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Local News

First UWF On-Campus Game A Win On And Off The Field

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Morgan Givens
/
UWF

UWF football played it's first home game at Pen Air Field over the weekend.

The West Florida Argonauts went to 2-0 on the young football season, with a 63-14 drubbing of Southwest Baptist Saturday night in the first game played on campus.

“We have [a] desire to keep playing; and the only and the only way you keep playing in [Division] II is to continue to get better throughout the course of the season,” said UWF Head Coach Pete Shinnick. “Because there’s a storm coming in the Gulf South Conference and we gotta be ready for it.”

Shinnick kicked off the post-game news conference, but this story actually begins a few hours before that, a few hours before the actual kickoff.

The tents were up, the tailgaters were in action, and the party mood in full swing; scenes from Bayfront Stadium transposed to the UWF campus. Among the tents was one for the UWF Alumni Association. Nicole Stacy was a student when talk began about starting an Argo football program.

“For me to see it here on campus today, it’s so exciting,” she said. “Just walk around. It was so exciting to see it downtown when we had our first [home] game, but for it to be now on campus, it’s just a feeling like no other.”

The West Florida Greek community was also well-represented, including a returning frat, Tappa Alpha. Steven Groh oversees its return.

“It’s all about student life and student body; athletics is an amazing part of the university,” Groh said after taking time out from a beach volleyball game. “It brings socialization to life for the entire university as a whole.”

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Dave Dunwoody/WUWF Public Media
UWF vs. SW Baptist on Pen Air Field Saturday, Sept. 11.

If anyone attending the game wanted a COVID-19 vaccination, it was available at a table set up nearby. Nichole McDonald, the Health and Safety Director for the university, said the response was “great,” and their appearance at the game was — pardon the pun — a one-shot deal.

“[The] Florida Department of Health also offers vaccines Monday through Friday down at their clinic; so they just partnered with us today to do this, and the follow-up clinic,” McDonald said. “But we are looking to maybe provide some more vaccine clinics on-campus at a later date with the Florida Health Department’s vaccine van or vaccine bus.”

Making its debut was the UWF now-marching band. On a serious note, the pregame on-field also included a moment of silence on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

It was ten years ago that then-UWF President Judy Bense announced work would begin on football.

“I’m very, very happy, it’s kind of sentimental,” Bense said. “It reminds me of our first game ever downstate [Ave Maria], and it is one of those moments. This was a test of patience, perseverance, and hope. And a lot of those things really never happened — but by gosh, this did.”

Also beaming at the scene of a nearly-filled Pen Air Field was the current UWF President, Martha Saunders.

“It is a great day; the weather is great, it’s a football day,” said Saunders. “The defending national champs are here playing on our campus. And we’re bringing people in, everybody’s smiling — what’s not to love?”

And now, back to the postgame and coach Pete Shinnick.

“Amazing event here on campus,” said the coach. “We’re very blessed to call Blue Wahoos [Stadium] our home, but to be able to come here and have this type of crowd, this type of experience, couldn’t ask for a better way for this thing to go.”

Shinnick had praise for those who made the on-campus game possible, and for the Argo fans.

“We do a pre-game meal four hours before kickoff; and to just see the amount of people four hours before kickoff, here on campus, that in and of itself is just worth everything that we’ve worked for and what we’re trying to do. It was just fantastic.” said Shinnick. “And then two hours before kickoff you’ve got people waiting to get into the stadium. Amazing environment.”

There are no other plans to play another game on campus this season, but the word is that more than one game could be played at Pen Air Field during the 2022 campaign.