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Administration makes it possible for alumni, other organizations to travel with football team

Sports Reporter

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Updated: Monday, January 21, 2013 23:01

Sam Houston State football became familiar with travel this season playing eight of their 11 season games on the road. Even with long travel hours, Bearkat fans quickly adapted to long road stretches to see their favorite team play.

During the Division I FCS playoffs, SHSU President Dr. Dana Gibson collaborated with the athletic department to ensure alumni had an opportunity to travel to see the football team compete.

According to the president’s office selected donors and alumni, invited by Dr. Gibson, were allowed to travel on charter planes with the school to Montana and Washington, and were encouraged to make generous donations to SHSU and the athletic department.

“I think it all kind of started with Dr. Gibson wanting to make sure the band and the cheerleaders and Orange Pride and some fans that could go,” SHSU Athletic Director Bobby Williams said. “We kind of put together that extra plane.”

Jim Ferris, SHSU graduate of 1969 and former Sigma Chi, claimed he started following Bearkat football after seeing similarities with the 1964 team compared to Coach Willie Fritz’s squad.

“I started getting really interested in Sam Houston three or four years ago and I started watching the football team,” Ferris said. “It looked like the ‘64 team.”

Accompanied by his wife Tonya, Ferris traveled to Montana courtesy of the school and flew privately to Washington. According to Ferris, traveling with the band and Dr. Gibson was, although tiring, exciting to be a part of the football experience.

“It was honestly fun. [Dana Gibson] is full of energy. She’s a part of it. Her heart is in that school,” Ferris said.

As a former cheerleader for SHSU, Ferris claimed that traveling to games and the fan base has grown substantially since his time in Huntsville.

“When I was a student there, there weren’t that many kids. As a cheerleader we traveled with the team. It was nothing like it is now,” Ferris said.

SHSU currently has 110,000 active alumni with 60,000 in Houston and 16,000 in Montgomery County, according to Associate Athletic Director for External Operations David Paitson. During the football season, SHSU partners with four radio stations including 101.7 KSAM, 99.7 K-Star in Huntsville, and 610 and 790 on the a.m. dial in Houston to extend to the alumni. SHSU also buys spots through Comcast and Suddenlink to direct promotions to alumni in Houston and Montgomery County.

Although the Bearkats battled their way through conference for a consecutive appearance in the FCS playoffs, no direct advertisements on the radio or television was to promote the playoffs.

“We wouldn’t advertise anything unless it’s coming back to [Huntsville],” Paitson said. “Our focus was completely on our three home games.”

But, despite the small numbers of fans that traveled to Montana and Washington, there was a positive reinforcement towards the football team that helped them return to Frisco.

“If you have the visiting team behind you at a game like Montana State [and Eastern Washington] it can affect you; especially some of the things that can be commented at you,” Williams said. “I think there was a lot of good positive energy. Just being on the sideline you get a little anxious in that moment but the fans were still positive and the players were still positive.”

Fritz and company returned to Frisco looking to overcome North Dakota State in their second matchup for the FCS title. NDSU fans outnumbered SHSU fans in FCS Dallas Stadium and still had close to 7,000 fans without tickets that filled local bars and restaurants in Frisco to watch their Bison play.

“I think the more we do that and the more playoffs we can go to and get our fans used to that, the more we can build on that,” Williams said. “I think our fans are growing. They’re getting used to what it takes to play home playoff games and road playoff games.”

Despite the loss, and despite being outnumbered, Ferris, a Bayton resident, remains positive for next season and is ready for a third consecutive visit to Frisco.

“We covered the United States. We went from one tip to the other tip,” Ferris said. “Sam Houston spirit is just like it always was. It’s a great school. I love the school.”

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