Lancer fans, alumni, students, etc have a lot more to celebrate this weekend then our Nation’s birth. At midnight on Sunday the Lancers will officially be apart of the Big South Conference. There are so many emotions I have for my alma mater this weekend: pride, happiness, relief, excitement… to say I’m experiencing these things would be an understatement. I came to Longwood in 2004, the same year our school started playing a Division I schedule. Farmville and Longwood were a very different place. There was no Longwood Landings, instead there was a 1950s strip mall where our bookstore was in between a ratty old gym and a liquor store. Willett Hall still had disgusting brown bleachers, the darkest brown floor you can imagine, and powder blue base lines with no logos. There was also very little school spirit and no pride attached to our athletic programs.
My freshman year was certainly I memorable for several reasons. I immediately latched on to the athletic department and the men’s basketball team. The team was hodge podge that year, a squad very much in transition that ended up going 1-31. That one win came on a December day, with the students gone, against Howard University. The only saving grace of that year is that another Division I independent, Savannah State, went 0-28 and kept Longwood out of the national spotlight. It was pretty unbelievable to be honest, I saw friends of mine like Lamar Barrett, Brandon Giles, and Dana Smith be thrown in the fray and compete against guys like Chris Paul, Jason Maxiell, Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Ronnie Price. I’ll never forget Brandon being on ESPN’s top plays for the wrong reason that year, as Maxiell volleyball spiked his shot about 20 rows up into the stands in Las Vegas. Perhaps the most deflating thing that I’ve ever experienced that year was losing at Hampden-Sydney. The ten minute drive down the road must have felt like a six hour road trip.
The next year you could tell that things were going to get better. We crushed Hampden-Sydney in the opener and beat Liberty visiting from down the road. Then came the game in Atlantic City against the number four team in the country in Villanova. I went up to AC and we had that game, there was a “questionable” (to put it nicely) technical against Kurt Williams and the Longwood bench in the second half that changed the face of that game. The real highlight of that year came against JMU late in the year. We won 77-73 because of the late game heroics of Brandon Giles and unveiled our new logo. It was the first time I remember Willett rocking and an actual sense of pride for the school and its athletic programs.
Since the genesis of DI status a lot really hasn’t happened on the playing fields. We’ve had celebrations for reclassification, which really didn’t mean much. We had wins, we had losses. We’ve talked to nearly every mid-major conference in the country ranging from the Great West to the MEAC. But we still didn’t have a home. In late February when other teams were gearing up for the excitement of conference tournaments, we’d just be sitting at home, season over, no closure. It was like every season was just an exhibition and we were just going through the motions. But this January everything changed. The campus has changed, the students have changed, the general pride for the university from its students has changed.
We now have something to be very VERY proud of and everyone should be. A lot of people worked very hard for this moment, Troy Austin, Mike Gillian, the whole athletic department, student-athletes, students, alumni, fans, the community, and countless more. I look forward to that pride rippling into the alumni. You should be proud of your school, you should be coming to games, there should be tailgates, road trips, local meet ups, and much more. I know that is coming and I look forward to it. I look forward to going to VMI and seeing the Lancers play a meaningful game in front of the corps. I look forward to going to Myrtle Beach and not knowing whether I’ll be there through the weekend or checking out the next day. And most importantly I look forward to the day I’m watching CBS, see #16 Longwood Lancers and immediately booking my plane ticket to Dayton or wherever else.
This is a weekend for everyone to celebrate, so please enjoy it. But when Monday hits everyone needs to focus on supporting the Longwood Lancers and helping all of our dreams finally become a reality. We aren’t that far off and you have A LOT to be proud of.
– Parks Smith, Class of ’08