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Abilene Reporter-News (Texas)
Things are getting brighter around Hardin-Simmons, as the school added lights to its football stadium, Shelton Stadium, and the HSU Soccer Complex while Hunter Field — the Cowboys baseball home — got a new scoreboard.
The upgrades are the latest for the Cowboys and Cowgirls and will allow the football and soccer teams to play night games. The football team has already moved its first two home games — against Howard Payne on Sept. 22 and East Texas Baptist on Sept. 29 — to a 6 p.m. kickoff.
"We had some individuals step up who said they wanted to see this as a reality," HSU athletic director John Neese said. "I think all of us are so excited about how different everything's going to look at Shelton this year. Obviously with the lights, our first two games will have a 6 p.m. kickoff, and that will be nice for our fans. Then you also look at the fact that we received a donation for a lift that will help some of our fans get up to the top areas of Shelton Stadium."
The stadium also will get new vantage points, when the new HSU Fitness Center is finished. The school expects to have an outside porch area for alumni and friends to watch the game. Other details are being worked out regarding the fitness center, including fans being able to watch games from inside.
"Shelton Stadium, over the last two years, has undergone quite a bit of transformation with the video board last summer and all of these things," Neese said. "It's obviously very exciting and something we're happy to see."
In the first season of the HSU Soccer Complex game fields in 2005, both programs won conference titles. The men's team won the conference tournament again in 2006 while adding NCAA tournament appearances in 2009, 2013 and 2014. The women's program has been a staple in the Division III tournament with appearances every year since 2004, including the Final Four this past season and a national championship in 2010.
But all those games came before nightfall. Starting this season, night soccer will return to HSU.
Neese said it was something the athletic department started looking into a year or two ago.
"It's been 14 year since we were last able to have night games for soccer," Neese said. "That's when we shared the facility at Shelton. We just really believed that this was something that would be a great first step in bringing back some of the atmosphere and environment that we had when we had night games for soccer ... and give Grape Street its own unique identity."
The ability to play night games during the week will not only allow for more fans to make it to the games without school or work getting in the way, it also allows HSU to reach out to local schools and get their soccer programs involved.
"I think having any kind of a night event on campus, there always seems to be an excitement that builds up to that event," Neese said. "We certainly anticipate that we're going to have more spectators because of the lights. We're already discussing ways to encourage the local soccer teams to come out and include them in some promotional events.
The addition of lights and option for night games does not necessarily improve HSU's chances of hosting American Southwest Conference or NCAA tournament rounds. The ASC hosts are determined by seeds while the NCAA usually puts geography at the top of the list.
But, if the Cowboys or Cowgirls do have the chance to host any tournament games, it gives them more options for game times to benefit all teams involved.
"It is a nice option to have, the ability to have games at night with the NCAA tournament," Neese said. "Most of the tournament games are played in the evening, so that helps if you're hosting cut down on missed class time. It does give us better options when we're chosen to host in the future."
Hunter Field history
The final summer improvement comes to the baseball field, where the scoreboard has been an issue for the past few years, six according to Neese, including major issues this past season. But with one donor stepping up, the Cowboys got a new scoreboard while honoring a part of Hunter Field history.
"We're just so fortunate to have someone like Gene Adams come forward," Neese said. "And it's a neat story, because Gene wanted to donate the money for the scoreboard as a way to recognize Dr. Jesse Fletcher when we was our president because he really played a major role in getting Hunter Field built ... making Hunter Field a reality back in the early 80s."
These improvements come on the heels of Shelton Stadium's new video board for the 2017 season and the new Streich Tennis Center opening in February 2016. There also is more to come as the fitness center nears completion. The track will be resurfaced before HSU hosts the ASC championships in the spring of 2019, and the short course for the golf team continues to be in development.
When there isn't scholarship money to entice a student-athlete, there are other things athletic programs must do, Neese said. One is to be competitive, while the other is have great facilities, which HSU continues to work towards.
"I think everybody on our campus, we all look at our facilities and look at what things we need to do to improve them and make them more attractive," Neese said. "It's a remarkable time for us. We're blessed because we've had people step up and say, 'We want to designate funding for these projects.' That's been very helpful. When you're Division III, there are a lot of things that can encourage a student to look at your university, and one of them is facilities. With all of these improvements over the last several months and that will happen in the next couple of months, I think that will help us in recruiting more students to our campus."
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