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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, December 14, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Military draft filling Pirates' ranks

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

George Bailey might be the richest man in town in Christmas movie land, but Scott Wetherbee is the luckiest man in the Pirate Nation this week.

Wetherbee, the assistant athletic director for ticketing and marketing for East Carolina, has been the recipient of several boatloads of good tidings in his role as the point man for ECU’s Tickets for Troops campaign. He is an eyewitness to the deepening connection between the American military and Pirate fans, all because the latter have already donated nearly 2,000 tickets so that soldiers, sailors and airmen can attend the Dec. 23 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl between ECU and Boise State.

A sampling of developments supports the notion that the title It's a Wonderful Life is as appropriate for the real-life story that will soon climax on a gridiron in Honolulu as it was for the film centered around one of Jimmy Stewart's most memorable characters in the movie-set town of Bedford Falls in 1947. Listen to some of the nuggets Wetherbee has been privy to lately:

*** An ongoing correspondence with Air Force Lt. Col. Keith Parnell, ECU ’88, a Pirate Club member who would have gone to the game regardless but now has an opportunity to bring his entire squadron.
Because of the tickets being provided by ECU donors, Parnell is creating his own little Pirate cheering section. He had ordered purple T-shirts for all of the men reading “Tickets for Troops” above a skull and crossbones and the words “Thanks, ECU!”

“I’m going to turn my squadron into some Pirates fans, at least for one day,” said Parnell. “I tell my squadron, ‘You can have a ticket, but you have to wear purple or I’m not giving it to you.”

*** Phone calls from fathers like Bill Darden, whose son, an ECU alumnus named Jonathan, is stationed at a Hawaii base after spending 16 months in Iraq. Darden is thankful, he told Wetherbee, for the perfect Christmas present for his son.

*** E-mails from people who are not affiliated with ECU or the military, but are simply touched by the ticket drive.

One of those outsiders, Toby Shoemaker, is a misplaced Texas fan living in Maine. He wrote to Wetherbee. After hearing about the Pirate boosters who bought tickets for a game they could never attend, Shoemaker promised to buy himself a Pirate shirt and cap soon.

“I read about the generosity of ECU fans and the athletic department of ECU in donating tickets to the Aloha Bowl game to currently-serving members of the US Military,” Shoemaker wrote to Wetherbee. “Such a gesture is beyond amazing, it is extraordinary. When I read about it, I immediately became a Pirates fan. I shall proudly and unabashedly root the Pirates on to victory on December 23rd as they are now my second favorite college football team.”

And those are just a sampling from Wetherbee’s grab bag of correspondence. When he’s not hearing heartwarming stories he’s been promoting Tickets for Troops — and getting an audience with more national media than ECU has seen in recent memory.

At this rate, Wetherbee might be the first college ticket manager with his own press agent. He has done several radio segments, including a 15-minute interview with “Sporting News Radio.” USA Today featured the Pirates’ efforts on its front page, and gave it prominent treatment early this week.

“We expected our fans to step up to the plate like they always do, but to get the national recognition, we’re really excited about it,” Wetherbee said.

Ultimately, that exposure is putting more de facto Pirate fans into seats at the 50,000-capacity Aloha Stadium. On Monday, about 300 tickets had sold. By Thursday, that number was around 1,800.

“We’re selling between 300 and 400 a day,” he said. “This strikes a chord with people.”

From his office as the director of the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Jim Donovan was eating his lunch at about 5 p.m. on Thursday. The logistical hurdles of hosting a bowl are daunting anyway, but thanks to the ECU ticket campaign his job has taken on new dimensions, he said.

“We’ve given tickets to troops in the past, but no one else has ever coordinated it the way East Carolina has done,” said Donovan. “I think it’s great, because it’s a selfless act on people’s part, if they can’t make it to the game.”

Donovan has been in contact with representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Army National Guard and a color guard, he said. Within each branch, officers have gone to their troops with one question: “Who would like to go to the Sheraton Bowl?”

Bowl officials have asked their military liaisons to focus on the “unattached soldiers,” who are not from Hawaii and don’t have any family in the area. And every military member who shows up with a ticket through ECU should be handed one of a generous allotment of purple and gold pom-poms donated by ISP.

“The side for the Pirates should be full,” Donovan said.

Tickets for Troops may be ordered online or by calling 252-328-4500.

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01/05/2008 03:23:24 PM

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