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.