ARTICLE OF THE DAY

Building a winner
by Brian North
4/06/05


This weekend I was in St. Louis for the Final Four. The games were great, and UNC's win over Illinois was certainly entertaining, but the most impressive thing I saw was the Arch. You know the structure I am talking about. The Gateway to the west, the big parabola on the Mississippi River. It stands 630 feet high and took two and a half years to build. It was an architectural marvel erected in 1965 to commemorate the United States expansion into the west in the 19th century. It is a beautiful thing to behold, simple and sleek on the outside, a testament to planning and hard work on the inside.
 
The Arch cost 13 million dollars to build and is one of the most recognizable monuments in the United States. The builders had to use slide rules for their mathematical measurements that were so precise, even the smallest error would have meant disaster. The foresight of the architect Eero Saarinen to see into the future and to have his design stand the test of time is certainly something to applaud. The tram system that hauls the small cars of five people to the top still works flawlessly (although they are a little cramped with our overweight society being a lot bigger that those people of the 60's). And the small windows at the top that let you look straight down, as well as 30 miles out to the east and the west will take your breath away.
 
Successful sports teams are like the arch. Built right with foresight and planning. Hard work instead of shortcuts make the product last. East Carolina is in the process of trying to build its sports programs to the  national level that will get the oohs and ahs that the arch does when you get that first glimpse of it. Terry Holland is the architect in charge. He has certainly made his presence known with some high profile changes. But I am sure it's the little things he is doing that no one sees that will determine whether Pirates programs become national fixtures. Just like an architect, Holland is doing the math, checking it twice. But building a monument takes time.
 
Location is a big key. The Arch is enhanced by the Mississippi River. The  success of ECU's athletic future will have a lot to do with what conference they play in. Conference USA has been serviceable, but it's not in the BCS, and therefore the Pirates miss out on valuable revenue that helps build big athletic departments. The landscape of college sports continues to change, and if ECU wants to be a player, they have to get in a better location.
 
But if that doesn't happen, then ECU will have to be successful where they are at, and that will take ingenuity. The Arch needed consistently tapered triangular pieces to fit exactly into place in gradual steps, culminating with the last wedge being put in at the pinnacle. All a visitor sees is the smooth stainless steel outside, they don't see the concrete and bolts on the inside that are the glue that holds the structure together. The Pirates  have to build a product on the field or court that take those steps towards success. The baseball team has been the best example of that, and although they have hit a tough stretch because of injuries this season, the overall structure of the program will not be hurt in the long run, because a good system of recruiting and coaching is in place, and Omaha is a realistic goal  that is not too far off in the distant future. There is a good foundation for the basketball team, and it will be interesting to see how Ricky Stokes builds on it. Skip Holtz is trying to figure out how the parts he has fit together on the football field, and his blue print is still a work in progress.
 
Pirate fans are passionate and want the gateway to the East to be completed yesterday, but remember, all good things are worth waiting for, especially if they are built the right way. Then you can enjoy them for a long time to come, and they will never go out of style.

Brian North
bnorth@wcti12.com