PRINCETON — For 10 years now, Marshall University fans have been gathering annually at the Chuck Mathena Center in Princeton, sporting green in their wardrobes and smiles on their faces.
Tuesday evening was no different, as a crowd of more than 100 sat down to dine, and to talk Marshall athletics, during the Mercer County stop of the Big Green Coaches Tour.
“It’s awesome,” said recent Marshall graduate Mackenzie Akers of Princeton, “especially being an alumnus, now … seeing how many people ‘bleed green,’ like I do.”
“I am so proud to say that I’m a daughter of Marshall,” said Akers, who played basketball for the Thundering Herd after an all-state career at Princeton Senior High.
She said, “Speaking as an athlete, the support and the loyalty of all the Marshall plans helps you play better and be motivated. I wanted to make people from my hometown proud.”
Athletic scholarship money, generated in events such as the Big Green Tour, helped pay her way through Marshall, from which she obtained a nursing degree.
“I don’t have any debt,” she said. “It means so much. I’m very appreciative of their support.”
Marshall athletics director Mike Hamrick, who has held that post for 10 years now, made his usual trip to Princeton and talked to dozens of MU fans after a few minutes with the media.
“This is a big region for us, a big area,” Hamrick said. “We’ve got a lot of alums in Mercer County, and up into Beckley and down this way. The reception’s always good. Great people. They love their university.”
Football coach John “Doc” Holliday, a top drawing card for the Princeton event, said, “It’s all about us giving back to them. They’ve supported us, throughout the years, (and) as coaches, it gives us a chance to get back into the communities throughout the state and thank them for all they’ve done for us.”
At the head table in the Great Hall of the Mathena Center was the latest booty from the football wars, a wooden “pirate’s chest” complete with pearls and coins. The unique table setting is the winner’s trophy for the Gasparilla Bowl, which Marshall won in December in Tampa, Fla.
On the other side of the head table was the championship trophy of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, which the Thundering Herd men’s basketball team won in a 4-0 sweep in March at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.
Men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni, who played high school ball in Mullens, said about his program, “We’ve had great success. We did it with some West Virginia kids, and we want to continue that. We still have some West Virginia kids there. They’ll measure up; they’ll bring the game to the table. We’re looking forward to some exciting, some fun, basketball at Marshall.”
Trey Aliff of Princeton, a 2008 Marshall graduate, said, “No matter where you go, throughout West Virginia or even in the surrounding states, you always find Marshall fans. (They’re) everywhere.”
He was appreciative of the turnout by the coaches, the director of athletics, fundraising officials and the night’s master of ceremonies, the radio “voice of the Herd,” Steve Cotton.
Aliff said, “It’s great that they reach out to our fan base all across the area, not just in the tri-state area. I think a lot of them appreciate that, and it (means) loyalty to the program.”
Aliff performed in Marshall’s marching band for three years, on the drum line.
“We went to a lot of the away (football) games, and every home game,” he said.
“Then, I’ve been a season ticket-holder ever since the year I graduated. I’ve probably missed only five games in the last 11 years.”
When the schedule is released, he said, “We look forward to it every year. It’s on our calendar. We block out every home game, and usually try to go to one or two away games every year.”
Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Marshall’s home football facility, is “awesome,” he said. “It’s probably one of my favorite places on earth, to be honest.”
His wife Jessica was holding their 15-month-old son James, who was, of course, wearing a child-sized Marshall football jersey.
She said, “It’s a great experience to be here. My husband is the Marshall alum, so I’m ‘Marshall by marriage.’ But it’s a great experience every year for us to come and be with all the fans and meet the coaches. And get pictures of the kids with the coaches.”
Hamrick noted that Holliday is 6-0 in bowl games as Marshall’s head football coach, and D’Antoni got the Thundering Herd into the NCAA tournament in 2018, the year before the most recent postseason run.
Hamrick said, “They’ve both done a great job. I was fortunate enough to be able to hire them both – both West Virginia natives. … I knew that bringing them both in, that they would have a passion for Marshall, and for the state of West Virginia. I knew they would do a great job.
“We’re starting to get up there in years, a little bit, all of us. But the energy and the passion, I know, in me it hasn’t subsided. And I know it hasn’t when I watch them. The energy and the passion they have, and what they want to do for Marshall, is as strong as it’s ever been. It’s got to make you feel good.”
— Contact email@example.com