WHEELING - West Virginia Athletics Director Oliver Luck would like to see kinder, gentler Mountaineers fans.
Luck, the guest speaker at Thursday night's Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner at Wheeling Park's White Palace, delivered a message of sportsmanship as the school prepares to begin play in the Big 12 Conference this fall.
Admitting WVU fans suffer from a reputation ''that's a little bit rough around the edges,'' Luck said he would like to see that smoothed a bit.
Oliver Luck, athletics director for West Virginia University, grins and holds a program for the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce Annual
Photo by Jennifer Compston-Strough
Dinner while speaking at the event Thursday. Luck noted his biography listed him as the father of Andrew Luck, who the Indianapolis Colts will pick in the first round of the NFL Draft next week, and said that is all anyone needs to know about him.
In his dealings with fellow Big 12 administrators, Luck has been astonished how few people from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas know where West Virginia is.
''It's really shocking,'' he said.
This football season, brand new fans will be arriving in Morgantown from Oklahoma, Texas Christian University, Baylor, Kansas State and Kansas.
''I guarantee you none of them has ever been to Morgantown,'' Luck said. ''Or none has been to the state of West Virginia. We can welcome these folks, extend our hand, greet them. Invite them over to the tailgate, share a glass of beer, or a glass of moonshine if you want to. But we want to extend a great welcome to folks from outside the community.''
Is this a realistic idea, given the WVU fans' history of throwing parties - and trash cans?
''It may be unrealistic to expect everybody to toe the line, but we're trying to get as many folks as we can to just create a little more of a friendly atmosphere,'' Luck said. ''As you're at Mountaineer games this fall and you see someone in a burnt orange shirt walking by, or a purple TCU Horned Frog shirt, Baylor Green and Gold, or even a Marshall shirt, go over and extend a hand and say, 'Welcome to Morgantown.' If they're out of state, welcome them to the state. 'Come on over and tell us how things are in Ames, Iowa, or Manhattan, Kansas.'
''The vast majority of people are very welcoming," he added. "There are some folks who are just born and raised that if they see someone in an opposing T-shirt, they yell an obscenity. Nobody wants to be cursed at. You can razz people. But bring them over and give them a beer before you tell them we're going to beat them by 70.''
Not only would this help the school's reputation, he said, it could help with its recruiting. Texas exports the most college students in the country, Luck noted.
''They're good suburban kids that are going to big public universities with that big game day Saturday feel,'' Luck said. ''Where are those universities? They're going to Tennessee, they're going to Auburn, they're going Georgia (and) Alabama. We have a real opportunity, I believe, as a university to recruit some really good students from some places that historically we haven't recruited students.''
Plus, Luck said, if fans come to West Virginia and have an enjoyable time, they may want to come back for things other than football games, such as a vacation.
Luck also talked about his son Andrew, who will the first pick in the NFL Draft next week.
He touched on how it's important for WVU to raise the bar and rise to the challenge of moving to the Big 12 and staying competitive across the board.
He pointed out that the school is similar to many of those in the Big 12 in that it is a rural land-grant university, and he mentioned the move to the conference could mean as much as $40 million more per year for the school's athletics department within the next seven to eight years.
In addition to hearing from Luck on Thursday, the chamber also honored longtime physician and community leader Dr. Donald Hofreuter. Chamber President Terry Sterling and Hofreuter's daughter, Liz Hofreuter-Landini presented him with this year's Kathy Fortunato Community Service Award, which was established in Fortunato's honor following her death in 2006.
Dr. Hofreuter served Wheeling residents as a family practice physician before joining Wheeling Hospital in 1982 as director of Medical Affairs.
He retired in 2006 after serving as the hospital's president and chief executive officer. Hofreuter was recognized by former Gov. Bob Wise and received the 2004 Distinguished West Virginian Award for his work and dedication to improving the medical malpractice issues that faced the state.
He also helped guide The Linsly School through its transition from a military school to a college prep facility as a member and former chairman of its Board of Trustees.
He also is a member of the Wheeling Park Commission, among other local organizations.