Live from Andrus Field, it’s Saturday night. From the moment of kickoff at 6:00 p.m., Sept. 21 will be long remembered as a historic moment in the history of Wesleyan athletics as football takes on Tufts in the first-ever night football game in NESCAC history. By Sunday morning, festivities will be over, the tailgate will be cleared out, and Usdan brunch will be served. Most importantly, though, this game will be a part of Cardinal lore.
According to Head Coach Mike Whalen, the mastermind behind this plan, this season seemed like the perfect time to execute such a bold mission.
“Halfway through last season I was almost finished with this year’s recruiting class, and we had three local players on the roster,” Coach Whalen explained. “So I was thinking of ways to engage the local community. [Night games] are something that a lot of Ivy League schools do on a regular basis, so I approached President Roth with the idea and we had it set.”
The nightcap between Wes and Tufts will be the culmination of Middletown Day this Saturday, which will include games, food, and live music at the Freeman Athletic Center, as well as home games for the men’s soccer, women’s soccer, field hockey, and rugby teams throughout the day. All events will be free of charge.
As Whalen described, this is all a part of a larger effort to reconnect with the Middletown community through athletics.
“Back in the ’60s, and even into the ’70s, there was a strong level of support from the Middletown residents for Wesleyan football,” he said. “And these festivities give us the opportunity to showcase our athletic facilities and some of our teams.”
While the game itself has generated quite a bit of buzz around campus and throughout Middletown, Captain Kevin Hughes ’14 noted that the Cardinals won’t let any of the grandeur of the event distract them from picking up a season-opening victory.
“Personally, I am grateful for the opportunity to play in the first night game in NESCAC history,” Hughes wrote in an email to the Argus. “I am honored to be able to take the field under the lights and represent Wesleyan football in this historic game.”
Hughes noted that the team will practice under the lights prior to Saturday’s game.
“We prepare the same way every week regardless of the opponent,” Hughes added. “The only difference this week is that we are practicing at 7:00 p.m. on Friday before the game on Andrus Field so we can get acclimated to playing under the lights.”
The stipulations of the night game present a unique opportunity not only for the coaches and players, but also for those broadcasting the game to the Cardinal faithful who will not be able to attend the game.
WesPregame, an online Wesleyan sports show, will be documenting the action from the lofty heights of the broadcast booth. As the show’s executive producer Eric Lopez ’15 describes, this opportunity holds immense meaning for him as both a journalist and a fan.
“As a fan of Wesleyan football, I think the night game is the best thing the program could have done to not only showcase this incredible campus but also to declare to the rest of the NESCAC that Wesleyan is here to win,” Lopez said. “You get a recruit, alumnus, or parent pumped by doing what no one else has ever done, and Athletic Director Mike Whalen, a huge WesPregame supporter, is showing that he will do what it takes to get this program to the top.”
Entering his fourth season at the helm for Wesleyan, Whalen has taken great strides to redeem the Cardinals as one of the powerhouses of the NESCAC. Whalen noted that he is optimistic that his players will not forget how far they have come.
“I’m curious about what we learned from our three defeats last season,” Whalen said. “They were three competitive losses against some of the best teams in the conference. I’m a big believer that as you build a championship team, learning from a painful experience like losing to Trinity in overtime last season can pay dividends.”
Starting the season in such a monumental fashion gives the Cardinals the difficult task of finishing even stronger. They will look to trounce Tufts and make the statement that the night game won’t be the only history that Wes makes this year. This Saturday is shaping up to be an exciting day for players, coaches, and broadcasters alike, but it also should prove to be a celebratory occasion for the fans.
“This will be an electrifying experience that the entire Wesleyan community will rally around,” said Alex Nunez ’14, an on-air personality for WesPregame. “Walking around campus, you can just tell there is so much buzz surrounding the event. I think every Wesleyan student will be a football fan on Saturday.”
Whether you’re a first-time attendee of Cardinal football or a regular fan, Hughes’ advice rings true for everyone on this historic occasion: “I would say, start tailgating early.”