Sep 28 / jmusport

Guest Post: Golden Age of JMU Sports

Hangin’ with other old guys at a post-game party / fraternity reunion at an alum’s house in Frisco. I’m the good looking one – the one on the left.

Ken Woodburn won our prediction contest last week and earned the right to guest post. In this piece he looks back at some of the great moments in JMU sports from when he was a student. 

“Predictions for 600, Alex.”  “The answer is:  Fall 1981” (question near the end)

“Get off my lawn!” (Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino)

I officially became an intramural player at age 14 (being cut by both the 9th grade basketball and baseball teams drove that point home), so when I finally got to JMU I chose to work with athletics.  I was a student manager on the ’80 – ’81 MBB team; worked in the Sports Information Office; spent five years as the PA announcer for the Diamond Dukes; refereed HS basketball in the Valley and for JMU intramurals; and went to all FB, WBB, MBB and BB home games (maybe that’s why my GPA was 2.6)!  Why did I do these things?  I thought that’s what being a Duke was all about – rooting whenever and however you can.

Moving into Hanson Hall in August of ‘80, I attended JMU during what I consider the Golden Age of JMU sports:

— the first three bids to, and three wins in, the men’s D-I NCAA basketball tournament;

— a true Cinderella winning their way to a College World Series appearance as an at-large team;

— moving to Division I football; even though the team wasn’t great, we still went and stayed through the end (I think the full-sized mannequin with the built in liquor cabinet, helped.  ‘Herman’ had a hinged, latching door and came to games dressed in jeans and a JMU rugby shirt.)

— men’s and women’s archery were national powerhouses – yes, archery was a big deal then;

— the often imitated, but never duplicated, ORIGINAL Electric Zoo;

— and the names: Ruland, Townes, Dupont, and Fisher; Gannon, Marant, and Knicely; Clark, Norwood, and Haley; coaches McMillan, Campanelli, Jaynes, and Babcock.

It was a great time to be a Duke.  

What strikes me as I write this piece, though, is that every other sports-loving alumnus that called S. Main Street home can feel the same way.  They can point to teams and people that made JMU awesome during their student years:

— the ‘70s brought Toliver, Dillard (player version), Stielper and Division II hoops success

— the next 4 decades gave JMU Landers, Rascati, LeZotte, Driesell, Moorman, Moats, Abdullah, and Houston; Brooks, Evans, Young, and Gwathmey; Dean, Field and Good; and countless others

— teams with landmark achievements: ’92 Field Hockey (JMU’s 1st National Champions); ’91 Women’s Basketball (1st team to defeat a #1 seed (Penn St.) in the #1 seed’s opening NCAA tourney game); ’04 and ’16 Football; and ’15 – ’17 Softball

— BFS, the Convo, and Sentara and Veterans Memorial Parks

— champions and stewards named Carrier, Ehlers, and Hilton

As alumni, we tend to view the people and events at JMU through the prism of our student experiences combined with our life experiences so it is not surprising that, for most of us, JMU’s best years just happened to coincide with our years on campus.

“Get off my lawn!” is the catch phrase often tagged to people who always seem to be grumpy and don’t tolerate differing opinions well.  Guilty, and I’ve even used that phrase in comments on this blog a time or two.  I love JMU and everything about it, but I patently refuse to be a homer (I’ve even predicted JMU to lose once or twice in the contest).  If I feel strongly about a subject, I’m going to give you my opinion:

— FCS vs. FBS: don’t care; choose the path that best fits the university’s vision, then properly resource it to succeed.

— Lou Campanelli remains the best basketball coaching hire.

— Dr. Carrier will be the single most important person in JMU’s history.

— Sometimes our players DO commit penalties and fouls. Honest.

There are more, but you get the drift.

Q: When was the last time I predicted anything right.

At George Toliver’s wedding reception that fall, I was standing with Lou Campanelli at the bar of the original Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house on South Main Street – and by, South Main, I mean REALLY South, like at the city limits South.  Over a distilled beverage (beer was legal @ 18 then) that probably wasn’t beer, I looked Coach in the eye and told him his Dukes would go 22-4 in the upcoming season.  He stared back at me and, like only someone from Jersey can do, he politely asked me if I’d had 2 or 3 too many.  The actual words and level of politeness might have been slightly different but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.  The ’81-’82 Dukes went 22-4 regular season (lost the ECAC South tourney final to OD-Yew but earned a NCAA tourney at-large bid – stunning given the field was only 48 teams at that time).

To current Dukes: understand our prism is different from yours.  Every one of us was at JMU when it was the greatest time to be there, we just have a different perspective of what ‘greatest’ entails.  I didn’t enjoy the bitter cold and jubilation of Frisco any more or less than you did, just differently – and that’s what makes being a Duke so freakin’ awesome.

Thank you Rob and Todd for your labor of love on our behalf.  If JMU Sports Blog ever goes on the road a la Gameday, come visit and we’ll check out a tasting room or two…or three…

Rest peacefully Dr. Carrier; Go Dukes!


Ken Woodburn (’85, on the 5-year plan) grew up in Richmond but has retired to Kentucky.  Post-JMU he served 25 years as an Army officer, so half a country or an ocean kept him from seeing the Dukes for a long time.  Now retired and teaching high school, he gets to many as Dukes’ events as possible within reasonable driving distance – and decided to remain married to his wife of 28+ years after his Christmas present last year was airfare and game tickets for Frisco.  Living in Louisville affords him the opportunity to travel down the bourbon trail one distillery at a time, and he now has a ringside seat to the implosion of a major athletic program.  But to him, visiting Harrisonburg is therapeutic — even if it’s bigger, more crowded, and he doesn’t really know anyone, it’s still home.


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  1. Mark / Sep 28 2017

    Great read. Visiting JMU is definitely therapeutic!

  2. Deacon Danny / Sep 28 2017

    Well done!

  3. OBXDuke1983 / Sep 28 2017

    Awesome post. JMU has always felt like home even though it has been 34 years since i lived there.
    Go Dukes!

  4. M@ / Sep 28 2017

    I was about to fight you that ’94-’98 was the golden age…then realized that was your point. 🙂

  5. The Fly / Sep 28 2017

    Brought me right back to the start of the Zoo in Godwin Hall. Comprehensively and well remembered, sir.

  6. Todd / Sep 28 2017

    Love this and thanks Ken! Great to see my fellow Greensboro Duke Tom R. in that shot!

  7. John / Sep 29 2017

    Ken, that was the best piece I’ve read on this site for quite some time! 😉

    Seriously, you really did a nice job of describing what was truly a great era at JMU. Well done!

  8. Ken / Oct 2 2017

    In the interest of accuracy, I mis-stated the year of the Field Hockey NC — it was 1994, not 1992.

    @Todd: Rogo is a great guy; had a blast with him on a Christmas road trip up to Syracuse/Rochester to watch JMU in a holiday basketball tournament.

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