September 5, 2012

Nice to be home, but Bears can't stay

There’s no question Merced hit a home run on Friday night.

It seemed everyone came away raving about the Bears first on-campus home football game. Reading comments online and on Facebook, Bears fans are ready to play every game on campus.

Merced athletic director Scott Winton said the reaction he received was overwhelmingly positive.

“Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, for some reason the expectation was really low,” Winton said. “Most fans thought they’d be watching a game in a pasture with headlights lighting the field. Thanks to the hard work of our maintenance and custodial staff our playing surface was second to none. The fan proximity to the action and the overall vibe at the game was really special.”

It was a big night for Merced, and not just because the team put on a good show in a 45-41 win over Downey.

The decision Merced administration made to host a Friday night game on campus instead of playing on Thursday night at Veterans Stadium was the right choice. According to Winton, Merced doubled their money at the gate and tripled the money earned at the concession stands compared to the two Thursday night games the Bears hosted last year. All of that money goes back into the Merced athletic fund.

Here’s what Merced fans don’t want to hear: It’s unlikely we’ll see many on-campus games in the future.

“The problem with that field is it takes too many man hours to set up,” Merced Union High School District Superintendent Scott Scambray said. “That site is not designed to host a game.”

Scambray said he didn’t have a problem with Merced hosting the game. He said Winton and Merced principal John Olson suggested the idea last spring. However, Merced can’t go around collecting bleachers from other schools every week to put together a make-shift stadium.

It’s not just the seating. In order to keep the field in good shape for the game, the football team had to practice elsewhere. “Our practice facility is not ready for that,” Bears head coach Rob Scheidt. “We had 150 guys from all three levels almost practicing on top of each other to stay off the field.”

Here’s the challenge for Merced.

One of the big reasons for the great atmosphere was the hundreds of Merced students in the crowd.

In order to help create the atmosphere and make Veterans Stadium feel more like home, Merced has to find ways to get more students to travel across town.

According to Winton, 2011 football ticket sales were down 50 percent from 2010.

Maybe it’s time to get some rooter buses to shuttle students who can’t find other transportation.

Dress the stadium up more with banners and signs on Friday nights.

“The stadium was made neutral as possible for that reason,” Scambray said. “They have to work to make it exciting and enticing to get the students over there.”

Hopefully Friday’s experience was a good start.

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