Centenary College Back In The Game
After decades-long absence, football returns to campus
Centenary College has been sitting on the sidelines of the football field for decades. Soon, the Gents will be back in the game.
Centenary President Christopher L. Holoman announced on Nov. 10 that football will return to the Shreveport campus in the fall of 2024.
“For more than 120 years, athletics has been an important part of the student experience at Centenary College,” Holoman said during a media event at the college’s Mayo Field. “We haven’t played football here for quite some time, but the wait is over. I am so excited and proud to announce that Centenary will be bringing college football back to Shreveport-Bossier City.”
Centenary played football from 1894 to 1961. There was a brief attempt to revive the sport on campus in the 1960s. Previous football history began with the Gents’ first game in the fall of 1894 and ended in November of 1941, with a brief, attempted revival in the 1960s.
David Orr, director of athletics and recreation at Centenary, said the time is right for football. The goal, he said, goes beyond the gridiron.
“It’s a culmination of a couple of different things. Centenary College, at least over the past 25 to 30 years, has had an enrollment of about 800 to 900 students,” he said. “We had to go through some transition, especially from Division 1 to Division 3. We also transitioned other parts of our institution. When you do that, to the outside, you change your identity, which decreased our enrollment.”
Holoman and Centenary’s leadership sees athletics and academics as the avenues for growing enrollment. But that’s not the only reason to add football now, Orr said.
“We’ve all been through a very unique time the past 18 months to two years,” he said. “We’ve seen businesses close, we’ve seen college enrollment drop nationwide. We’ve also seen this sense that there’s not something to rally behind. The convergence of wanting to increase enrollment plus the times we are in, knowing we are moving out of this pandemic into the new normal is a great opportunity for us. Not just for our campus community to have something to rally behind, but the community at large.”
Centenary currently has 19 varsity sports teams and a men’s club volleyball team. Those varsity teams compete in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, except women’s gymnastics (Midwest Independent Conference) and men’s lacrosse (Heartland Collegiate Lacrosse Conference).
Centenary has received more than $1.25 million in donations to support football. Some of that money will go into improvements to Mayo Field to accommodate football. The Ladies and Gents soccer teams and the Gents lacrosse team currently play at Mayo Field.
Orr said Centenary conducted a yearlong economic feasibility study before deciding to bring football back to campus. In addition to the cost of standing up and sustaining football, the study also looked at other costs associated with increasing enrollment, such as residential life, tutoring services and more.
Archer Frierson, chairman of the Board of Trustees, expressed the board’s support for the program.
“We are very excited about the future and believe that this decision will result in positive growth all across the college, not only in athletics,” Frierson said at the media event. “As a former college football player, I understand that having a football team playing on campus generates excitement and brings the community together. I am grateful for the work of the Football Feasibility Study led by my fellow trustee Ross Barrett that examined the question from all angles and did due diligence with regard to finances and other resources.”
As Centenary’s enrollment declined through the years, the college moved from the NCAA’s Division 1 to Division 3. As a D3 school, Centenary will not offer athletic scholarships, Orr said. Some of the teams the football team will face include Trinity and Texas Lutheran.
“Those aren’t widely known institutions from an athletics lens,” Orr said. “But what I’ve learned, and we’ve learned, it is extremely competitive. It is no less competitive than what we dealt with in Division 1. You’re going to find exceptional talent, exceptional student athlete play, great tactics, high-energy, all those main factors.”
Orr was a student-athlete and former coach at Centenary. He graduated in 1996, after Centenary’s heyday with NBA legend Robert Parrish, PGA golfer Hal Sutton and others. But he still remembers the community support.
“You’d go to a men’s basketball game in the Gold Dome, and you’d have 2,500 people,” he said. “With only 800 students, and you know not all the students are coming to the games, where are the rest of those fans coming from? The community.”
Orr said the leadership at Centenary envisions a “pageant” environment surrounding the football team’s five home games each season, complete with cheerleaders, a band and more.
“It’s sort of a running joke on campus how much I am looking forward to those aspects of it,” he said. “Each home game is an opportunity for campus spirit, as well as community spirit. It can be a festivaltype atmosphere.”
Orr said that football would be measured by more than the Gents’ record between now and the end of that first season.
“The reality is we look at wins beyond the scoreboard sometimes,” he said. “It’s really easy to look at wins by what the scoreboard says, and we certainly don’t discount that. But a win going into that first season, have a healthy roster size, positive culture, we need a coach that understands the Division 3 model.
“We talk weekly, if not daily, in our athletic department about culture. A culture doesn’t happen by accident. We have to be deliberate. We believe targeting 100 student athletes for football is a win. Exceptional students in classroom, as well as community members and athletes.”
Adding football is not just about expanding opportunities for student athletes, Orr said.
“Centenary wants to be Shreveport’s college,” he said. “We can all agree one of the fastest and most impactful ways for a college or university to ingrain itself in the community is through athletics.”