Fans and players of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) field hockey and soccer will be greeted by a very noticeable change this fall – a set of bleachers more than doubling the seating capacity at home games.
The bleachers were purchased from James Madison University (JMU) earlier this summer and will place 1,000 fans right on top of the field.
Long-time men’s soccer coach Roger Mast, who spearheaded the acquisition and installation of the bleachers, is excited for the atmosphere the addition will provide.
“I’m thankful to JMU that they provided us with the opportunity to take advantage of their bleachers, which they were no longer using,” said Mast. “We’ve been looking to upgrade the turf field to more of a stadium-type feel for many years, so we’re very excited for that additional seating space.”
Already with a top-of-the-line synthetic playing surface, lights and some of the biggest home crowds in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC), the new bleachers succeed in creating an even better crowd atmosphere right at midfield and will continue to give the Royals one of the premier soccer/field hockey complexes in the ODAC.
Director of Athletics Dave King said Royals fans have been patient in the improvement process.
“Adding amenities such as bleacher seating and storage has been a goal of the university since the turf field was replaced in 2006,” King said, “but there always seemed to be more things on the priority list and spectators were willing to stand or sit in their lawn chairs. I am grateful that this opportunity came along for us and I’m sure our fans will enjoy being able to sit in a prime location to see the action.”
Last fall, the EMU soccer men were 18th in the nation, and fourth among ODAC schools, with a total attendance of 4,031 fans at 10 home games. The Royals averaged 403 per game, which was 19th in D-III.
“The community has been extremely supportive of us,” Mast explained. “In comparison to other schools within the conference, we’ve been able to attract some really good crowd support for our home games, and we hope that those attendance numbers might even increase now.”
The bleachers, which are 10 rows deep, had been used on the varsity soccer field at James Madison until this past year, when the school built a new athletics complex. With the original soccer field no longer being used for varsity games, JMU put the bleachers for sale at a reasonable price.
Eastern Mennonite researched their condition, including safety check records, as well as necessary city permits and the insurance implications of re-installing them on campus. After originally backing away from the project due to a lack of funds, EMU had a renewed interest this spring when funds became available.
“I am very thankful for the leadership and hard work that Coach Roger Mast gave to the project,” King said. “He and (Physical Plant Director) Eldon Kurtz are responsible for organizing the volunteer labor, engineering the plan for the move and carrying out the details. Roger nearly single-handedly took care of the re-assembling of the bleachers on our site. I’m grateful for his passion for the project and the leadership he gave. We look forward to putting these bleachers to good use as the fall seasons of soccer and field hockey begin in late August.”
This first home game on the turf field will be Sept. 7, when the women’s soccer team hosts Ferrum College. The men’s first home game is Sept. 11 against Lebanon Valley, while field hockey has their home opener Sept. 14 against Mary Washington.