On September 6, 2013, 2,634 fans witnessed the first ever night game at Hameline Field. The Merrimack Warriors eked out a 42-41 victory on that occasion, but those lights mean a lot to many student-athletes.
By Cormac Gordon / Photo by David Saffran
It was a landmark evening on campus.
Not just because of the startling dusk-pink skies, either, or the changing leaves and electric views across the Narrows.
On this night, Wagner would host Sacred Heart University in the first Northeast Conference soccer game played under the new lights that now tower over Hameline Field.
And nursing student Sydney McCarthy ’15 was excited.
Like many fellow team members studying in the nursing and physician assistant programs, McCarthy’s days are crammed with class work and off-campus clinical sessions.
Soccer practice is not priority No. 1.
“A lot of players used to miss [practices] because of their classes and clinical schedules,” the scrappy midfielder was saying after the Seahawks defeated SHU 5–2 on the Friday evening in early October. “It affected the way we played. For us, this has changed everything.”
McCarthy is a perfectionist by nature.
“She has that extra something,” is longtime Wagner coach Mike Minielli’s take on her. “Sydney’s a very, very competitive kid.”
That personality trait explains McCarthy’s meticulous approach to preparation for the night game.
“The ball comes at you differently at night under the lights,” she explains. “You have to get used to the way it looks when it’s in the air.”
But once you get the feel?
“It’s great,” she declares.
In fact, the new lights have been an improvement in ways the junior had never imagined before they were there.
“Everything is so much easier for us now,” she points out. “We can practice at night after classes. We don’t have to worry all week about not being able to be there.”
But improved team scheduling isn’t the only benefit of the $600,000 project.
“More of our friends around campus can come to the games now,” she says. “And because we get to play on Friday nights, it’s more convenient for our families to come to see us.”
Then there’s the bottom line: “We’re a much better team because we can have everyone together more,” says Minielli. “And it’s more fun for the students. Plus, there’s no question there’s more energy for night games, and soccer is sport that thrives on energy.”
Soccer, maybe not coincidentally, had one of its best seasons in years this fall, setting school records for most overall wins (11) as well as most non-conference (7) and most conference wins (4).
But it isn’t the only sport affected in such a positive way by the alumni gift that has been years in the making — the foundations for the lights were installed seven years ago. Football and lacrosse, as well, have gotten a real boost from the scheduling flexibility and the practice freedom of added field time.
Lacrosse often practices at 6:30 in the morning. “Sometimes, we’d have to wait for the sun to come up,” says coach Matt Poskay.
Now Poskay simply hits a switch.
“It’s brought a whole new dimension to campus life,” associate athletic director Peg Hefferan said while watching the win over Sacred Heart on the picture-perfect Friday evening.
That, according to involved alum Marc Lebovitz ’91, was the goal.
Lebovitz, a long snapper on the Division III national championship football team of 1987, helped with the fundraising effort for the lights.
He comes from the era when Wagner football was practiced on the old baseball field where Foundation Hall now stands.
There were no lights for evening games, and no turf football field that could be used for practices without fear of tearing up the grass. There was no was no real locker room, either; just some cramped space in the basement of tiny Sutter Gym.
“It’s always been about the students,” says the College Board of Trustees member and president of Romark Logistics. “Just like the turf field and the new scoreboard, the idea was to accommodate the needs of the student-athletes.”
The light towers have also made life easier for Walt Hameline, and not just in his role of football coach.
“The biggest change is in the time allotments for the various activities,” says the College’s athletic director. “Now students aren’t rushed when they come to practice. They can get there early to work out, and stay late if they want to.”
For Wagner athletic team members, the new field availability has even caused something of a buzz on campus.
“All the kids have been talking about it,” says McCarthy, the soccer player. “Everyone loves it.”