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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, December 15, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Belated 'bowl berth' ignites ECU fans


Unlike the teams awarded postseason bids last Sunday, East Carolina’s postseason experience didn’t take hold until Wednesday.

That’s when ECU alumnus Doug Groome of Charlotte posted his idea for a virtual bowl trip for the Pirates on an Internet message board frequented by purple and gold diehards.

It wasn't long after Groome's vision appeared on that ECU fans, who have grown somewhat accustomed to following their team to real-world bowls,  started calling the Pirate Club office and paying bona fide money for virtual tickets.

“From 3 to 5 p.m. on Friday, the phone was ringing off the hook,” said Dennis Young, executive director of the Pirate Club. “It’s amazing how it caught on.”

Young said he will shave his head if 20,000 tickets to the “Virtual Bowl” are sold. Assistant director Matt “Big Guy” Maloney will get a Mohawk haircut.

Groome, ECU '79, put two and two together and came up with the concept that generated $1,600 in ticket calls to the Pirate Club office on Friday. Incidentally, that number is (252) 328-4540.

Groome was looking at the significant number of football recruiting targets that ECU has in Florida and realized the additional expense of out-of-state tuitions that the Pirate Club could potentially be underwriting.

The penchant of Pirates fans for supporting their football teams on bowl trips also played into Groome's thinking. Why not send the money ECU fans would have spent for tickets to a bowl game this season to support the Pirate Club.

It was Groome’s unique concept, but the affair is already taking on more distinctive characteristics as fans chime in and passion for the Pirates merges with imagination.

Maloney said the event may be called the Barbecue Bowl or Blackbeard’s Bowl. The name is not carved in stone. It’s Virtual Bowl for now and the Pirate Club plans to print tickets to commemorate a special show of support for a program that went 1-11 in 2003.

“People are having fun with it,” Groome said. “We’re going to have Jimi Hendrix play during the pregame. The Rolling Stones and Beatles will be on the halftime show. It’s virtual, so we can do that.”

Perry Hudson, president of the Harnett/Johnston Pirate Club, bought five bleacher seats for $100 on Friday and directed his secretary to send e-mails to other chapters challenging them to support ECU’s bowl trip.

“It just shows Pirate passion, the true spirit,” said Hudson, who has signed up record numbers of new Pirate Club members in recent years. “We will never, never quit. It shows true Pirates stepping forward.”

Maloney called football coach John Thompson to tell him about the unusual promotion and the Pirates coach was touched.

“It says so much about how this Pirate family believes in this program,” Thompson said in the midst of a recruiting weekend on Saturday. “It’s real neat and it’s encouraging to us.”

Groome said he had read that Big East Conference member Pitt may buy 3,000 tickets for the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte.

“I’d love for this to explode so we could do more than 3,000 tickets and snub the Big East,” Groome said.

A virtual bowl ticket may indeed become the calling card of true Pirate fans.

“A bubble recruit who hears about this may decide that ECU is where he wants to be,” Groome said. “ ... All of this is virtual but it makes for a great holiday season for Pirate football fans who desperately want some good news. We want to show our support for J.T. and the guys.”

The funds generated by Groome’s suggestion will either go toward the Pirate Club’s annual goal of $3.4 million, which helps support scholarship costs for athletes, or a new Pirate Club and ticket office building which is planned on Charles Blvd., across from the lower Minges parking lot. Young said use of the funds will be determined by those buying tickets.

High-tech scoreboard for baseball

The old scoreboard at Harrington Field apparently wasn’t up to the portion of the 2004 season that the Pirates will play at ECU’s outdated baseball facility so a new board has become a special project for assistant athletics director Lee Workman, who plans to have a new state-of-the-art scoreboard in place by the first home game with UNC-Asheville at 3 p.m. on Feb. 13.

The new board will be about 34 feet from top to bottom and 36 feet wide.

A clock with a Pirate face will adorn the top of the brick and wrought iron on which the board will be mounted. A jumbo video screen in the upper middle of the board will be 16 feet, 11 inches by 13 feet, 5 inches.

The bottom portion of the scoreboard will be devoted to basic game information — score by innings, balls, strikes, outs, runs, hits, errors, etc. The screen in the upper portion will be flanked by four advertising panels.

Above the jumbo screen and below the clock will be a panel reading EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY in purple letters on white, according to the rendering by Daktronics, which also has done ECU’s football and softball scoreboards.

The bottom of the board will be 10 feet off the ground with a slight gap that will display the supporting brick columns above the outfield fence in right-center. The new scoreboard will remain as construction begins on a new stadium in the latter stages of the 2004 season.

ECU’s last five regular season home games will be played at Grainger Stadium in Kinston to allow contractors to get started on the Pirates’ new baseball stadium, which is targeted for completion before the 2005 season. The games in Kinston include Duke at 7 p.m. on May 5, N.C. State at 7 p.m. on May 12 and a 3-game Conference USA series with TCU, scheduled for May 14-16.

Pirates vs. Pirates in doubt

ECU basketball coach Bill Herrion has been in contact with Seton Hall officials about rescheduling a game originally set for Dec. 6 at the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey but the situation doesn’t look promising.

Snow in the Northeast kept ECU from making the trip. Seton Hall, also known at the Pirates, only has two possible dates at present at the municipal facility, neither of which fit ECU’s schedule, according to Herrion. Seton Hall has a small gym on its campus in South Orange, N.J., but Herrion doesn’t want to play there.

ECU scheduled the game for a $40,000 guarantee and because of the exposure the Pirates program would get in the big arena in the proximity of the hometowns of freshmen Mike Cook (Philadelphia) and Japhet McNeil (New York), where Herrion is interested in continuing to recruit.

The Pirates are 4-1 at the exam break after an 86-53 home win over North Carolina A&T on Wednesday night. ECU had 24 turnovers against the Aggies and is averaging 18.2 per game.

“I’m pleased,” Herrion said. “We’ve got a little bit of a turnover bugaboo that we’ve got to deal with. We’re trying to play faster and we’ve got some young players in significant roles. Defensively, we’re playing hard and we’re really rebounding.”

The Pirates are averaging 49.4 rebounds per game to 28.4 for their opponents. Senior forward Erroyl Bing leads ECU with an 8.8 average on the boards. The Pirates return to action at 7 p.m. on Friday when Gardner-Webb comes to Williams Arena.

Big fish on campus

Shrine Bowl running back Andre Brown made an unofficial visit to the ECU campus on Thursday, checking out facilities and meeting some of the Pirates coaching staff.

Brown ran for a state record 3,478 yards during the 2003 season and led Greenville Rose to the NCHSAA 4-A championship. Brown ran for 270 yards as the Rampants dispatched Winston-Salem Mount Tabor 51-7 in the state final.

After that title game, Brown said his final four in terms of his college choice included N.C. State, Virginia, Miami (Fla.) and Nebraska, depending on how the Cornhuskers’ coaching vacancy was resolved.

Brown’s recruiting options may be complicated by his academic status. Sources indicate that he is borderline in terms of qualifying. That has brought West Virginia into Brown’s possible future. ECU can take non-qualifiers as well.

Brown moved to Greenville from Baltimore as a high school sophomore and lives with an uncle, Wesley Sturdivant, who was in the ECU football program several years ago.

Brown and Rose teammate Nick Grimes are scheduled to play for North Carolina in the Shrine Bowl at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Rock Hill, S.C. The N.C. team will also feature quarterback Antonio Miller of Charlotte Olympic and defensive back Pierre Bell of West Craven, both of whom have committed to the Pirates. New Bern coach Chip Williams, a former Pirates player, will guide the N.C. Shrine team.

New Bern quarterback Davon Drew, also selected to the Shrine Bowl, said Clemson, Maryland and ECU comprised his college list — in that order — following the Bears’ 4-AA final loss to Charlotte Independence.

Troth’s choices

Mike Troth, father of former ECU quarterback Paul Troth and a Pirates football letterman himself, said Division I-AA programs interested in his son include Liberty, Elon and Massachusetts.

“We haven’t heard back from Delaware,” Mike Troth said, “but they’re still in the playoffs.” The Blue Hens defeated Wofford 24-9 on Saturday to advance to Friday's I-AA championship game in Chattanooga, TN, against Colgate.

Mike Troth said he hopes to have Paul enrolled at a new school in January.

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02/23/2007 12:39:52 AM

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