LHU Football ‘Gray Eagles’ Boosters continue to grow

Hubert Jack Stadium, home field of the Lock Haven University Football Bald Eagles. The LHU Football ‘Gray Eagles’ Boosters have been implementing ways to add funding to the program. (Photo courtesy of Lock Haven University Football)

LOCK HAVEN — The 1979 Lock Haven Football Team is immortalized among those aware of the history of the university’s athletic program. The Bald Eagles went 9-2 under head coach Jack Fisher that season, en route to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title, the last such title the program has claimed.

Nearly four decades later, members of the ’79 squad are remembering the past by helping to pave the way for a brighter future for Bald Eagles Football.

“The Haven is someplace really special,” John White, a Lock Haven football player from 1976-80 said. “It was my last college I looked at. I went out there and met some of the best people in my life there. It’s just a magical place when I go back.”

White is an officer and founding member of the Gray Eagles, an LHU Football booster organization. The group, which was spearheaded in 2017 by White and three of his former teammates, will help enshrine five new members into the program’s football hall of fame, dubbed the ‘Grid Iron Greats’. This will take place prior to the home opener Saturday vs. Clarion, with a banquet to follow that evening (at 6 p.m.) at Haywood’s on the Green in Mill Hall.

Beyond honoring a handful of former Lock Haven football standouts Saturday, the Gray Eagles hope to use the event as a springboard to generate more funding to benefit the Bald Eagle football players of today, and tomorrow.

“It was really a bond of that 1979 team that is really starting to grow,” Lock Haven Football Head Coach Dave Taynor said. “They’re really wanting to get more alumni that really had a positive experience at Lock Haven University back and involved with the program, back and involved with the university, and really creating a positive atmosphere for our student-athletes in which they can flourish with their development on and off the field.”

The idea for the Gray Eagles stemmed from a stark realization that hit former ’79 championship team member Dave Hess when he served as Lock Haven’s honorary captain prior to a home game in 2016. Hess is well known in the region for his time as head football coach at Selinsgrove High School, which included a PIAA Class AAA title in 2009. While he was aware that Lock Haven football had struggled really ever since the championship team he was a part of, he did not fully understand how far behind the program was with funding.

Hess was informed that alma mater was last in the PSAC in available football scholarships and at the bottom in money raised. At that point, he wanted to know how he could help.

“I remembered my days at Lock Haven and how much I enjoyed them,” Hess said. “I got the fever and wanted to do some good things for some other kids and give them some opportunities they might not have.”

The lack of funding was one thing, but the lack of interest from football alumni in giving back to their program especially stood out to White.

“You’re the biggest sport on campus numbers wise and you give the least money of everybody,” White said, alluding to how other LHU athletic programs are able to generate money from donors at a more effective rate.

Hess and White, along with former teammates Bill Sementelli (treasurer) and Bob Narducci (secretary) then went through the steps of organizing the Gray Eagles. The group officially filed paperwork in March 2017 to become a 5013c non-profit.

The mission of the Gray Eagles is simple, to raise money to eliminate scholarship gap between Lock Haven and rest of the conference. All of the money the Gray Eagles generate goes directly to the football program.

To properly crowdfund, the group has worked tirelessly to draw a crowd.

“We developed a database of as much of the Lock Haven Football Alumni Base as we could,” Hess said. “The challenge is getting people who are different in age than us. We need some younger guys to get involved.”

Through the power of social media and the camaraderie that comes with football, the Gray Eagles have worked feverishly to publicize fundraising events. Between frequent golf outings, a cash raffle and silent auction, and the annual Grid Iron Greats Banquet, the group puts great emphasis on gaining new members.

“We think it’s going to be the power of numbers,” White said. “We are better than we were last year. Everyone who came to our events thought they were first class.”

White noted that last year the group raised roughly $29,000. Gray Eagles members pay a $100 annual membership fee. Currently the group has between 70 and 80 members, with some major room to grow.

Part of that growth will come from the group improving its ability to work with the university in this realm. That is where Patrick Guerriero hopes to be of big assistance.

Guerriero, who formerly served as Lock Haven Assistant Athletic Director, is a Gray Eagles member. He’s been involved with LHU football for over 30 years, and is incredibly pleased with the way the Gray Eagles have come together in such a short period of time.

“I have never seen a group of guys that’ve come together like this group of guys,” Guerriero said. “It’s something we’ve needed for a long time. If we’re ever gonna become a championship team, we need to raise the dollars.”

As the Gray Eagles strive to increase membership, there is great excitement surrounding the Grid Iron Greats induction ceremony. Two of Saturday’s inductees, John Spinosa (1992-95) and Maurice Walker (2001-04), played at Lock Haven long after the ’79 team won the conference championship. Garnering interest from players from those time periods will be key in the group achieving the membership numbers it desires.

While the ability to attract younger LHU football alumni is a work in progress, members of that ’79 team are confident that they have the right man at the helm of the Bald Eagles program right now.

“We believe in Taynor,” White said. “We believe he’s an excellent football man. We believe he can turn the program around.”

As Taynor leads his team into Saturday’s matchup with Clarion, members of the Gray Eagles will be in the stands of the newly renovated Hubert Jack Stadium, in hopes of witnessing the cultivation of the next PSAC contender to hail from ‘The Haven’.a.k.a. Lock Haven University.