By Mike Barber, Daily News-Record
First Team All-ODAC George Johnson the high-flying Runnin’ Royals open their season with a game at midnight on November 15.
When Kirby Dean was a child, his mother used to tell him that nothing good happens after midnight. Dean is hoping to change that.
His Eastern Mennonite University men’s basketball team will tip off its season at the first minute possible – midnight, Nov. 15 – in a game against Lancaster Bible.
"There’s probably not another Division III team that can say they play before us," Dean said Wednesday.
The seventh-year coach said the NCAA calendar made Sunday, Nov. 15, the first date a team could play. Not wanting to schedule an extra Sunday game for religious regions, but hoping to start the season as soon as possible, Dean contacted Lancaster Bible coach Pete Beers.
And, after both men got approval from their school’s higher-ups, they scheduled the midnight meeting.
"I thought it was a unique opportunity to kick off the season," Beers said Wednesday by phone from Lancaster. "I think any time you’re in Division III, you’re trying to find creative ways to make the experience unique and special. This is unique and special."
What kind of crowd can EMU expect with a tip-off that Beers admitted is "past my bedtime"? While the Royals’ retirement-community fans – generally a big part of the attendance at Yoder Arena – probably won’t be keen on the late-night game, Dean and EMU athletic director Dave King said they hope the time does attract a large student crowd.
"I think it hypes the season," King said. "It creates a lot of excitement. Kids are going to be up and into it. They’re going to be up anyway."
What about the players?
"I can’t speak for everybody, I know I’m going to be up just like it’s 6 in the afternoon," EMU point guard George Johnson said. "The excitement and the adrenaline … It’ll probably hurt the next day."
Beers, who said his team will probably make the nearly three-hour trip to Harrisonburg during the day Saturday, then take a nap, echoed that sentiment.
"I think the adrenaline from being the first game will probably keep us going," Beers said. "We’ll pay the price the next morning."
The usually outspoken Johnson said there is excitement on campus for the Royals’ year, but he didn’t want to make any bold predictions Wednesday.
"Last year I ran into this problem where I said we were going to do this and do that," Johnson said. "Then we got down into the ODAC and I stunk it up. This year, we have the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been here. I think we’re going to be way better than last year. I’ll just leave it at that."