Getting ready for the Rams
By JOHN BARACANI

Eagle News Editor

Fred Adair remembers the summer of 1996. That was the first year the St. Louis Rams held their training camp in Macomb. At the time, Adair – WIU's grounds maintenance foreman – wondered if it might be the last.

After the Macomb Area Economic Development Corporation (MAEDCO) invested $250,000 for the construction of two practice fields and the Rams decided on Macomb as their summer home that year, WIU's grounds department was left with about a month and a half, according to Adair, to prepare for the team's use of the fields. In this the ninth year the Rams will call Macomb home for just under a month, and field preparation is a spring-long undertaking, with demands one would expect from an NFL team.

"The first year they were here we didn't have grass on the sidelines and we had to haul mulch in and put it along the sidelines," Adair said. "There was water everywhere. The sidelines weren't done so we hauled mulch for a week. The day before they came it rained like two inches; we wondered why we ever got into this."

The hard work – which, among many other duties, includes reseeding, fertilizing and aerating two practice fields once Western has finished using them in the spring – has proved fruitful. Since that first year, hundreds of thousands of Rams devotees have visited Macomb to catch glimpses of such star players as Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt.

“It’s quite an extensive process in terms of the preparation," said Larry Mortier, Western's vice president of advancement and public services assistant. "We have a number of areas on the campus that are involved on a planning committee that has been in place going on nine years that the Rams have trained here."

In addition to Western's grounds department, several other areas on campus – as well as within the city of Macomb – contribute to what Mortier calls a "joint venture."

"That coordination is extremely important to make it all happen in a very positive way and create the most productive environment for the Rams," Mortier said, adding that MAEDCO's contribution was crucial to bringing St. Louis to Macomb. "We have received some very positive comments about our ability to do that, and that has led to their return each year.”

“We just saw this as an opportunity that should not be missed," said MAEDCO Executive Director Kim Pierce of her organization's contribution toward the practice fields. "The partnership between the university, the city, the county and MAEDCO was great. We all pulled it together. You see what’s happened; this is our ninth year celebrating. It’s been a great, great venture for us."

While in Macomb this year from July 28 through Aug. 20, the Rams will make use of 10 floors of residential building Thompson Hall and its dining facility.

Chef Dan Murphy, Sodexho residence hall food service director, estimates his staff – which will include 20-25 people working at any given time – will prepare slightly over half a ton of food each day for the team, with brown rice and fresh fruits some of the players' favorite delectables.

“They eat an incredible amount of fresh fruit; we use two or three hundred pounds a day,” Murphy said, adding that Rams personnel consume roughly 100 pounds of pasta, 40 pounds of chicken and between 100-200 pounds of beef products each day.

Other facilities in use by the Rams include 10-15 meeting classrooms in Waggoner Hall, Brophy Hall's locker rooms, weight rooms and pool, the practice fields and Hanson Field. They will also share these facilities with the Chicago Bears, who will visit the Rams for three days, concluding with a scrimmage between the two clubs the morning of Aug. 7.

The Bears' decision to visit was no doubt facilitated by former Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith accepting the head coaching job with Chicago. This marks the second time in four years that another NFL team will join the Rams in Macomb. The Tennessee Titans, whom the Rams defeated in Super Bowl XXIV, came to town in 2000 for a July 29 scrimmage.

This will also be the second time the Bears and Rams have squared off during the summer.

The Bears played training camp hosts to the Rams in Platteville, Wis. in 1996. According to Katherine Walker, president of the Macomb Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, there was an agreement put in place back then that the Bears would someday return the favor.

"With Lovie Smith as the (Bears) new head coach, it was just, I think, a prime opportunity," she said. "Lovie enjoys it here and I think he feels comfortable coming back as head coach for the Bears."

With what Walker estimates to be about 50,000 Bears and Rams fans descending upon Macomb this summer, additional preparations will be necessary.

Matt Bierman, University Housing and Dining Services (UHDS) assistant director of facilities, is involved with many of those details. Along with UHDS Residence Hall Director George Holman and UHDS Assistant Director of Residential Facilities John Biernbaum, Bierman coordinates accommodations for the teams and their staffs, and the trio forms a network of "point persons" to whom concerns can be voiced and relayed to the proper entity.

"We’ve sort of got the Rams down to a routine," said Bierman. "George and I usually start about May 20 planning for Rams camp and getting everything ready. We spend an hour a day on it, whereas, with the Bears, since it’s new we’re spending a lot more time than that every day.

“There’s a lot of planning that goes into it, Bierman continued. "We’ve been working on the Bears thing for about 45 days real solid and then preparing in our minds for probably another two months before that. As soon as Lovie took the job with Chicago we sort of said in our minds, ‘Hey this could be a real possibility,’ so we started discussing our options. When they confirmed in early May, then things really started rolling."

Bob Fitzgerald, director of Western's Office of Public Safety (OPS) also said he and his department have gotten used to the Rams aspect of camp, but the addition of the Bears brings more uncertain circumstances.

“We are preparing now, we have been probably for the past month or so, just trying to get things in line," said Fitzgerald, who will employ the services of the Macomb Police Department, Illinois State Police District 14, McDonough County Sheriff’s Department and 15 WIU students for security. "We’ve had (the Rams) here for 10 years, so we’ve pretty much got that down. We have some experience with the big crowd and having another NFL team here; when the Titans were here we went through this. We’re in the process of still going through planning, but I think we have a lot of things already worked out and we’re just fine-tuning things now."

As for Adair, his major responsibilities with the fields ended May 15, when the Rams took over the fields' maintenance duties. Once the Rams break camp Aug. 20, Adair and the grounds department tend to the fields, where they will apply more seed many times to allow the process to start again the next year.

"(The Rams have) really added to (WIU's) football program," Adair said. "Just by them being here we've got three NFL practice fields with in-ground watering systems that we'd have never gotten if they hadn't come here. It sometimes (creates) headaches, but in the long run, I think it really pays off."

The Macomb community will welcome the Rams to town with the annual Rams Block Party July 30 in Chandler Park. For complete, updated practice times call the Macomb Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 833-1315, 1-866-RAMS CAMP or visit www.makeitmacomb.com.