“For us, it’s all about the Division II game-day experience because this is what we wanted our students to experience,” said Shorter Athletic Director Bill Peterson said about the showdown that is also the GSC-TV Live Game of the Week broadcast. “To have an in-state rival that has won national championships — it will be a challenge but it’s an exciting challenge.”
The challenge also goes beyond what will take place on the field that night, one that Shorter has also dubbed “Championship Thursday” as those teams that won national and conference championships during the 2011-12 athletic season will be recognized.
For the Hawks themselves, preparing to meet the perennially potent Blazers — in its 30-year history Valdosta has won two Division II national championships — for the first time ever also presents the challenge doing so in a much-shortened week.
“The turnaround is fast because you don’t have the normal time to prepare,” Shorter head coach Phil Jones explained about the changes the team has made to its practice schedule. “It’s a difficult routine but we try to make the routine as close to normal as possible.”
The Hawks (4-4, 0-2 GSC) wasted little time turning their attention to the Blazers (6-2, 3-1 GSC) hours after they returned home from a 49-7 setback Saturday at West Alabama, the team more or less held what is usually their Tuesday practice session with a light workout Sunday afternoon to immediately become familiar with what Valdosta St. does.
“The team is excited about it although they’re still hurting, not just physically, from Saturday’s game,” said Jones. “But the good thing about the short week is that they know they have to turn their attention to Thursday right away.”
Valdosta State comes to Rome fresh from a 59-41 romp over conference foe Delta State, but it is not the first time the Blazers have played in Barron Stadium having played in the historic facility in 1997 when they battled NCAA Division II power Carson-Newman in the Nick Hyder Classic — GSC members West Georgia and North Alabama also played in the event — at the facility.
Adding to the game itself will be the recognition of those Shorter teams that gave the athletic program championship performances last year.
At halftime Thursday night, being honored for their accomplishments will be three national team champions the school produced — the softball and men’s track teams won the NAIA titles while the cheerleading team won its third straight NCA title — and six members of the men’s track teams who claimed individual national crowns — Randy Dameron (400), Daniel Sorenson (steeplechase) and 4x100 relay quartet of Nigel Talton and SU football players Bradley Moon, Allen Huntley and Kirk Wilson.
Additionally, the men’s basketball team, the men’s and women’s cross country teams and the men’s and women’s track teams will be honored during the ceremony.
Throughout the night, of course, Shorter’s first conference home game will be the focal point of a television audience who will be introduced to the Hawks and the Rome community.
The game will be televised locally live on Comcast Cable Channel 35 (in high definition on Comcast Cable Channel 805 in the Rome and Atlanta areas) — ESPN will also provide live coverage on ESPN3 as well — and thanks to the CSS coverage of the GSC-TV Live Game of the Week more than six million customers in 13 states will be able to watch the game.
“We are really excited about Shorter’s first GSC home football game airing live on our GSC-TV LIVE Network, and the opportunity to show the extended southeast what a great town Rome is,” GSC Commissioner Nate Salant, who recently celebrated the 20th anniversary with the conference, said about the game. “Shorter’s administration consistently cited our television package as a major reason for the move to Division II and the Gulf South Conference, so it will be fun to see that ‘reason’ actualize for the first time.
“The downtown stadium venue adds to the atmosphere and makes the game even more of an event,” Salant added, “and the inclusion in our TV package sends a clear message of warm welcome to Shorter and its extended community. I can’t wait for Thursday.”