Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Little City That Could

None of the local folk have any idea who came up with the phrase, but “The Little City That Could” sure fits their easy-to-miss town that sits a short drive off I-81, in the foothills of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains and just down the road from Roanoke, Va.
The NCAA sure knows what can get done here in Salem, and done well — and there’s never any trouble finding it anymore.
At least not since 1993, when the first NCAA Division III Football Championships — the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl — was held at Salem Stadium, and has remained here since.
The town has flicked on its spotlight for a number of other national championships, too.
So Ursinus would like nothing more than to come up with a pair of wins today and Saturday in the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championships and be crowned the 50th champion in the “The Little City That Could.”
Since that inaugural Stagg Bowl, the town has hosted 49 NCAA championships in baseball, basketball, lacrosse, softball, and volleyball. And that number is second only to Omaha, Neb., home of the NCAA Division I Baseball World Series.
“In two years, we plan on catching Omaha,” said John Saunders, assistant director of facilities at the Salem Civic Center.
Saunders spoke with pride as he explained how the NCAA has returned time and time again. The football championships hold the lead, with 15 of them played out here. Right behind is softball (14) and men’s basketball (12), with baseball (five), volleyball (two), and women’s lacrosse, which debuted here last spring.
No one knew exactly how many AAU championships — mostly basketball and volleyball — have been held here. But one thing is for sure. All the games and the national exposure they bring with them has injected millions and millions of dollars into this town’s economy.
Carey Harveycutter, the director of civic facilities who steps up as tournament director when the NCAA moves in for one of its national championships, estimated the annual impact of the events to be between $3 million and $5 million.

Ursinus head coach Kevin Small is 38 years old, in his eighth season guiding the Bears and already the program’s winningest coach with 145 career victories.
But those numbers pale in comparision to his three rivals here this weekend.
Hope’s Glenn Van Wieren is in his 31st season and has 617 career wins.
Amherst’s David Hixson, who Small will attempt to match wits with tonight, is in his 31st season as well and owns 574 career wins.
And Washington’s Mark Edwards is in his 26th season and has 498 career wins.
Van Wieren was fifth all-time in Division III when the season began. The leader was Franklin & Marshall’s Glenn Robinson, who in 36 years leading up to this season was 718-271.

Ursinus’ only other trip to the Final Four was to Rock Island, Ill., 27 years ago.
The Bears opened postseason play in the Mid-Atlantic Regional at Franklin & Marshall, defeating the hosts, Diplomats (69-58) and William Patterson (66-64). The two victories advanced them to the national quarterfinals in East Orange, N.J., where they edged Upsala (71-69) to earn a spot in the Final Four.
After falling to eventual national champion Potsdam State, N.Y., (63-61) in the semifinals, the Bears bounced back to defeat Otterbein (82-79) for third place.

Washington’s Troy Ruths was presented the Jostens Trophy on Thursday morning during a special ceremony honoring him as the Division III Player of the Year.
The Salem Rotary Club hosted the event and made the presentation — and Ruths likely needed some help getting his prize back to the hotel.
The Jostens Trophy is 2 feet high, featuring an 8-inch basketball in the center made of Czech crystal on a solid cherry wood base, and weighs 64 pounds.

Amherst comes into tonight’s opener ranked No. 1, a spot it’s held the past four weeks. The Lord Jeffs opened the season at No. 2 but moved on top for two weeks before slipping as low as No. 4.
Washington was actually the preseason No. 1 but held that spot for just one week after the season began and is now No. 7.
Hope comes in at No. 3, while Ursinus — which didn’t even appear in the national rankings until debuting at No. 21 four weeks ago — comes in at No. 17.

Even though Amherst, Hope and Washington were here for last year’s shootout, only Amherst point guard Andrew Olson returns from the All-Tournament Team. Olson, who at 5-10 will be the shortest starter on the court tonight, happened to be the MVP of last year’s Final Four, too.

One of Hope’s fans strolling around the Civic Center on Thursday was wearing a T-shirt with Midland Legion printed on the front. He said he was a former player in the Midland American Legion baseball program and had played in Bear Stadium in Boyertown during his final summer with the team.

Ursinus, as well as the other three teams in today’s Final Four lineup, are all staying at the Hotel Roanoke and Convention Center, a 15-minute drive from the Civic Center.
The hotel, as grand in appearance as any in America, was built in 1882 and has endured bankruptcy, the Great Depression, a major fire and a number of different owners. One interesting aspect of its history, though, is that a $1,050,000 renovation in 1938 made it the first hotel in the nation to offer its guests air conditioning.

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