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LMU Dances into Basketball season

16 Oct

 

Homecoming hit a fever pitch with Midnight Madness on Friday. It was a chance for the ‘Splitters Nation to get to know the 2011-2012 Lady Railsplitter and Railsplitter Basketball teams. Plus there were some great performances by the LMU Dance Team, Cheerleaders and Abe. We even crowned a new Homecoming Queen and King! Not to mention a halarious dizzy bat contest and a wicked simon says game. Oh what a night!

 

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Take Me out to the Ballgame!

22 Aug

As if welcoming our new students back to campus on Saturday and the returning students on Sunday wasn’t enough excitement, we capped the weekend with LMU Family Night at Smokies Stadium. And boy what a night it was…it even went into extra innings!

If you haven’t been to Smokies Stadium in Sevierville, what are you waiting for? I mean it, there is only one week left in the regular season, so run out to one of the few remaining games this summer. I guarantee you’ll be entertained from the minute you walk into the stadium. The Smokies organization, led by Brian Cox, has carefully planned every moment of a fan’s experience.

As you might know, LMU has an extended learning site in Sevier County through our partnership with Walters State. We teach business and education there, but it is still one of our newest extended learning sites, so we are still working to build up LMU’s presence in the area. One way we decided to go about that was to partner with the Smokies as a corporate sponsor. LMU Family Night was a feature of sponsorship and honestly at that time, I thought it was a nice little add-on to the package and not much more.

I’ve told you before I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong in this case. LMU Family Night was much more than an add-on. It was a wonderful opportunity to get our name out to the over 3,000 in attendance. And the Smokies made sure LMU was front and center throughout the night.  From the pregame entertainment, where both the LMU Cheerleaders and Dance Team performed, to the ceremonial first pitch, to the national anthem to the seventh-inning stretch, LMU dominated the ballpark. The featured little league team of the night was even from Harrogate Little League!

Freshman Mallory Tucker sings the national anthem.

I had been to Smokies games before, but I got a whole new perspective as I worked with the Smokies game management folks to move our people to the appropriate spot at the appropriate time. It was amazing to me how tightly everything fit together. At one point I realized that LMU’s President Jim Dawson was about to throw out the first pitch and I wasn’t in a good spot to get a photo. I sprinted down the field and was let on just in time to preserve Dr. Dawson’s pitch, which was high and outside. I turned to go back up to the concourse to wait with Freshman Mallory Tucker, who was singing the national anthem on our behalf, only to realize that she was already down on the field getting into place for her big moment.

Dr. Jim Dawson throws out the first pitch.

From Mallory; to the dance team; to the high-flying cheerleaders; to Abe the mascot, LMU was represented by some of the best and brightest Railsplitters and it was a proud day to be wearing blue and gray.

It was such a great experience, we’ll keep root, root, rooting for the home team! I hope to make LMU Family Night an annual event for the University. In the mean time, LMU will be calling all Railsplitters back to Smokies Stadium on Friday, April 6, as LMU takes on Carson-Newman in baseball. It is a special rivalry game for the close competitors. What a great opportunity for our student-athletes to compete in a professional stadium.

Elementary Teacher Inspires LMU Soccer Players to Serve Global Community

10 Aug

A pair of Lincoln Memorial University soccer players returned from Europe last week after spending two weeks helping to build homes for deserving families across the globe. Sarah Taylor and Peter Fraser, a pair of Ontario, Canada natives, spent 10 days in Beius, Romania working with Habitat for Humanity.

Sarah Taylor shows her LMU pride on the job for Habitat for Humanity in Romania.The pair’s involvement in the international cause can be traced back to Taylor’s elementary school days when she was in teacher Kim Penzhorn’s class. Penzhorn is a team leader in Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program. She has traveled to Beius three times and the trip Taylor and Fraser joined her on was her second expedition in 2011.

Nine other Canadians joined Taylor, Fraser and Penzhorn on their journey. For many of them it was their first trip to Romania and most of the group had never met before the trip. That was not the case for Taylor and Fraser, who are rising seniors, as both play for LMU Soccer Coach Helio D’Anna and have been classmates at LMU for three years.

Romania became the 50th Habitat for Humanity country in 1996. Beius was the first community in which Habitat was invited to help in Romania. Six other communities, including Cluj-Napoca (Cluj), Pitesti, Radauti, Comanesti, Cumpana and Craiova have since taken up the challenge of ending poverty housing as part of Habitat. According to Habitat, more than 1,200 families in Romania—that previously lived in miserable conditions—now have a safe and healthy home.

Beius is a small town of 12,000 inhabitants located in the northwest of Romania’s Bihor county, near the Romanian-Hungarian border. The town is located in a beautiful valley with many villages surrounded by wonderful mountains. Beius has a rural feel—it would not be surprising, for example, to see a wagon with horses crossing through the town. Since the first Habitat home was built (in 1996), 100 families have been afforded safe shelter. Habitat in Beius offers a hand-up, not a hand out. Partner families pay back the home mortgage over 20 years at no interest and invest 1,000 hours of sweat equity labor on other Habitat homes.

LMU rising senior Sarah Taylor assists with a foundation on a Habitat for Humanity building site in Romania.

Taylor and Fraser spent the first part of their trip insulating and installing drywall in one home and laying a foundation for another in nearby Oradea.

LMU rising senior Peter Fraser helps to pour a cement foundation at a Habitat for Humanity building site in Romania.

Back in Beius for the second half of the trip, the team joined future Habitat homeowners in preparing another foundation and finished some homes that were nearing competition. During the weekend they visited the Bears Caves in Chiscau, a wooden church in Bardet and other attractions in the Beius area.

Peter Fraser, center, helps to put the finishing touches on a Habitat for Humanity home in Romania.

Taylor was the Lady Railsplitter’s points leader a year ago. An All-Region selection, she looks to build on her 10 goal and 11 assist tallies in her senior year. Fraser’s career has been hampered by injury; nevertheless, he is expected to be a key contributor for the Railsplitters at mid-field and on defense.

 

 

Sarah Taylor (center) helps to put the finishing touches on a Habitat roof.

 

Boy of Summer No More

28 Jul

Here is a summer wake-up call if there ever was one. There are only 25 more days until undergraduate classes start at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU). Just this week we welcomed the first-year medical students at LMU-DeBusk College Osteopathic Medicine and next week the second-years will join them. Twenty-five more days! Students should be packing up and faculty should be dusting off their lesson plans. 

It’s a wake-up call like this that gets me thinking about the things I love about summer.  I love the heat. Not heat indices in the triple digits heat that we are currently experiencing heat, but I love the nice 75-85 degree heat that usually accompanies summer around LMU.  I love that we staff members have much of campus to ourselves over the summer. It is our time to bask in the beauty of our campus with activity at a slightly slower pace. I love watermelon, fresh berries and sweet peaches. And I love baseball.

Well actually, that is a lie. I really only tolerate baseball (sorry, I grew up in upstate NY and was raised on basketball and football), but I am getting to the real topic of this blog post. Summer is the time when baseball reigns supreme. It’s a time when all of us basketball and football fans have no choice but to tune in to the boys of summer.

Scot Shields

It was during the summer about four years ago when I got my first real taste of Major League Baseball and experienced a shift in my views on baseball, and it was because of Scot Shields.

I joined the University in 2005 and during the first year, was pleased to meet and interview one of our most distinguished alumni, professional baseball player Scot Shields. He had been invited to campus for LMU Baseball Legends night, celebrated at a basketball game. It marked the first time he had returned to LMU since becoming one of the best relief pitchers in Major League Baseball (MLB). He was coming off a season where he had led the American League in holds and he was just three years removed from the Los Angeles Angels’ 2002 World Series Championship.

Scot Shields signing autographs at LMU in Decemeber of 2005.

During that visit I was amazed at the openness Scot and his wife, Jaime, shared with the LMU community. In a special alumni meal served before the women’s basketball game, Scot and Jaime, who incidentally met at LMU where Jaime was a Lady Railsplitter Volleyball player, sat with alumni from their era and mingled with everyone at the dinner. It was apparent that Scot had fond memories of LMU and his classmates and was happy to be back.

LMU SID Rusty Peace interviews Scot Shields during Baseball Legends Night.

Between games, Scot signed autographs in the Hall of Fame Room. He was patient and spoke with everyone. He even took off his World Series ring off and let many of the fans try it on. He joked with some of the younger kids and shared stories from the “big leagues” with the fathers.  At the end of the visit, I had one thought: he is just like all the other LMU alumni I had encountered so far: nice, approachable and very fond of his alma mater. I knew from that visit on, I would follow Scot Shields’ career no matter if I worked at LMU or not.

Scot Shields greets fans before a game at the Cincinnati Reds ballpark.Later, I helped organize a LMU outing to see Scot play. It was this trip that changed the way I looked at baseball all together. Since Scot played for Angels who were based on the West Coast, finding a game that was within driving distance of the University and fit in everyone’s schedules was a challenge. Ultimately, we selected a game in Cincinnati, when the Angels visited the Reds. I called the Reds organization and was able to get a block of tickets. We recruited alumni, faculty, staff and students to go and we were off.  Arriving at the ball park early, we wanted to make sure we didn’t miss warm-ups. Scot was known for talking to fans during warm-ups and we weren’t disappointed. He came over and greeted our group and posed for pictures. Though we never got to see him play, the trip was a real highlight for everyone who went. For me, it changed the way I looked at baseball. To see the excitement of a live, major league baseball game in person was far superior to viewing what always seemed to be a slow game on T.V. But more than anything, seeing the players, not just Scot, but most of the players, connecting with the fans really changed my mind.

Scot Shields is pictured with some of his LMU classmates before a game in 2007.

LMU hosted a handful of these road trips to see Scot play during his career. As summer dawned this year it was sad to think the Scot Shields road trips were no more. You see, LMU’s very own boy of summer was no more. On March 18, 2011, following two injury-hindered seasons, Scot Shields hung up his glove. He retired a highly efficient and effective setup man who had spent much of the last decade bridging the gap for the Angels between starter (or middle reliever) to closer.

Upon his retirement, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said, “He evolved into the gold standard of what setup men are. He could’ve gone a lot of places and been a closer, but he was committed to this organization and this organization was committed to him.” Scioscia went on to say, “Scot accepted that role and became the best at it. He was about winning. If he had to take the ball in the seventh inning and pitch the ninth, he would have done it. Thirty years ago, he would have been getting two-plus, three-inning saves. That’s how good he was.”

Scot Shields made his major league debut on May 26, 2001. He spent his entire career with the Angels, a rare occurrence in this age of free agency.  That season in 2005 before he visited LMU, it was the first of four consecutive seasons he would lead the American League in holds.  He is the only former Railsplitter to ever play in or win a World Series title.

In summarizing his career with the Angels, he points to the Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as his most memorable moment in uniform, but he is also proud of the 2004 season when he and Francisco Rodriguez each boasted over 100 strikeouts in a season, a landmark achievement for bullpen mates.  Shields had a 46-44 record and 3.18 career ERA, averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. In 697 innings pitched, opponents posted only a .228 batting average and .335 slugging percentage.  Sports Illustrated named him Setup Man of the Decade and he is remembered fondly by Angels fans everywhere as one of the last remaining links to the ball club’s only World Series Championship.

As summer rolls on and the boys of summer keep taking the field, it is sad to think that Scot Shields will not be taking a mound somewhere, but it remains an honor to call him one of our own. Scot, I hope you are as proud to call yourself a Railsplitter as we are.

Scot Shields is pictured with the LMU group.

 

Let’s hear it for the Coach!

22 Jul

A quick history lesson on LMU Basketball. Though the program has been around since 1923 (basketball was played on this campus long before it was an organized program), LMU has only competed in the NCAA for the last 20 years. Our record books are lined with championships. A whole alphabet soup of championships including SMAC Champions, VSAC Champions, NAIA District Champions and TVAC Champions to name a few. But, since taking the NCAA plunge championships have been harder to come by. In fact, since joining the NCAA in 1991, the men’s basketball program has posted just seven winning seasons. Seems kind of low, doesn’t it? I mean we have a giant arena and basketball is our marquee sport. Seven winning seasons, that can’t be right, can it?

 Well actually, it isn’t entirely correct. Seven was the number of winning seasons posted since 1991 when Coach Josh Schertz was hired in 2009. He has since added two more winning seasons to that total. Just three years into his tenure he has added two winning seasons and it should be noted that his first season’s record was an even .500 year with 14 wins and 14 losses.

Clearly Schertz has turned the program around in a short amount of time, but the work is even more impressive if you consider two things. First, he inherited a team that had just eight wins the season before and just one win in South Atlantic Conference play. Second, the turnaround was as dynamic as it was quick. He took the program from winning less than 40 games in the five seasons before his arrival in Harrogate to winning 47 in the last two seasons. Last season, he took a program that had never been in the NCAA Tournament to the brink of hosting a regional as a No. 1 seed. LMU went from a team that had never been ranked (since joining the NCAA), to a perennial regional power, having been ranked in every Southeast Region poll in the last two seasons. Still not impressed? Okay, Schertz also guided the Railsplitters to their first-ever national ranking, culminating in a Top 5 Rank in February before finishing the season at No. 10.

Considering all of that, it should be no surprise that the basketball community has taken note. Coach Schertz had better start building a trophy case at home to hold all the hardware he has racked up in the last year. Just this week he was recognized as one of the Top 25 Non-Division I Head Coaches by collegeinsider.com. At 35 years old, he was the youngest coach on the list. He has also been named the Top Non-Division I Head Coach in the country under 40 years old by smallcollegehoops.com. He was voted the 2011 SAC Coach of the Year and earned NABC National Coach of the Month honors in January. Last season, Schertz was a finalist for the Clarence Gaines National Division II Coach of the Year Award.

Beyond wins and losses, Schertz and his Railsplitters have energized a community. The team is doing its part to fill one of the largest and nicest arenas in all of NCAA Division II. (One could argue that Tex Turner Arena is even better than some smaller Division I institutions.) Schertz has also taken an active role in our community. He was the commencement speaker at Leadership Claiborne this year and his team and coaches participated in Relay for Life.

A new day has dawned at LMU and Schertz, and his entire coaching staff, have set the bar high. The horizon is bright for next season. The Railsplitters return four starts for next year and seven of their top 10 scorers will be back.  Now, back to history class because surely Railsplitter Nation is witnessing history in the making!

Go Splitters!