is approaching the situation.
“What people don’t understand is it takes a lot to start a program from scratch,” said Harper. “The concern is, can we do this thing the right way? I felt very comfortable with the administration that they were going to do it the right way.”
Student enrollment was also a key factor to St. Andrews adding new sports to the athletic roster. According to Batten, each time St. Andrews adds a new sport. student enrollment increases. With football, SAU is looking at an additional 110 to 130 students once the program is fully operational.
“We’ve found that sports are a good way to drive enrollment,” Batten said. “We did a study on it, we looked at schools of similar size and found that football has the potential to not only bring in 100 to 130 players, but also gives us opportunities down the road to add some other things like a marching band, cheerleaders, flag squad — all that stuff.”
Batten is considering expanding the St. Andrews’ Pipe Band to create a full marching band, which in turn he believes could transition the university into expanding their music program and potentially adding competitive cheerleading and dance.
“The NAIA has just adopted competitive cheerleading and dance as a sport,” he said. “I hope that by 2018-19 that we will have a full competitive cheer and dance program. That’s going to be exciting. We always look at additional degree programs. We’re constantly looking at the science disciplines. We have a very successful science program and have a tradition of sending kids on to vet school. Our equestrian program is top-notch, I would put it up there with any program in the country. As we look at degree programs — physical therapy, athletic training, some different kids of education majors — I think all of those will come.”
As the university looks at expanding its degree programs to increase enrollment, the football players who have already signed with the university will have the opportunity, if they choose, to pursue their masters degree while still playing their fourth and final year of football.
“These fellas who are coming in can play their four full years of ball and in that fourth year can enter into the MBA program, which is a top-notch program as well, and I can scholarship them into that,” Batten said.
Before the football players go on to pursue their MBA, they have to learn to compete. Harper said he will be expecting a lot of his players — not only on the field, but also in the classroom and in the community.
“My first year I want our kids to learn how to compete at a high level — I’m talking competing on the field, in the classroom, as a person and as a contributing member of our community,” he said. “I’ve been out and talked to the Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce. I told them if they came up with any community service ideas that we could definitely be involved, but this first semester we’ll take care of St. Andrews.”
Harper said his ultimate goal with the team isn’t to turn out NFL players, but to turn out quality young men.
“There are five things the program is going to be about — community, work ethic, faith, service and civility — and they have nothing to do with football,” he said. “As a coach you want them to be people who serve their community, a good father and husband, who understands the important things in life. That’s how you coach your kids.”
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.