Redhawks gear up for colder climate

Friday, December 3, 2010
Southeast Missouri State University's Nathan Grass runs the ball as Tennessee-Martin's Runako Brown pushes toward him during the first quarter of a Homecoming game on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, at Houck Stadium. SEMO won 24-17. (Kristin Eberts)

Shoulder pads. Check.

Helmets. Check.

Long underwear. Checkmate.

The red-hot Redhawks are set to play in a cold and snowy climate when they face off Saturday against Eastern Washington University in the first round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. And Southeast Missouri State football players are getting some new equipment to survive the blustery Northwest conditions.

It's the first playoff berth in the history of the football program, so it's the first time the Redhawks have played after Thanksgiving and in temperatures expected to dip into the low 20s.

To prepare for the cold, the program has spent as much as $20,000 to outfit the team in undergarments and overgarments to keep players warm and safe, said Southeast athletic director John Shafer. Accoutrements include hooded capes, hats, gloves, hand warmers and other cold-weather gear for a warmer-weather football team that has traditionally been a basement dweller in its conference and has never had to deal with year-end postseason play.

"It is a good problem to have," Shafer said of the additional expense associated with boasting a conference-champion team. "We want our children to be comfortable and enjoy the experience."

Shafer said much of the added expense will be covered by the $50,000 in increased gate sales and concessions at Houck Stadium this year, the rewards of a successful program that went from 2-9 last year to 9-2 during an Ohio Valley Conference championship run.

The Redhawks were slated to fly to Washington Thursday night, and Shafer said he expected to find the Spokane, Wash., area a winter wonderland, "like the North Pole."

Eastern Washington University, in Cheney, Wash., a city of about 10,000 people near Spokane, sits at the edge of the desert leading up to the Rocky Mountain foothills. Cheney is a cold, windy, wet place in winter, but this fall it has been especially snowy. The region set a snowfall record in November, and ground crews at Roos Field, where the Eastern Washington Eagles play, have spent the past few days clearing about a foot and a half of snow from the field and stands.

"It's very unusual to have that much snow here, but we are hopeful it's all out of our system now," said Dave Cook, Eastern Washington's sports information director, who noted the red turf field is in great condition.

Things may not get any warmer for the Redhawks if they win Saturday. The team's next opponent will be either Montana State University or North Dakota State University, although Southeast could still earn a home field bid, depending on how the playoffs shake out. Ticket sales for Saturday's game are slower than hoped, Cook said, due in large part to competition from the much-anticipated Apple Cup game between the University of Washington and Washington State.

The Redhawks are traveling with contingent of about 130, Shafer said, with another six or eight area fans expected to be at the game. Some 30 fans from the West Coast also plan to join the festivities, Shafer said.

"I think our kids are just anxious, regardless of the elements, to get out there and hit somebody in a different colored jersey," the athletic director said. "They are excited that we are champions and they have the opportunity to play for a national championship."

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

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