WVU Director of Athletics Ed Pastilong and Assistant Athletic Director Whit Babcock, Executive Director of the Mountaineer Athletic Club, received a check for $43,127 from Charleston Scholarship Dinner Committee Chair Glenn Summers. All proceeds from the event are dedicated to scholarships for student-athletes.
The frequently noted success of football and men's and women's basketball served as an important main course for the dinner, but plenty of appetizers and dessert were served up with nine of 17 intercollegiate sports ranking in the Top 25 during the past season. According to Babcock, WVU ranked 31 out of 318 in a composite measurement of all NCAA athletic programs during the most recent collegiate season.
Babcock also noted that collegiate athletic departments focus on four core areas: compliance, academics, performance, and support. Initiatives underway to improve these areas at WVU include 1,200 square feet of academic study space at the Coliseum, and 5,000 square feet of academic space at the Milan Puskar Center for the football program.
Pastilong also noted that WVU spends in excess of $5.3 million each year on scholarships - a good investment when one considers that the Mountaineers lead the Big East in All-Academic Conference performers, and have over 300 athletes with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Among the student-athletes in attendance - many of whom spent the day visiting local Kanawha County elementary and middle schools - unanimous/consensus All-American running Steve Slaton was the brightest star. Tito Gonzales, Marc Magro, Owen Schmitt, and Ryan Stanchek were also in attendance for the football team. Representing men's basketball was senior center Jamie Smalligan and sophomore guard Alex Ruoff. Forward Tameka Kelly represented the women's basketball team.
Highlight reels were shown from varsity sports, as well as football and basketball. The men's basketball recruiting video was also unveiled for the first time at the event. The video traced the exciting rise of the surprising 2006-2007 cagers, featuring the victory over UCLA and the run to the NIT championship.
Presentations were made by several coaches and luminaries, including Gov. Manchin, Pastilong, women's basketball head coach Mike Carey, and a number of players from various sports. MSN play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi served as the evening's master of ceremonies.
During his speech, Pastilong said that he feels the University has its greatest collection of coaches in the school's history.
National men's soccer Coach of the Year Marlon LeBlanc - who arrived in Morgantown on the first day of practice - said that there is no reason for WVU coaching jobs to be a stepping stone. Instead, he sees WVU as a destination job for great coaches and expressed a belief that national championships are in the future of Mountaineer sports. "Why not us?" LeBlanc asked rhetorically, as his speech wrapped up to a standing ovation.
Men's basketball Coach Bob Huggins thanked Gov. Manchin, then thanked "...Eddie Pastilong for allowing me to come home, and I want to than Coach Beilein for accepting the Michigan job to allow me to come home." A passionate Mountaineer alumnus and former Academic All-American noted that in past coaching stops, he had scheduled practice around the broadcasts of Mountaineer football and basketball games.
Huggins noted that his new team was extremely well-coached in the fundamentals of basketball and very well-prepared by Coach Beilein, and that he looks forward to coaching the team. He vowed that his team will work hard and play hard every moment of every game. He observed that the team had no fear, and never seemed to be out of a game, always believing they could win. His remarks were emotional, as he was clearly thrilled to "be home."
Head football coach Rich Rodriguez emphasized the importance of the annual event, noting that he was a walk-on to the WVU football program and ultimately earned a scholarship "...funded by folks like you." He said he was proud of his team, but called for another round of applause for the "...Big East champions in Men's Soccer and Swimming."
Rodriguez expressed gratitude individually to a number of supporters, talked a little bit about the offseason, and exuded confidence in the upcoming season. Paraphrasing a quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw, Rodriguez finished the evening by saying "Some people see things and say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?" Echoing the sentiment of LeBlanc earlier, Rodriguez fired the crowd up on final time, saying "Why not us? Why not National Championships at West Virginia University?"