The Pirate Nation came out in force Saturday, August 16, and showed support for the East Carolina University football team at the annual Meet the Pirates fan fest and season kickoff celebration at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The free event was open to the public and offered fans unfettered access to the coaches and student-athletes of the football Pirates.
ECU Athletics provided posters to the approximately 1,200 fans, and players and coaches signed autographs and posed for pictures from tables spread around the perimeter of the field. The area behind the east end zone contained inflatable rides and attractions for kids, and a performance by illusionist Captain Jim the Pirate. The flawless grass field was open to the fans, and plenty of future Pirates took full advantage of the access, tossing around the pigskin and scoring their first touchdowns in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
“Any time we can get Pirate athletics in the community, it just ties everyone together so well,” said Robin Taylor, director of marketing and promotions for ECU Athletics. “It’s good for the fans to come out and put a face with the name so when they see Patrick Pinkney throw a touchdown pass, they can say, ‘I met him at Meet the Pirates!’”
But not all fans came to see players.
Mike and Jennifer Gillikin, of Winterville, North Carolina, brought their young son Ryan to Meet the Pirates to, well, meet the pirate. “He came to see PeeDee,” said Jennifer Gillikin. “He gave him a high-five.”
But for dad, the ECU/Virginia Tech game can’t arrive soon enough.
“We are excited about the beginning of the season, and anxious to get a look at the team, and just come out and enjoy everything that is out here,” said Mike Gillikin.
ECU enjoys a tremendous amount of support from the local community, and Meet the Pirates was a chance for ECU to give something back to fans.
“The main thing, I think, is to show people what can be done at East Carolina University,” said ECU athletics director, Terry Holland. “[Athletics] are a very visible part of the university—certainly not the most important part—but one of the most visible, and therefore when we succeed, I think it gives the people of eastern North Carolina, certainly the Greenville community, and certainly those who attend East Carolina University, the idea that we can compete against the very best and be successful. That’s sort of our job, to say, ‘It can be done.’”
This year’s event was a departure from previous years when Meet the Pirates required tickets and centered around a banquet-style meal. Taylor believes that the less formal fan fest is more accommodating to Pirate fans, especially families.
“This year, we wanted to open it up to the public for free so they could come and enjoy themselves and have more time with the players,” she said.
For the Gillikins, the change was a welcome one.
“We’ve come to Meet the Pirates for baseball a few times, but this is our first time coming out for the football team,” said Jennifer Gillikin.
For ECU’s athletic program, providing the public with an opportunity to meet and speak with student-athletes outside of a game atmosphere is important, especially with the media attention given to college athletes who make mistakes. At Meet the Pirates the relaxed atmosphere gave fans the chance to see what exceptional young people they are.
“We’ve got over 400 student athletes, and we’ve got some incredible people in that group,” said Holland. “We had half of our student-athletes last year on the commissioners honor roll which means a 3.0 or better in the classroom, and 10 percent were 3.75 or better, so we’ve got some really special people not only competing for East Carolina, but representing the university and the community.”
When asked how he balances school with football, senior Zach Slate, said he doesn’t see much difference between himself and a non student-athlete when it comes to handling both commitments outside of the classroom, and requirements inside it.
“I ask the same question about students who aren’t on scholarship. How do they balance [having] jobs and paying for school, with studying? I look at it like that. I’m doing my work on the field, but at the same time, I [also] have to be productive in the classroom,” he said.
The football Pirates kick off the season on Saturday, August 30, with a game against Virginia Tech in Charlotte, North Carolina. For ticket information and to learn more about ECU Athletics, click here.