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The most anticipated home game in St. Johns soccer history started Saturday night with fireworks during a 30-minute pre-game ceremony to open Belson Stadium and the electricity continued until the final whistle more than two hours later.
Before a sellout crowd of 2,266 watched No. 2 St. Johns battle 10th-ranked Wake Forest to a 1-1 tie Saturday night, Jerome Belson, who donated the $6 million to build the stadium, was honored in pre-game ceremonies with his wife Maxine and son Tad.
Joining them were St. Johns president, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, and Red Storm mens soccer coach Dave Masur.
Belson said the idea for the stadium came from a meeting with the 1996 National Championship team in Rome after an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1997.
When Belsons wife met the players for the first time in Rome, she was upset to see that several players had been injured by playing on the turf at DaSilva Field at St. Johns. She became the catalyst behind the plan for the new field.
Back then we thought it was a half-million-dollar expenditure. But you should never leave an open checkbook with the president of this university, Belson joked at half-time. Im just delighted we dont have a dome.
Harrington, who has attended numerous Red Storm soccer games since the national championship season in 1996, said the experience of watching a game at Belson Stadium was unparalleled.
Theres no comparison, youre part of the game, he said at halftime. Its just wonderful. Its a bigger crowd than Ive ever seen here.
The stadium, which has a grandstand with red seat-back chairs and bleacher seating behind each goal, was slated to open three weeks ago. But inclement weather delayed the opening and the mens soccer team moved three of its home games to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, while the womens team returned to the artificial turf of DaSilva Memorial Field, which also houses the football, track and field teams.
The crowd certainly seemed to appreciate the new intimate setting for St. Johns soccer. With help from the St. Johns Pep Band, they were boisterous throughout the match.
Among those attending were St. Johns mens basketball coach Mike Jarvis and his wife Connie as well as members of the 1996 National Championship mens soccer team.
Harrington said the team, along with Masur, is the reason Belson Stadium stands today.
Without Dave Masur, this would not have happened. Dave single-handedly built the mens program, he said. I go back to the championship team. That team deserves so much credit. They pulled it off without a good facility, they won the national championship, got the attention of the Belsons, myself and others, and as a result this happened.
As for the St. Johns players, they couldnt have been happier with their new home.
It was an unbelievable atmosphere, said St. Johns defender Chris Wingert. Im so thankful to the Belsons, Father Harrington, to coach (Masur), all the people who put so much time and energy and money into building this beautiful stadium for us. For it to finally be here, after all this talk, all the preparation, its just a great feeling.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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