HEADLINE : What is a Slippery Rock ?
Subhead : The tiny school in Pennsylvania FAU's first opponent and
is used to the jokes and curiosity that follows its name.
By Alan Tays
Palm Beach ( Fla., ) Post Staff Writer
( August 29, 2001 )
If you've driven the stretch of Florida's Turnpike that runs south
from 595, you've probably seen the billboard.
" The Rock falls into Florida ! "
The Rock ?
Not the wrestler. Not Alcatraz. Not Gibraltar. No, this Rock is Slippery,
as in Slippery Rock University. The 7,000 - student, Division II, western
Pennsylvania school will provide the opposition for Florida Atlantic's
inaugural football game, Saturday at Pro Player Stadium.
"A lot of people don't believe we exist," says SRU coach George Mihalik.
The university bookstore sells a T-shirt with the inscription "Yes,
There is a Slippery Rock."
" Ok, so it exists. But what's it all about ? Glad you asked. Here are
10 Things You Should Know About Slippery Rock.
As Elvis so eloquently put it, " Everybody, let's Rock."
1. Where'd they get that name, anyway ?
Slippery Rock is the name of a college, a town -
it's about 50 miles
from Pittsburgh - and a creek. Legend has it that in colonial times, soldiers
were being chased by the local Seneca Indians. The troops, wearing heavy
boots, were able to cross the creek, but the Indians, wearing moccasins,
slipped on the rocks in the creek bed. Thay named it Wechachochapohka -
" a slippery rock. "
In one version of this tale, George Washington is the colonial who
benefits from the Indians slipping on the rocks. Washington did spend
time in the area, but his place in this story is generally believed to be apocryphal.
The school and its football team have gotten all sorts of national
publicity because some people thought Slippery Rock was a funny name.
According to school lore, the attention started in 1936, when there was a
dispute as to whether Pittsburgh or Minnesota should be ranked No. 1.
A sports writer used comparative results to show that Slippery Rock
should be No. 1. The logic went like this : Slippery Rock beat Westminster,
which beat West Virginia Wesleyan, which beat Duqusne, which beat Pitt,
which beat Notre Dame, which beat Northwestern, which beat Minnesotta.
2. How does a 7,000-student, Division II school get
its football scores on TV ?
In the 1950's, the University of Michigan public-address announcer
began a traditon of giving Slippery Rock scores. The crowd reaction
( " The audience loved it." ) made an impression on an Associated Press
writer named Dave Dials, who later adopted the practice when he hosted
the Prudential College Scoreboard show on ABC.
: Sometimes at the end of the show I found myself with a little extra
time and they would give me the ' stretch ' sign," Dials, now retired, said
from his home in Ohio. " One day I gave a Slippery Rock score, and the
switchboard lit up. So the next week I made it a point to do it again.
" Any time I had the time - and I generally found the time to do it - I
would mention Slippery Rock. It got to the point where people expected it."
3. Who are the most famous people associated with
Slippery Rock ?
Famous " is a relative term. When the school was founded in 1889,
its first president was James E. Morrow. His granddaughter, Anne Morrow,
later married Charles Lindbergh.
As for athletes, wrestler Stan Dziedzic won a bronze medal in the
1976 Montreal Olympics. Then there is Dr. Russell Wright of Delray Beach,
but we'll get to him later.
Slippery Rock seems to specialize in people who aren't famous, but
have famous names. The bookstore manager used to be Zane Gray
( not the author, who spelled it " Grey "). The sports information director
used to be John Carpenter ( not the director ). The offensive line coach
is Joe Walton ( not the former Jets coach, but his cousin).
4. Of all the schools FAU could have opened with,
why Slippery Rock ?
FAU orignally tried to arrange an opener with Cornell, but that
never worked out. Then FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger called
Slippery Rock. " The dates worked out and I thought they'd be a
good opponent for us," Schnellenberger said.
Because of all the attention Slippery Rock generates - you think
we'd have written this long an article about, say, Lock Haven State ?
It is in high demand.
When the University of S. Florida was starting its football program
a few years ago, it scheduled Slippery Rock as its first foe. Because
South Florida accelerated its program and started a year earlier than
planned, Slippery Rock instaed became its first opponent in 1998.
" We were tha last game played at the old Tampa Stadium." said
Bob McComas, Slippery Rock's sports information director.
" If it's the first game in the history of a school, what better team
than the most famous name in college football ?" Mihalik said.
It doesn't have to be an inaugural game, though. Slippery Rock
also has made " guest appearances " at Fenway Park ( against Boston
University in 1973), the Rose Bowl (against Cal State-Los Angeles in
1964), and the Citurs Bowl (against Central Florida in 1990).
Its unofficial relationship with Michigan led to two appearances at
Michigan Stadium. Slippery Rock - Shippensburg drew more than
60,000 to Ann Arbor in 1979, and Slippery Rock - Wayne State
attracted more than 30,000 in 1981.
5. Is the football team any good ?
For its level (NCAA Division II), yes, Slippery Rock has won four
straight Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division
titles. The 1999 team finished the regular season ranked a school-
record No. 2 nationally. The team currently is ranked 23rd in the
American Football Coaches Association Division II pre-season poll.
6. Are there any local Alumni ?
Slippery Rock has many alumni who live in Florida (there is an
unofficial state chapter). Any discussion of Rock alumni in Florida
should begin with one of the school's oldest (not the oldest, though)
and most distinguished graduates, who lives in Delray Beach.
Dr. Russell Wright, 97, is a retired osteopathic pyhsician and
member of the class of 1923 of what then was known as Slippery
Rock State Normal School. " I had to go where it was free," the
Pennsylvania native joked about his choice of a college.
Wright played football and baseball and ran track ( " I could run
faster than anybody at Slippery Rock," he said) in college. After
teaching for a while, he went into medicine. He served 18 years,
until 1970, as team physician for the Detroit Tigers and eight years
during the 1960's in the same post for the Detroit Pistons. He also
served 19 years as physician for the U.S. Olympic weightlifting
Wright has maintained close ties with his alma mater, often hosting
alumni association meetings and sports team visits at the apartment
complex he owns in Delray Beach, Wright by the Sea. A donation by
Wright made possible the building in 1985 of the Russell Wright Fitness
Center on the Slippery Rock Campus.
Wright was delighted - " I was blown up like a balloon." He said -
when he learned of Slippery Rock's football game with FAU. He will
be there, sitting in the president's box, when the game kicks off.
" He's one terrific human being," said Dials, who met Wright
when they both worked in Michigan and co-authored a book about
7. Is there any connection between FAU and Slippery Rock ?
Believe it or not, there are five Slippery Rock alumni on the FAU staff.
That group includes Dr. Dan Weppner, director of volunteers (class of
1954); Professor Johnnie Stover of the English department (1970), and
three members of the athletic staff: defensive coordinator Kirk Hoza
(1985), strength and conditioning coach Keith Klahold (1997)
and assistant trainer Amy Morley (1997).
Stover, who joined the FAU faculty in 1974, was a member of
Slippery Rock's Rockeyyes. " We were the dancers who marched with
the band at football games," she said. " We were used to build up the
size of the band during the marching routines."
Don't expect and divided loyalties Saturday, Klahold said.
" We'd better win or else ."
8. What's Slippery Rock's mascot , a pet rock ?
Funny. Close, too. The school used to have a mascot named Rocky,
a student dressed up like a rock. Asked what constitutes " dressing up
like a rock," Sid McComas said, " Basically, putting on an old sweat suit."
Last year, however, the school updated the mascot. The new one
is Rocky II, and instead of a rock, it's a lion. " He's the leader of The
Pride of Slippery Rock University," McComas said.
9. What other " rock stuff " do they do ?
Former Slippery Rock President Robert Aebersold used to pass out
rocks with the inscription " Slippery " to visitors. Sid McComas recalls
that when he was agraduate student at the school in the 1980's. " Our
basketball teams, when they would introduce the starting lineups,
the starters would take a little rock over and give it to the opposing
player. It was painted green (the school colors are green
and had ' Slippery Rock ' on it.
10. Can I get some Slippery Rock stuff ?
It's still up in the air whether Slippery Rock will be able to sell
memorabilia at Pro Player Stadium. However, the inventory of the
school's bookstore is available on line at the Slippery Rock Web
manager Tom McPherson, a Slippery Rock employee for 33 years.
Or, if you simply see someone wearing a Slippery Rock hat or
T-shirt, you could make them an offer. They're used to it. SRU
students often stock up in the bookstore before spring break, then
sell the stuff on Florida beaches. Football coach Mihalik said then
when he ran off the field after the S. Florida game, fans in Tampa
Stadium asked him " for my hat, my shirt - anything that said
Who could blame them ?
Everybody wants to own a piece of the rock.
# ROCK PRIDE #
Slippery Rock University - 1 Morrow Way -
Slippery Rock, Pa. 16057 - 1.800.SRU.9111