After a resounding 24–3 victory on Saturday, September 6, over West Virginia University at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the East Carolina Pirates find themselves in the rarefied air of college football’s elite.
The two major polls used by the NCAA to rank Division-1 FBS college football teams each have East Carolina in the top 25. The Associated Press ranks ECU at number 14, while the USA Today Coaches Poll lists them 20th. It marks the first time since the 1999 season that ECU is ranked in the top 25.
ECU fans eagerly anticipated this season after the 2007–2008 season ended on a high note with the Pirates defeating then-24th-ranked Boise State University in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii. On August 16, the Pirate Nation showed its support for the team at ECU’s annual Meet the Pirates fan fest and season kickoff celebration at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
The video below was filmed at the annual Meet the Pirates event on August 16, 2008.
“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.”
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. According to Taylor, the less formal fan fest was 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 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 commissioner's 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 the commitments outside of the classroom, with the 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.
To learn more about the Pirates, visit www.ecupirates.com.