Jan 7th, 2008 @ 10:23 am | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee, VCSU President
Three weeks after I became president of VCSU in August of 1993, we had a major incident. Two students ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. One rolled and totaled a pickup (not his) on the interstate and was also hospitalized. The casualties stemmed from a football team hazing party. Everyone was stunned. Although I did not know Glen Schmalz well then (our vice president for student affairs had also been a football player here years before), I can still see the look of astonishment on his face.
It was a whale of an initiation for me, too. I understood that as the first woman president of a public university in North Dakota, I was viewed with concern by supporters of athletics at VCSU. What would the hazing incident mean to them, and how would they expect me to handle it? 'Boys will be boys?' That was not how I saw it at all.
First thing in the morning, I went to see Bob King, who was head of the High School Activities Association and a major Viking booster. I told him what had happened and asked him what to do. 'Make sure it never happens again,' may not have been his exact words, but he was very clear – these boys needed to learn a big lesson. Believe me, I did my best to make sure they learned it!
Nothing remotely close to that ever happened again. On the contrary, athletics is one of the university's major points of pride.
We have had four fine athletic directors in the last 14 years and quite a few coaches and assistants. I have seen a number of coaches elsewhere who did not make me proud, but only one such person ever coached at VCSU. He is long, long gone. As for the rest, I would not trade with anybody. My major goal for them is to provide a positive experience for athletes, the university, and the community, and they always deliver.
We still host the Barnes County tournaments, run the Osmon race at Homecoming, and add security staff when we play Jamestown, but many things have changed. The floor in the fieldhouse was becoming dangerous then, but now we have our second beautiful new floor, thanks to insurance coverage of water damage to the first one. The outdoor track, the lobby and bleachers in the fieldhouse, the media box and the seats in the stadium, and the softball dugouts and scoreboard are great improvements. Athletic scholarship funding has tripled. Unfortunately, we no longer have track and field, cross country, or wrestling teams.
Looking forward, we aim to bring back several of these sports and a few others. Doing so successfully will be a huge challenge with an enormous payoff. We cannot do it without significant new facilities. We already get much better results than our slim budgets for coaches, equipment, travel, and scholarship could sustain without a great deal of loyalty and luck. With strong community and alumni support, this plan could yield exceptional community facilities and another 200-plus traditional students at VCSU. It's a plan whose time has come.