This Weekend's Division III Soccer Events Will Put Salem Over the Century Mark
When the City of Salem’s top administrators empowered Carey Harveycutter and others to enhance the city’s sports profile by attracting the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl way back in the early 1990s, no one envisioned the city would host 100 championships in just 30 years.
“This is beyond anything we could ever have imagined,” Carey Harveycutter, Salem Tourism Director said. “We knew we could give the Stagg Bowl a first-class experience, but we also knew that wrestling it away from its sunny home in Bradenton, Florida would take some doing.”
Back then, Mayor Jim Taliaferro was anxious for Salem to take advantage of its outstanding facilities and become a serious player in the budding sports tourism game. He emphatically told city staff to not only enter the Stagg Bowl sweepstakes but to win the top prize.
“We thought we had a shot, because we were right in the middle of many of the Division III schools up and down the east coast,” Forest Jones, Assistant City Manager at the time, said. “It was a matter of us selling not just Salem, but the entire Roanoke Valley, even as far down as Smith Mountain Lake. The NCAA committee members liked what they heard, and the rest is history.”
In December 1993, the city hosted the first of 25 straight Stagg Bowls and began building its reputation throughout Division II and Division III colleges and universities. Student-athletes couldn’t get enough of the city’s second and third helpings of southern hospitality, and almost overnight Salem became Virginia’s Championship City.
“We went after football and had no idea these other NCAA sports would have an interest in coming here and playing at a neutral site,” Jones said. “The people who came here for football, like Mount Union, would always stand up for us and say, ‘if Salem promises you something they are going to do it and do it first class,’ but never in my wildest dreams did I think we would see this many championships.”
Randy Smith and Jones occupied the city manager’s office in those formative years and proudly watched the entire Salem community embrace these NCAA experiences. Both men have since retired, but Harveycutter, now 71, remains. He has been the game manager or tournament director for each of the 99 NCAA National Championship events the city has hosted since 1993 in Division II and Division III and he will assume the same role again this weekend.
Salem’s partner through 80 of the D-III Championships has been the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. That relationship will continue this weekend at Roanoke College’s Kerr Stadium as both the men’s and women’s soccer titles are decided Thursday through Sunday. They will mark championships 100 and 101.
“The ODAC has been a proud partner in this process since the start,” Brad Bankston, ODAC Commissioner said. “Our former commissioner Dan Wooldridge was instrumental in attracting the Stagg Bowl here in 1993 and getting the ball rolling. Our partnership has positively influenced the Division III championship landscape and the ODAC's national profile."
Salem and the Continental Volleyball Conference hosted men’s D-III volleyball in 2021 during COVID-19 conditions. Those games were played in a very socially distanced Salem Civic Center in front of only select fans. The city also has entertained 18 Division II championships in this 30-year stretch with partnership assistance from the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, now known as the Mountain East Conference.
Once the soccer champions are crowned this coming weekend, Salem will turn its focus back to football and the place where it all began - Salem Stadium. In 2020, the NCAA officially asked Salem to host the 50th annual Stagg Bowl.
“Bringing the Stagg Bowl back to Salem for the game’s golden anniversary is tremendous for all of Virginia’s Blue Ridge region,” Harveycutter said. “We had unbelievable community involvement in this game for three decades, and I believe this is our way of saying thank you to the people and the businesses who made that incredible streak possible. We cannot wait.”
In April of 2017, the NCAA decided to move the Division III National Football Championship game out of Salem and play the contest at various sites around the country. Before that move, Salem had successfully hosted the annual title tilt for two and half decades. “The Road to Salem”, which became the battle cry for every Division III school across the nation during that time, will again be evident on Friday night, December 15, as a new champion is crowned on national TV.
SINCE 1993, SALEM HAS CROWNED 99 NCAA CHAMPIONS IN THE FOLLOWING SPORTS:
|MEN'S D-III BASEBALL
|MEN'S D-III VOLLEYBALL
|WOMEN'S D-II LACROSSE
|MEN'S D-III BASKETBALL
|WOMEN'S D-III LACROSSE
|WOMEN'S D-II SOFTBALL
|MEN'S D-III FOOTBALL
|WOMEN'S D-III SOCCER
|WOMEN'S D-III VOLLEYBALL
|MEN'S D-III SOCCER
|WOMEN'S D-III SOFTBALL
|WOMEN'S D-III BASKETBALL
City of Salem Tourism Director
City of Salem Communications Director