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Publish date: Aug 9, 2011

Athletics at MacMurray back on solid ground

By Gary Brown

Ask MacMurray College Athletics Director Dane Pavlovich what he did on his summer vacation, and he’ll tell you that he and the rest of the staff there spent two months making sure the students returning this week don’t notice that the ground they’re walking on had been under water.

In a spring and summer that saw the University of Alabama, Missouri Southern State and Springfield College have to deal with tornadoes in their locales, MacMurray, a 500-student Division III school in Jacksonville, Ill., experienced a challenge of its own after flash floods made the Midwestern campus look more like it was in Jacksonville, Fla.

Amid the chaos was Pavlovich, just 14 months into his first athletics director post and dealing with tasks never listed on a job description.

“I’ve learned a ton about gym floors,” said the man who hopes to be leading the MacMurray women’s basketball team he coaches (in addition to his AD duties) onto one in November. But if the new floor isn’t down by then, the Highlanders will hit the road for a while.

“Highlanders” is what Pavlovich and the rest of the MacMurray family wished they really were when they found the south end of their campus in a veritable lake that had developed after more than six inches of rain fell on already saturated land from storms that parked over central Illinois on June 17 and 18.

Athletics was hit hard when the creek that splits the campus spilt over into the Jenkins Education Center that houses the Highlanders’ gym and several classrooms. The softball field went under, as did the practice football field. Several dormitories were flooded – one of the basements had seven feet of water.  The school’s newly renovated facilities offices weren’t spared, either.

Pavlovich, who left the campus at noon on Friday with it raining but the creek looking fine, was called in the next morning to a different scenario.

“You had to navigate your way around just to get to the campus because so many roads were closed,” he said. “When I finally got there, I walked out onto the baseball field, which is right next to the practice football field, and it looked like the campus had turned into a lake. The damage was incredible. Then I walked inside the education center and obviously there was water just rushing in and there was nothing we could do about it.”

Since then, the campus has been doing plenty about it.

“From the start,” Pavlovich said, “the goal has been to get things back to normal as much as possible before the students return for the fall semester.”

The effort from restoration teams has been nothing short of herculean. Facilities and operations personnel, whose own offices had been flooded, “were pumping water all over the place,” Pavlovich said. Coaches came in and drove bags of damp uniforms 30 miles out of town to get them washed because Jacksonville had issued a boil order that ended up lasting three weeks.

“We must have done $400 worth of laundry in about 24 hours,” Pavlovich said.

The director of facilities brought his boat to campus and rescued a couple of boilers that had floated away. MacMurray coaches moved their operations to the student center just to have phone service. Pavlovich said the scene of coaches surrounding tables looked like the war room from the 1983 NFL Draft.

“One of the phones would ring and nobody was immediately sure whose it was,” he said.

Among the most pressing needs was to address the gym floor that had been ruined and had to be removed. MacMurray President Colleen Hester appealed to some local work camps with prisoners in county lockups for help. “They’re the ones who have been ripping out our gym floor,” Pavlovich said. “We’ve had as many as 15 prisoners from the Green County work camp come and do some pretty back-breaking work.”

But there’s no way it will be ready for the fall, which means the women’s volleyball team will practice and play at the Catholic high school across the street from Methodist-based MacMurray. Denominations don’t matter when it comes to good will.

A campus appeal to constituents

From the MacMurray website: Continued support from alumni and friends of the College is vital as MacMurray recovers from flood damage. To help turn this devastation into a new beginning, make a gift online through our secure giving site and note that your gift is directed to the MacMurray College Flood Relief Fund, or contact the Office of Institutional Advancement at (217) 479-7024. Your support is greatly needed.

The other fall sports – football and men’s and women’s soccer – should be OK. Fields, locker rooms and weight training facilities all appear to be on track for normalcy. Football players report Aug. 12, with the other fall-sport student-athletes arriving a week later. The student body funnels in starting Aug. 27.

A message on the school website proclaims: “In the MacMurray tradition, our men and women are showing great character and resilience in responding to this sizable challenge. Due to the rapid work of many members of the Mac staff and faculty and the generosity of alumni and friends, campus will be ready for the fall semester!”

Pavlovich said that’s because of the “can-do” attitude from a lot of people.

“I haven’t been here all that long, but I already know that I can put our people up against anybody when it comes to doing what needs to be done,” he said. “Their response to this situation is proof of that basic human spirit. People haven’t spent much time wondering why this happened – they’ve just done what they need to do to fix it.”