Op-Eds

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Division III Sports: That's Entertainment

Alert drivers in Altoona and Huntingdon and Cambria counties (as well as Centre and Somerset counties) no doubt have seen our Juniata College billboards with the tag line "Real Students Playing Real Football."

A bold statement here in Lion Country, where Joe Paterno is venerated for producing dedicated athletes for Penn State. But let me boldly propose there is more than one place to see great sporting events in central Pennsylvania. You see, we are supremely proud of our student athletes on the football field and in our 18 other sports, and we think we have a pretty entertaining product to sell.

The quarterback pictured on our billboards is Greg Troutman, a sophomore from Meyersdale in Somerset County, who threw for 25 touchdowns and 2,799 yards in his freshman season (both marks, place Greg second in school history to those set by Hollidaysburg native Joe Montrella). Football coach Kevin Burke has installed the Eagle Stretch offense, an exciting, no-huddle, ball-control passing attack that is a long way from the "three yards and a punt" image of Division III football held by fans who may never have seen a Division III contest.

Our coaches all support the college's philosophy of putting academics first. If faced with the choice of making a practice or attending a mandatory lab, our athletes go to the lab.

I invite you to see our high-octane team in action in our first home game Sept. 21 against Albright College. We do have a few advantages over the Nittany Lions. Our tickets cost $7 reserved seating and $4 general admission, traffic in Huntingdon is a bit lighter, there are no lengthy TV timeouts, our uniforms are more colorful and did I mention our parking is free?

Humor aside, Juniata is proud of its athletic tradition and even prouder of our athletes' dedication in the classroom. As you may not know, Division III athletes receive no scholarships, so our athletes really do compete for the love of the game. Our coaches all support the college's philosophy of putting academics first. If faced with the choice of making a practice or attending a mandatory lab, our athletes go to the lab.

Another selling point of our athletic program is its function as a collegiate showcase for central Pennsylvania athletes. Altoona's Lucas Kelleher, who graduated last year, excelled at two sports at Juniata. This year threefreshmen from Blair County, all recruited by men's basketball coach Greg Curley, will compete on our basketball squad.

Finally, Juniata remains a top showcase for a wide variety of sports. Our women's volleyball team, which, incidentally, features Altoonans Erin Wisor and Niki Mueller, as well as Danielle Hart from Central High School, consistently competes for the Division III national championship. Juniata's tradition of success in women's volleyball, where coach Larry Bock recently recorded his 900th career victory, is rubbing off on our men's and women's soccer teams, the women's swim team and the rest of our sports teams.

Our students compete for Juniata teams not because they have to in order to remain in school, but rather to experience the camaraderie and thrill of advanced competition beyond high school. Additionally, competing for Juniata actually helps focus our athletes' study habits -- more than a dozen of our players have been honored for academic achievement in the past several years including 2002 volleyball all American Brandy Workinger who was just named the NCAA Pennsylvania Women of the Year based on both athletics and academics. Brandy competed with varsity athletes from all NCAA divisions in Pennsylvania for this extraordinary honor.

So, when you see that billboard picture of Greg Troutman looking downfield, arm cocked to deliver a touchdown strike, don't wonder why it is there. Instead make time to come see one of our games. I guarantee it will be exciting, and if by chance you have the opportunity, give one of our other teams a look. They are great teams comprised of great students and top athletes. We'll save you a seat.

Tom Kepple has been president of Juniata College since 1998. He is a native of Murrysville, Pa.