Apr 28, 2009
Fanning the Economic Flames
by Axel Cerny
One of the most prominent ways that the Liberty University effect can be felt on the surrounding area is through the vehicle of NCAA Division I athletics. Athletes at Liberty play at the highest possible level of collegiate competition in America. In fact, almost every American athlete that competes professionally had previous experience in Division I athletics, and the Flames are becoming more successful each year.
In the college sport that draws the most fans per game, football, Liberty’s program has soared since Coach Danny Rocco took over in 2006 following a 1-10 season. The year 2008 saw the Flames’ football team roll to a 10-2 record and took the Big South Conference Championship.
For the surrounding area, this has meant more and more customers in town, especially on Saturday afternoons. In 2005, football games at Liberty averaged 4,500 people in attendance. In the 2008 season, Williams Stadium saw nearly 13,000 people at each Flames home game, so those planning on getting a hotel room for a game next season, might want to make a call now. In fact, local hotels, such as the Wingate and Super 8, have had to put up the no vacancy signs often on Friday and Saturday nights when the Flames are at home., according to Director of Athletics Jeff Barber .
“We have a very positive effect in the surrounding community,” he said with confidence. “And the continued success of all of our athletic teams is only going to lead to better things.”
The Liberty Flames Club is one of the outlets that Barber is proud to point to when he explains just how the university is impacting the area. Obviously, there are many sponsors for games who put their signs on the outfield wall at baseball games or court-side at basketball games, but members of the Flames Club are men and women from the community (many parents) who give generally or toward specific branches of the athletics program. In 2005, the 90 members of the Flames Club raised $50,000, before Barber’s arrival to Liberty. In 2008, the group grew to 1,500 members, and raised
$1 million. The beauty of these donations is that they not only go toward funds for facilities and team equipment, but they also help put on the summer camps that many local youngsters in the area can attend to receive high quality and Christian instruction in the sport of their choosing.
So next fall when game day traffic has drivers banging their heads against the steering wheel, think of how thankful the businesses in the area are for the extra sales. Much of the nation is experiencing rough financial waters these days, but it is clear here in central Virginia, Liberty athletics is doing its part to stem the tide and provide some fiscal stability for the surrounding community.