There have been times when I have gone to extreme lengths to take in a UMBC men’s basketball game. I remember sitting in a Washington, D.C. hotel room back in March 2001, listening to online radio broadcasts of Northeast Conference tournament games involving the Retrievers.
That 2000-2001 men’s team was the first Retrievers men’s squad in a while that had come close the navigating the madness of pressure-packed early March basketball and snatching a bid to the men’s NCAA basketball tournament.
Sadly, the 2000-2001 team won only one game in the conference tournament before bowing out of contention. But the fire was lit. The 2001-2002 men’s hoops team came even closer to snatching a bid to the Big Dance, forging a 20-9 record and losing a 75-72 heartbreaker to Quinnipiac in that year’s Northeast Conference tournament.
It would take another six years and a switch to the America East Conference before the UMBC men’s hoops team threatened again to win their way onto one of the biggest stages in American sports.
The 2007-08 team fought to a 23-8 record on their way to the America East conference title. They had been forged in the heat of battles and growing pains to become a fiercely competitive squad. And when they beat Stony Brook and Vermont to earn a home game on ESPN for the conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament, I knew that I had to make my way to the Retriever Activities Center and watch history in the making.
The crowd packed into the RAC that afternoon to watch UMBC play Hartford was as enthusiastic a crowd as has ever assembled on campus. And as the team broke away from Hartford midway through the second half, I was so proud to watch a generation of UMBC students finally get their chance to storm the court and dance at its center and celebrate a victory in front of the whole country.
This issue of UMBC Magazine focuses on UMBC’s impressive athletics program – both the glories of its past and an interview about the program’s present and future with athletics director Tim Hall.
Our look at the past of UMBC athletics reveals a university that’s always had successes. (And even a Division II national championship!) The university’s women’s teams have been equal partners in the program’s successes and strengths. And UMBC’s athletes have accomplished it all at a school that emphasizes the “scholar” part of “scholar-athlete.”
The notion that UMBC athletics is woven inextricably into the inclusive excellence of the university makes its successes even sweeter – and worth celebrating.
– Richard Byrne ’86