By David Pickle
A program that built community enthusiasm around a nationally televised Fairmont State football game was announced Thursday as the 2010-11 winner of the Division II Community-Engagement Award of Excellence.
Fairmont State Athletics Director Rusty Elliott accepted the honor during the 2011 Division II Community-Engagement Workshop in Indianapolis.
“You’d be surprised,” Elliott told about 100 workshop attendees. “Once you get them on your campus, people say, ‘Hey, you’re not that bad!’ ”
Actually, the fans discovered that the Falcons were much more than “not bad.” The team put up a fight against highly ranked West Liberty State before losing, 43-23, and fans also discovered that the Falcons were exceptional neighbors.
The engagement was called “Put Your Best Fairmont Forward.” The nomination description said, “We wanted to show the nation that we are all about pride, community support and civic responsibility.”
Using the “Ideas that Work” section of the Division II website, organizers settled on a “Read and Feed” program in which fans attending the game would donate books and canned goods. Student-athletes themselves distributed the proceeds to the community at a later date. The Fairmont State SAAC executed that section of the engagement.
A larger goal was to elevate awareness about Fairmont itself.
“We wanted to emphasize that it was not just about Fairmont State,” said the nomination statement, “it was also about the city of Fairmont − it was our chance for the country to peek in and see our community.”
To increase attendance, the Fairmont State players went door to door throughout the community, visiting residences and businesses and asking citizens to attend the game.
To keep the event top-of-mind, with the help of Main Street Fairmont, the SAAC and Fairmont’s student government asked groups to decorate scarecrows that represented themselves (for example, a scarecrow dressed like a Falcon swimmer, another dressed in an apron to represent the culinary department, and so on). The scarecrows were placed throughout town, giving Fairmont State a visual presence in heavily trafficked areas in the weeks leading up to the game.
Finally, the planning allowed other entities to coordinate their events with the athletics department’s. For example, the Fairmont State Alumni Association hosted a social and student
government arranged for a band to play at a pregame tailgate party for students. Also, intramurals hosted pregame games and contests.
In addition to all of the social and familiarization benefits, the effort yielded one especially practical outcome: Attendance for the game was more than 5,000 – or more than double the attendance for a typical Fairmont State game.
“It was a rainy day, but people still showed up,” said Division II community-engagement consultant Rich Luker, who helped judge entries from across the country. “They wanted to see the guy who knocked on the door.”
Elliott said to expect more of the same in the future.
“Years from now,” he said, “if people see an elephant at one of our games, I don’t want them to be surprised because we want it to be a circus.”
In addition to a trophy, Fairmont State also was awarded $500.
For a listing of 2010-11 conference community-engagement winners, click here.