Joel Stephens and Brian Crane: Champions of Light

by Andy McIlwraith
via Florida Tech Today

Dogged baseball alumni make team dream a reality

It wasn’t one person’s idea, to light the Andy Seminick-Les Hall Field, but more of a collective dream, ever-present in the hearts and minds of Florida Tech players, coaches, administrators and alumni with a love for the game.

Today, the lights over the Panthers’ diamond are a shared reality.

“It had always been a vision,” says Joel Stephens ’93, who along with friend and former teammate Brian Crane ’91 worked tirelessly to rally support and raise funds for the lights, which were switched on for the program’s first night game on May 7, 2011.

Efforts toward illuminating the baseball field for evening play began in early 2006, when former head baseball coach Paul Knight and athletic director Bill Jurgens reached out to alumni and friends of the university for help.

An all-star team of lifelong Panthers stepped up to the plate and, with the continued support of Jurgens and President Anthony J. Catanese, formed a committee devoted to seeing the field light project through to fruition.

“Brian and I took the reins,” says Stephens, who volunteered to chair the committee and serve as its chief liaison to the university. “We wanted to give back.”

“When we saw how much money it would take to fund, the task felt insurmountable,” says Crane. “But lights were something all the guys who ever played at Florida Tech had wished for, so we had
to try.”

Stephens and Crane initially focused on spreading awareness and enlisting the support of fellow alumni. Together, they turned the traditional “Baseball Alumni Weekends” into successful field light fundraising events.

“We did them in ’06, ’07 and ’08, and had great turnout. About 50 alumni came every year. We had a lot of fun and laid a great foundation,” says Crane.

He and Stephens often faced the somewhat unsavory task of soliciting donations from former teammates and other alumni, most of them longtime friends and colleagues. But that didn’t stop them.

“Asking people for money is not easy,” says Crane. “But having to go back and ask the same people for more money is even harder. We were able to do it because we wanted to see this school grow and succeed.”

Early innings of the massive undertaking—the project would require no less than $230,000—were promising, but slow going. “It often felt like we weren’t making as much ground as we needed to,” says Stephens. “We realized it was going to take a lot of time.”

Crane credits Stephens with keeping the committee united in their enthusiasm for the project. “It’s easy to lose momentum over five years,” he says. “Joel’s persistence kept us focused.”

Stephens, on the other hand, calls Crane the big hero. “Brian was champion of this from day one,” he says. “He rallied baseball alumni around the campaign and played a major role in getting us where we needed to be.”

Team players through and through, both men attribute the final success of the endeavor to others.

They couldn’t have done it, they say, without the undying support of Jurgens and Catanese, the dedicated involvement of Greg Berkemeier (who stepped up as head baseball coach in 2008), or the generosity of the many donors whose gifts funded the purchase and installation of the new field lights —especially the support of major contributors Tim Wakefield and Randy Muns.

“A lot of people gave till it hurt,” says Crane. “All of them deserve a big ‘Thank you.’”

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