Shepherd University Athletics will officially announce the kickoff of the Shepherd University Athletic Club (SUAC) with a FREE launch party on Friday, September 14, at 6pm, at the Smallwood and Small Pavilion within Ram Stadium on Shepherd campus.
SUAC is a volunteer membership organization dedicated to supporting the student-athletes and athletic programs at Shepherd University. The mission is to create opportunities that will directly contribute to the overall goals of the university’s intercollegiate athletics program while establishing an organization that will provide sustained levels of engagement and financial support for all men’s and women’s varsity teams.
Whether through executing fundraising efforts or identifying in-kind donations, the intent is to provide resources that allow all varsity sports to compete at the highest level possible.
“Clubs like this are a best practice, especially on the D-1 level and some large D-IIs,” said Chauncey Winbush, vice president for athletics at Shepherd.
A homecoming of sorts, Winbush was a standout on the Ram football team from 1990-93, and was inducted into the Shepherd University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. He made his way back to Shepherd professionally in July, 2016, after serving as the senior associate athletic director for business services at the Naval Academy Athletic Association (Annapolis, MD), where he’d worked since 2001.
“Those types of programs all have some sort of membership club that will hopefully drive fundraising or revenue generation,” he added. “I knew when I got here, we didn’t have anything like this up and running. There were a few smaller initiatives, but I thought it was important for us to try and figure out a large club idea.”
In just over a year, the Club has produced a comprehensive website and a growing board of 18 alumnae. “At the end of the day, it’s really about a group of volunteers who have a passion for Shepherd athletics and want to see it grow,” said Winbush. “The only way we’ll be able to do that and get better overall is through philanthropy.”
From a budget standpoint, Winbush has calculated around $10 million in needs. “When I arrived a couple years ago, I looked at several things: where are we from a budget standpoint, a scholarship standpoint, and a facilities standpoint,” he noted. “In looking at a facility needs standpoint, I calculated that number based on new field turf, a new weight room, lights for all of our facilities, locker room upgrades, a new tennis court surface, and more. Obviously, we drill down on immediate needs beneath that number, but that’s how we’re looking at it.”
Of particular importance to Shepherd is a new weight room. To put it into context—with 300 or so student athletes on campus, the current weight room basically resembles the D.C. beltway during rush hour. “You can imagine, there’s only twenty-four hours in a day, and if you’re talking about an hour or more workout, to be able to get that many kids, or even half that, into the same space around games, practice, classes, meals, etc., is extremely difficult,” said Winbush. “Presently, our football team works out in four different segments during the day. Then there’s soccer, volleyball, basketball, and on and on. We’re just space deprived; we have teams working out at ten o’clock at night. To have my student athletes in here that late when they need to be studying or sleeping makes it tough, and we’re working to change that.”
In the planning stage at this point is a 10,000-square-foot Student Athlete Center—a stand-alone facility that will include not just weights, but an indoor area for speed training. “But we also have another idea about expanding the current weight room at the Butcher Center and building that out, which would create another six thousand square feet,” Winbush explained. “And then field turf and locker rooms after that, even if we have to piece-meal the process.”
“Every university that takes athletics seriously has a separate fundraising organization component, so we decided why not us?” said Eric Lewis, a former Shepherd football player who graduated in 1995. “I just wanted to do anything I could to help—especially already being on the board of governors and being able to provide a type of liaison role through the board, providing some financial knowledge, and basically making sure the board understands and values the true impact of athletics as a gateway to enrollment.”
Lewis is both inspired and motivated by the endeavor. “There’s a lot of energy in the group, a wide range in age and experience, and I’m just motivated to get the message out. Shepherd has seen a steady decline in state funding over the years, and that’s what makes this club even more important. As we get the word out, we’re even more reliant on donors and partnerships and corporate advertisers than ever before.”
Former Shepherd three-sport standout and Hall of Fame inductee in 2000 (1995 graduate) Scott Bradford-Doleman joins Winbush, Lewis, and the rest of the SUAC membership team, currently serving as its president. He believes there’s no time like the present. “I was extremely excited when the idea was initially pitched and felt then, as well as now, that this is necessary for the long-term success of Shepherd Athletics,” he emphasized. “The vision that this group has cast and the execution during our infancy stages is very encouraging, and has provided a mere glimpse of our lasting potential.”
In order for Shepherd to continue to compete at a very high level in all sports, it simply needs to enhance, expand, and modernize its athletic fundraising efforts, Bradford-Doleman believes. “It is beyond remarkable what has been accomplished over the years as we’ve certainly mastered how to do a lot with a little. The takeaway for the thousands that have an affinity and appreciation for all things Shepherd is that we need their support annually and at their highest level to help improve facilities and increase our athletic scholarship giving and the overall athletic budget.”
Bradford-Doleman also pointed out that Shepherd Athletics is fast-approaching a significant transition. “It’s an exciting time for Shepherd—the timing and launch of the SUAC couldn’t be more critical as we prepare to join the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) next year—one of the premiere NCAA division-two conferences in the nation.”
One thing the public should take particular note of is how the SUAC allows supporters to choose which sport they want to support. “Each one of our sports will have a separate page on the website where supporters can give to the sport they choose,” said Winbush. “The goal is for all of our sports to be successful. Ideally, we want conference championships across the board; realistically, we know that’s probably not possible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for that.”
In the meantime, the public can strive to come out on September 14, and learn more about this next-best step for Shepherd University Athletics. “I would highly encourage people who are interested in helping to come out on the fourteenth,” urged Lewis. “Or if you can’t, get to the website and see what we’re doing and see how you can join and contribute in the way that makes the most sense for you.”Mike Chalmers