For Frisco, title game a chance to shine
Published: Monday, January 10, 2011
Updated: Monday, January 10, 2011 02:01
FRISCO, Texas — When the Blue Hens arrived here Tuesday, they were met by all the staff members of their hotel, who were wearing blue and gold. They later went to a local elementary school, where the students, decked out in Delaware gear, held a pep rally for a team they had never watched play and had likely never heard of.
Throughout the town, stores and restaurants displayed signs welcoming the teams to Texas, and some even had hand-painted Delaware and Eastern Washington logos on their windows.
"Just the way the town has embraced us and how everyone's just so excited to have us, you can tell, this is genuine, and I think they've made a great impression on everyone," Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said.
The NCAA's decision to move the game from late December to January, as well as the town of Frisco's efforts, made the national championship game feel like bowl-game experience, Keeler said.
That is the exact effect the city was trying for, said Frisco Mayor Maher Maso.
"This is my first experience to being around the players all week," Maso said. "They are so excited. That's what it's about for us, making sure they have the experience of a lifetime."
Frisco, a town located approximately 40 minutes north of Dallas, hosted the game for the first time this year, after Chattanooga, Tenn., played host to the championship for the past 13 years.
The city decided to bid in 2009 for the game, and won a contract to host it through at least 2013.
The fastest growing city in nation, Frisco has seen its population increase from 21,000 in 1997 to 110,000 in 2010. The entire area north of Dallas is expanding, Maso said, and Frisco's strong school system and easy access to highways draws people, especially young families, to the town.
The town relies heavily on tourism to support that growth, and Pizza Hut Park, the site of Friday's game, helps draw in visitors. Built six years ago, the 21,000-seat stadium is the home of Major League Soccer's FC Dallas.
City officials made an effort to involve the community in promoting Friday's game, and Maso said the residents responded well.
"The community has really come to embrace this," he said. "You have signs on IKEA and the parking garages. If you go around town to some of the restaurants, they've painted their windows with team colors. The byproduct of that is what the coaches and players are telling me, that they've never experienced anything like this."
Leslie Lane, the owner of Denim and Dazzle, a small women's clothing boutique on Frisco's Main Street, had blue and gold streamers hanging in her window, next to black and red ones supporting Eastern Washington.
"It's fun for everyone," Lane said Friday afternoon. "We're proud to have it here."
Earlier in the week, she dressed up as a Hens player while one of her coworkers dressed up as an Eastern Washington player.
"We don't favor either team, so that's why we did both," said Lane, though she did note that she is familiar with the First State from visiting family members in Smryna.
Down the street at Manny's Icehouse Grill, the lunch crowd trickled in past windows painted with Blue Hens and Eagles. Co-owner Richard Galvan said he was happy to support the game. The town held a contest storefront window decorating contest, and the winner will win $400, he said.
"We were trying to get some pom-poms to put on the building," Galvan said. "But next year, I'll be more prepared."
The town's efforts did not go unnoticed by either team.
"When we went to the little elementary school and how the little kids embraced us, screaming their lungs out for us, and they don't even really know much about the University of Delaware, it's just a great blessing seeing everybody welcome us here," Hens running back Andrew Pierce said.
Eastern Washington was also treated to the same attention.
"It's been wonderful," said Eagles linebacker J.C. Sherritt. "Everybody at the hotel to the elementary school, it's been really professional and well done."