Shorter College Has Played Instrumental Role in NAIA Football Championship
by Jim O'Hara
In the past few years, teamwork and the relationships it nurtures have become a common trait and blessing for Shorter College’s athletic program.
But when the 53rd annual Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship kicks off Saturday at Barron Stadium, the event culminates a total team effort by the entire faculty, staff and student body at Shorter – from the Sheffield-Thompson Administration Building to the Winthrop-King Athletic Centre.
“It’s meant a lot to Shorter to participate in an event of this magnitude and to work with the great representatives from Rome and Floyd County,” Shorter President Dr. Harold E. Newman said about the game that will pit Carroll College from Helena, Mont., the defending national champion, against the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) in a rematch of last year’s championship game.
“I’m really proud of the hundreds of hours our staff has invested into this game,” he added. “It makes you appreciate the amount talent the college has.”
Shorter’s involvement in the national championship is one that started nearly two years ago when Shorter Athletic Director Bill Peterson and Head Football Coach Phil Jones planted the seed for the game, eventually coming up with a proposal that involved Shorter, Rome and Floyd County.
By the summer of 2007, a bid to host the game in 2008 and 2009 was finally submitted to the NAIA, which sent a delegation that made a site visit and evaluate what the hosts – Shorter, Rome and Floyd County – had to offer. Following a long and patient wait, the NAIA made its decision and last January the announcement was made by Shorter.
“I don’t think anyone knew how intense and comprehensive it would be,” Peterson said about the challenges the Rome Host Committee, which was established to tackle the logistics, has faced. “It was more than we anticipated. But everyone had a solid heart and enthusiasm. Now we’re so close to the finish line we know we can make it a great event.”
Peterson wound up becoming the co-chair of the event with Rome attorney Bob Berry and was joined by his peers at Shorter on being a part of the host committee that represented an entire spectrum of the entire community.
Naturally, Jones took an active part and will be handling Football Operations for the game, one that the Hawks came close to playing in when Jones’ football team earned its first-ever postseason berth in the NAIA Football Championship Series.
Two other staff members in Shorter’s athletic department, Director of Operations/Athletics Ricci Lattanzi and Sports Information Director Grant Kersey, joined the Host Committee with Lattanzi in charge of Game Day Operations and Kersey being named the NAIA’s Media Coordinator.
The host committee, however, benefited from the services provided by Shorter’s wealth of individual assets to round out the team.
Melissa Hickman and Gina McDaniel, professors in Shorter’s School of Business Administration, serve as Co-Chair for Ticket Sales; Dawn Tolbert, the college’s Director of Public Relations, fills the same role for the committee; Shorter’s Web manager Dana Thompson created and updates the championship game Web site; Ken Fincher, Shorter’s Vice-President for Institutional Development, plays a key role in the sponsorship plans for the game; and Rachel Rogers, who recently became Shorter’s Director of Athletic Development, has become a member of the host committee helping with the events planned.
“It’s been a good opportunity to show the community and others Shorter College’s strengths and the things we are capable of doing,” Fincher said, “and we want to be a good neighbor and support the community.
“This game shines a light on what we do and on all of Shorter’s teams, the athletes and the coaches we have. And we’ve had a lot of members of the Alumni Association asking how they can help, and the rank and file at Shorter College is really excited about this game.”
“It has helped us get to know the people who we’ve respected here even better,” Peterson pointed out, “and respect them even more.
“It’s been a great effort by Shorter and from everyone in the community. I know everyone who has been a part of it are glad they were involved with it. It’s a good feeling.”
The game itself caps what will be a busy week of events that begins with the arrival of the two teams Wednesday and includes two banquets to be held at The Forum in downtown Rome.
On Thursday morning the Fellowship of Christian Athletics Champions of Character breakfast, sponsored by Chick-Fil-A, will be held with Dr. Nelson Price, chairman of the Shorter Board of Trustees, delivering the invocation, and former Air Force Academy Fisher DeBerry serving as the guest speaker.
And on Friday the NAIA Banquet of Champions will take place with the two teams and this year’s top players being honored.
“There are so many firsts going on,” said Fincher. “It’s been somewhat thrilling to be a part of it. But the one thing we always come back to is that the game is for the young men and the teams who are playing for a championship.”