SALEM, Va. — The Roanoke Maroons are oddly named, twice over. First and foremost, Roanoke College, which relocated to the Roanoke Valley in 1847, is located in Salem, not its twin city with which it shares a name. Admittedly, at the time of the College’s founding, Roanoke, Virginia did not exist, in its place a small settlement with the lovely name of Big Lick. Still, as the city of Roanoke grew into the largest in Southwest Virginia, the College’s location seemed illogical given the name.
Second, what on earth is a Maroon? The name calls back the taunts of Bugs Bunny, among others; an insult rather than a source of pride. But, like their much larger neighbor, Virginia Tech, Roanoke has embraced maroon as an identity, extending to Rooney, their maroon-tailed hawk mascot, which the College website vehemently states will never supplant “Maroons” as the name of the team.
The Project’s trip to Salem happened to coincide with a “Maroon Madness” doubleheader, with both the women’s and men’s teams facing the Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets. Our purview does not extend to coverage of the women’s ODAC (although it is a highly competitive league in its own right), so we arrived for the second half of the double billing, and the C. Homer Bast Center was already host to a nice crowd of Maroon faithful, attracted by the promise of a free t-shirt, and a smattering of Jackets fans behind the R-MC bench.
But let’s backtrack for a second to set the scene. Take a right off of Interstate 81’s exit 140 in Virginia and you’ll enter a sleepy neighborhood worthy of a 90s family sitcom. A rust-brown road sign welcomes you to Salem by dutifully listing the local high school’s accomplishments, split roughly evenly between athletic feats (highlighted by several football and basketball state titles) and shows of scholastic prowess (six consecutive state championships in speech and debate). The road is divided by a grassy median dotted with trees. Drive for a bit and you’ll spot homes proudly displaying American flags and, at this time of year, the dark smoke of burnt wood escaping from the occasional chimney into an overcast winter sky.
Suddenly, the homes disappear and Roanoke College arises. The College’s campus shares many of the features of the surrounding area, most notably its large open-air quads, but the architectural design also provides a pleasant contrast. Each building utilizes a Collegiate Gothic style with brick as the overarching theme, yet the designers avoided monotony by adorning each building with a unique element: triangular arches, composite order columns, a variety of sconces, and even a dome reminiscent of the U.S. Capitol. Interestingly for our purposes, natural weathering of the Bast Center’s brick exterior tints the building with a reddish-chestnut hue, fitting for the home of the Maroons.
Those Maroons put up an impressive 6-2 record against a relatively soft slate of out-of-conference opponents, but their conference schedule has been anything but easy. Coach Moir’s group earned their first conference win last week against cellar-dweller Emory and Henry, and had to follow up against a resurgent Randolph-Macon team, shaking off some tough out-of-conference losses to take a share of first place in the conference. After a fairly dominating win over Roanoke in Ashland, the Jackets had a chance to maintain their recent hot streak, and possibly earn some respect from the national pollsters.
We settled into seats behind the scorers’ table, within earshot of the R-MC fans. And as the game got started, Roanoke played up to the home crowd. The Maroons played an excellent first half, jumping out to an early 15-9 lead, and keeping the game close throughout the first half, thanks to 52% shooting from the field. Star players Julian Ramirez and Daniel Eacho led the way for the Maroons, but they still trailed 31-27 at the break.
Despite the Maroons’ impressive effort throughout the half, the large crowd–with the notable exception of the adorable little girl who spent the half banging her feet on the bleachers just to our right–was surprisingly quiet. The Pep Band (an ODACcess Project first) never played a note during the first. Even the volunteers for the media timeout activities were less than enthusiastic (or non-existent; cross a PA announcer saying “this would have been a great contest if we had competitors” off our bucket list).
The RM-C fans, on the other hand, were full-throated in their support for the Jackets.
The early second half seemed likely to take what little wind was left in the fans’ sails. During the halftime break, we had moved to the other side of the gym, attempting to comingle with the student fans. They were becoming disheartened as the Jackets extended the momentum they had built in the first half, creating a 10 point advantage by the 11-minute mark. The Maroons shot poorly from the free throw line, allowing Randolph-Macon to build their lead.
But the Maroons were resilient. Led by Daniel Eacho, Roanoke went on a 17-6 run to take the lead with a little over four minutes remaining. During this time, the fans finally found their voice, and the Bast Center faithful finally drowned out the lingering cheers of the fans in black and gold. Roanoke had all the momentum going into the final stretch, and the fans felt it.
Unfortunately for them, Randolph-Macon proved why they were the preseason favorite in the conference. The Maroons’ one-point lead was not to last. The Jackets’ defense returned to form, nearly shutting out Roanoke from the floor in the last few minutes, while Andre Simon continued a great night, scoring four big points, and allowing Macon to polish off the victory at the free throw line.
This is not Roanoke’s season, clearly, after a number of tough losses. Still, we can hope the Maroons continue to give their fans something to cheer about.
- Final: Randolph-Macon Yellow Jackets 70 (13-4, 7-1 ODAC), Roanoke Maroons 57 (7-9, 1-7)
- Player of the Game: Andre Simon (R-MC) (18 points on 13 shots; 14 rebounds)
- Relive the game from our seats: check out our photos on Flikr and follow us on Twitter
- Mileage Tracker: 1603 miles
- Next Stop: Emory and Henry at Lynchburg, January 29