UNC-Pembroke drive revives football

Julia Vail

PEMBROKE, N.C. – After a hiatus of over 50 years, the football program at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke is up and running again, thanks to a successful $4 million capital campaign.

The university, founded in 1887 to train American Indian teachers, had a football program in the 1940s, says Sandy Waterkotte, vice chancellor for advancement.

“At that time, American Indians were not even allowed to get a higher education,” she says.

Because of widespread prejudice, she says, “the football team had a hard time finding people who were willing to put them on their schedules.”

After being shelved in the early 1950s, the football program is getting off the ground once again with a new field house funded by the campaign.

The fledgling Braves just finished their second season in November, winning nine of their 10 games.

The university launched its first capital campaign in 2005 to raise money for a facility to provide the team with space needed for lockers, offices and equipment.

Construction on the field house was completed just before the Braves’ first game in fall 2007.

Some of the biggest contributions to the campaign included $500,000 from the Lumbee Guaranty Bank and $750,000 from Bob Caton, a resident of Lumberton, N.C., whose name now adorns the field house.

In April 2008, the university received a $1 million gift from Marvin Johnson, president and CEO of House of Raeford Farms, a poultry-processing plant in Raeford, N.C.

Johnson, whose gift pushed the campaign past its $4 million goal by $200,000, requested that the university name its football stadium after his late wife, Grace.

Chancellor Allen C. Meadors developed the idea for the campaign when he noticed the community’s interest in reviving the defunct football program.

“Ten years ago when he first came here, one of the first things he heard from people was, ‘When are you going to start football again?'” Waterkotte says.

Meadors agreed to launch a campaign when enrollment at the university hit 4,000.

The number of students at Pembroke hit that mark three years ago, and since has grown to roughly 6,000.

Led by an eight-member volunteer committee, the campaign sparked unprecedented community involvement, Waterkotte says.

About six in 10 donors to the campaign had never made a donation to the university before.

Though the campaign ended last year, the university is still raising money to construct a brick walkway around the stadium.

Building on the success of its first campaign, the university plans to launch its second campaign in a few years to fund academic programs, Waterkotte says.

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