By Halley Harrell
Neither rain nor heat nor gloom of night could keep the University of Mary Hardin Baylor’s student body from attending the official student kickoff at Crusader Stadium on Sept. 19.
An estimated 1,200 people turned out to get a sneak peak inside the stadium and practice the new Cru spirit dance for the first home game ever held on campus. Campus Activities co-director Jeff Sutton emceed the event from the field.
“We are so excited for you to be here at the Crusader Stadium student kick off,” he said to the crowd. “You are a part of history.”
The festivities began Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 18, in Independence, Texas. Faculty, staff and students alike signed up to physically run the official game day football from the university’s original campus in Independence to the new stadium in Belton. Much like the Olympic torch, the game ball run symbolized both past and present.
The football journeyed 112.8 miles to reach campus. Students cheered and lined the road as senior student body president Collin Davies ran the final stretch. Following Davies’ lead, students flooded the football field for the first time in history.
As Crusaders ran through the tunnel and smoke onto the turf, they experienced what the team had in store for kick off each game. The Black Shirt Cru spirit band welcomed the students to the field.
Sutton gathered everyone to the 50-yard line where he and university president Randy O’Rear were waiting as Davies carried the football onto the field.
“Over 100 students, faculty and staff have carried this ball through the night, through the rain, through all kinds of roads to bring to us – to Crusader Stadium,” Sutton shared with the audience. “So as our past started in Independence, we will start a future here on September 21 in Crusader Stadium.”
As O’Rear accepted the game day ball from Davies, the crowd went wild. Rain began to fall, but spirits were far from dampened.
The university gave the students special T-shirts to commemorate the event. After a mad rush to get their souvenirs before the shirts ran out, students filled in the section of seats reserved especially for them on game days.
“No matter what the weather, we need you to fill Crusader Stadium and cheer on Crusader football,” Sutton said of the upcoming home game.
Head football coach Pete Fredenburg took the microphone and expressed his appreciation for the support. While the football team had the challenge of beating Wesley College at the inaugural game, Fredenburg encouraged students to accept their own challenge.
“I want to challenge us, you and I, fans and supporters of our football team. We need to make this place rock,” he said. “Think about it. You’re setting traditions, filled with emotion and excitement. This is our house!”
The Cru Cheerleaders and Saderbelle dance team led students in the official Cru Spirit Dance, a new tradition created especially for home games at Crusader Stadium.
Though practicing cheers at the student preview was exciting, Crusaders had even more to look forward to at the big game. UMHB director of marketing and public relations James Stafford shared that for the official stadium dedication on Sept. 21, 100 students would have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to unroll a giant American flag on the field during the national anthem. A pre-game flyover and fireworks show after the game were also set to celebrate the occasion.
“I cannot wait to see and hear and feel what that stadium is like full,” Stafford said. “We couldn’t have picked a better moment to have that game than when we had the stadium full of screaming fans. It’ll be excellent.”
Though predictions were that seats would be sold out, no UMHB student would be turned away at the gates.
“It’s a historic day and they all get to be part of it,” Stafford said.
Crusaders are thrilled to be setting so many milestones, and the student preview was no exception. Vice president for student life Dr. Byron Weathersbee was proud to see them enjoying the stadium for the first time.
“It was incredible. Disorganized chaos,” he said after the student kickoff. “The rain made it memorable … I think it was a big deal for the students to get to enter where the players enter and have the smoke, the band playing the fight song, and they got to enter onto the field in pouring down rain. It’s football.”