SALEM, VA. – Michelle Morgan, an assistant athletic director at St. Thomas, walked into the Salem Civic Center trailed by the crew from the Big Neighbor, the radio home of Tommies football.
Morgan saw Carey Harveycutter, the director of tourism for the city of Salem, and said: “Thanks for taking care of that problem for us.’’
Harveycutter expressed his appreciation for the thank you and said: “We’re here to help if needed.’’
The problem involved a pair of charter flights for Tommies fans that arrived on Thursday with the plan to leave after Friday night’s Stagg Bowl, the game that decides the NCAA Division III football title.
Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional is a small airport and the TSA stops staffing at 7 p.m. and does not reopen until 4:30 a.m.
This was brought to Harveycutter’s attention, and he called a long-time Congressman who used to serve this district and, soon, the TSA had agreed to have a couple of people on duty to clear the Tommies delegation for a departure to Minneapolis-St. Paul closer to midnight.
Chalk up one more gold star for Salem’s dedication as hosts to Division III championships. It was 1993 when the NCAA moved the Stagg Bowl to Salem and there has been no reason to move.
The city also has been home for 21 championships in men’s basketball in the Civic Center and the home for the Division III softball tournament at its Moyer Park complex.
Friday night’s football game between St. Thomas and Mount Union put the total number of NCAA championships held in Salem at 77.
It all started when Harveycutter, assistant city manager Forrest Jones and Dan Woolridge, the commissioner of the Old Dominion Conference, went to Marco Island for an NCAA convention to pitch moving the football championship to Salem.
“What we offered to the NCAA was a place to hold the game that was going to appreciate Division III for what it is … for the unique relationship between being a student and an athlete,’’ Harveycutter said.
It was wickedly cold and the wind was howling when Mount Union defeated Rowan on Dec. 11, 1993, when the first Stagg Bowl was played in Salem Stadium. The first 20 Stagg Bowls had been played in three different locations.
A visitor to Harveycutter’s anteroom in the Civic Center asked if there were second thoughts when the weather turned out so miserable in 1993. The ringing of his cell phone saved Carey from answering that question.
“Hello, Forrest,’’ Harveycutter said.
Pause. “They went to get their nails done.’’
Pause. “I’ll be here until 3 o’clock … so stop in and we’ll take care of that.’’
When the call was finished, Harveycutter confirmed he was talking to Forrest Jones, fellow visionary for Salem as the home to the Stagg Bowl.
As for the nails being done, Harveycutter said it involved the wedding of “his eldest,’’ daughter Taylor, which will take place Sunday at the Episcopalian church in Salem – the generational place of worship for Harveycutters, who go back five generations here next to the Appalachians.
Asked earlier in the conversation about his unusual last name, he said:
“As far as I can tell from my research, I am the last male Harveycutter. The name will go with me.’’
Any chance that your daughter will go for a hyphenation of her married last name? “She is not going to do that,’’ he said, with a smile.
J.W. Harveycutter was the first family member to settle here. “He was the telegrapher in Grant’s Army,’’ Carey said. “He was at Appomattox.’’
The last Mr. Harveycutter then paused and said: “That is what was found in his papers, anyway. As I’ve been told, people of that time wrote their own biographies.’’
The accounting of Salem and its relationship with Division III championships will need no enhancement when it comes to Harveycutter and the others that made the first sales pitch for their city.
“Much like your Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Roanoke and Salem have an interesting relationship,’’ Harveycutter said. “In this case, Roanoke is substantially larger – 95,000 to our 25,000 – and we are partners in many things.
“Salem is actually much older, dating to 1802, and we do want to have our identity. The Division III championships are a true source of civic pride. When we see photos and the TV highlights with those T-shirts, the ‘Road to Salem,’ from around the country … it is a wonderful feeling.’’