Soccer lights up the field

Yellow and blue helium balloons swept the sky after the newly installed soccer lights were turned on for the first men’s soccer home game of the season.

The University Administration wanted the lights to generate buzz, and they achieved that goal.

Not only were John Brown University students, faculty, alumni and parents in attendance but members of the Siloam Springs’ community as well. People of all ages filled the stands and outskirts of Alumni Field to support and cheer on the men’s soccer team.

For 32 years, the soccer lights were on the University’s agenda; however, other projects like the new engineering building and the performing arts center took precedence, pushing back plans for the lights to a later time.

“There are so many expectations and changes that all of us would like to make,” Steve Beers, vice president of student development, said. “Every year you are weighing one expectation against another. This is one of those good things that the institution would like to have been done earlier, but it always was in competition with spending money on other things, whether that’s an engineering building, a new performing arts center, a new gymnasium or upgrades to J. Alvin.”

The construction of the lights began in early May and finished before classes began. Foreseeing possible expansion to the soccer fields, the lights were placed in such a way that if the fields were turned from their current east-west direction to north-south, the poles are still in the right position said Beers and Robyn Daugherty, the director of the athletic department.

“I think we were just ready. The president and the cabinet and those working in athletics really saw this as a top priority. Because of some reserved funding that we had and some gifts, we were able to do it,” Jim Krall, vice president of university advancement, said.

The athletic department contacted parents of current and previous players, former soccer alumni, former athletic leaders and supporters of the Booster Club to give to the funding of the new lights.

The lights enable games to be scheduled later on in the day, preventing soccer players and the students supporting them from missing class.

“The main thing that was driving the installation of the lights was that we have a sport here, and we are asking our students to play in the middle of the afternoon,” Daugherty said. “If athletics truly is a rallying point on campus, how can that happen in the middle of the day when everyone else is in class? Academics was a big driver. Secondly, we just wanted a better atmosphere for our students. Nighttime makes sense. Without football, can soccer become this atmosphere?”

Enabling the student body to attend was not the only benefit. Allowing the Siloam Springs’ community to attend as well was another advantage.

“We believe that if one of the roles for athletics on a small campus like ours is to generate community, to generate excitement, to be a rallying point of an institution, then it’s an event that’s a little bit more special, a little bit more inviting and a little bit more exciting,” Beers said. “Games under the lights just have a different appeal.”

“We’re very excited for this whole season that we’ll have night games, and many benefits to the whole soccer program will result because of the lights,” Krall said.