Sport management alumni recall Delaware's 2003 snow game
4 p.m., Dec. 4, 2013--The University of Delaware football program and its faithful fans will long remember the date Dec. 6, 2003, both for the Blue Hens routing Northern Iowa 37-7 on their march to the 2003 NCAA Division I-AA national championship as well as for the blizzard that struck the night before and morning of the game.
Those who were then students and are now alumni of the UD Sport Management Program remember the victory well and take pride in their role in helping making the game happen.
Rising to the challenge
“I can’t remember a time in my life that I have been colder,” said Melissa Schaaf, a 2007 graduate who is now director of marketing for the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. “It is also one of my favorite memories of my time at UD.”
Schaaf was one of approximately 30 UD sport management students who arrived at Delaware Stadium at 7 a.m. that day to assist the athletic department in preparing Tubby Raymond Field for a noon kickoff.
The midweek forecast called for the snowstorm to hit Newark on Friday evening into early Saturday morning. “Jerry Oravitz, director of football operations, called me Wednesday and asked if the storm hit, could our students be there to help out,” said Matthew Robinson, professor of business administration and director of the Sport Management Program. “I told him to count us in.”
The program had only started in the fall of 2001 and at the time Robinson was the lone faculty member. He recruited students to assist in the stadium cleanup from the two sport management courses he was teaching that semester.
“To me, as much as we were helping out the athletic department and football program, I saw it as a learning opportunity for our students. A lot of students come in thinking the sport management profession is all glamour and glory,” said Robinson. “The reality is that there is a lot that goes into a game and you have to plan for every possible contingency, like a blizzard. My hat was off to the athletic department for planning for the worst and being prepared.”
The storm did hit. “I remember standing in back of the Bob Carpenter Center at 5 a.m,” said Oravitz. “The snow was coming down sideways. You could not see your hand in front of your face. I thought there was no way the game was going to get played.”
The UD football staff, the NCAA representative and ESPN all wanted to play on Saturday and the forecast called for clear skies once the storm cleared.
To tackle the 11 inches of snow that fell, approximately 30-40 University Grounds staff members went to work, assisted by 40-50 temporary workers and volunteers, who included community members – among them former Newark Mayor Vance Funk -- season ticket holders, and the sport management students.
Mitch Heckert, a 2006 sport management alumnus and a member of the UD baseball team who was there that morning, said, “I remember they had to borrow the tarp from our baseball field to help cover the field the night before. But then, the difficulty became trying to clear the snow off the tarps. At the end of the day, it was a fantastic feeling to be able to stand on the sidelines during that game knowing that if we had not put in that kind of work, the game would not have been played.”
The UD students were at work both on the field, assisting with clearing the tarp and eventually removing the tarp, and were also shoveling the stairways and main aisles in the stands to make passage as safe as possible for the spectators.
David Arthur, a 2007 alumnus who serves as executive director of the Delaware Sport Commission and who worked previously with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, said, “That cold morning of shoveling definitely opened my eyes to what a career in sports is all about. While our friends slept in, we worked our butts off clearing the snow from the field and the stadium, so that those same friends could come and witness exciting Blue Hens playoff victory. The experience prepared me well for hundreds of tarp pulls during my time in minor league baseball and for the planning and execution of the various events the Delaware Sport Commission brings into the state.”
Saul Rafel-Frankel, a 2006 alumnus who is director of basketball operations for the UD men’s basketball program, had a different version than his good friend Arthur. “I saw Dave standing around the whole time while we were freezing and doing all of the work. Seriously, it was a great day for the Blue Hens.”
Just after the tarp was pulled off, Robinson saw former Ohio State football coach John Cooper, who was announcing the game for ESPN. “Coach Cooper asked who the students were and I told him they were UD sport management students. He shook his head and said, that would never have happened at OSU.”
Edgar Johnson, who was the director of athletics at the time and who is now a professor in the sport management program, said he has fond memories of the frigid morning. “What I remember most fondly was when the snow was removed from the tarp and the tarp pulled off the playing field, how bright green the grass was and how well it showed up on television. The sport management students played a major role in getting the game played under such adverse circumstances. They worked tirelessly and almost to exhaustion.
“Overall, it remains one of the proudest moments in UD event management and football history that we were able to pull off such a feat and have approximately 11,000 people attend the game. It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone pulling together to overcome such a weather challenge and the sport management students had a real-life hands-on learning experience in adverse conditions event management. Working together we were able to clear the field and the kick-off was delayed by only 30 minutes. The NCAA representative and ESPN production staff were elated.”
A photograph of the students and Robinson, shown above, was taken by a Northern Iowa fan who came out to the stadium early. “He was great, he emailed it to me on Monday following the game,” said Robinson. “The picture hangs in my office to this day.”
Robinson added, “I was so proud of the students and I was glad the sport management program was able to contribute to the effort. I think it helped forge a relationship with the UD Athletic Department that exists to this day.
“Students who were that day have gone on to do great things in the sports industry as well as in other professions. When we met in class the following week, we talked about the experience and the planning process of the Athletic Department and the importance of the game being played. This was no simulation it was the real thing. I told them that this was something they would still remember 10 years from now. Those 10 years passed rather quickly.”