Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Defiantly Dutch Primer! (Or: Everything You Wanted To Know About HU Sports But Were Afraid To Ask)

In 1937, the student-run newspaper at Hofstra, in an effort to find a good nickname for the university's sports teams...anyone? Anyone?...conducted a poll in which the students voted for...anyone? Anyone?...Flying...anyone? Anyone?...Dutchmen. Fly-ing Dutch-men.

So you survived the first day of classes, and here’s hoping the worst thing that happened to you Wednesday was the realization you will never get to occupy a $13,000 dorm room as long as you’re at Hofstra. (Back in my day, I had a view of the Garden City skyline and I liked it) You’ve got your syllabuses, your books, your notebooks, your new backpack and a day planner that’s going to get quite a workout. You are ready for success at Hofstra.

Enough of that crap.

We all know what will happen. The syllabuses will fall to the bottom of a pile of papers and remained untouched until Thanksgiving. Your books will remain in mint condition (doesn’t matter, though, the HUB will still only buy them back for 27 cents apiece at the end of the semester). Your notebooks will be used to write letters to your friends back home (wait, this isn’t 1993?). Your backpack will collect dust on the floor. Your day planner will return, unused, for the first day of the spring semester.

We know you’re here not for the academics but for the sports. And if you’re not, this is a PG-13 blog—most of the time, anyway—so keep your boozy, libido-fueled thoughts to yourself, mister/missy.

As an incoming freshman or transfer student, you want to make sure you fit in well when talking Hofstra sports with your fellow fans and Loyal Readers. So I present you the Defiantly Dutch primer. Learn it, live it, love it and soon you, too, will be an unemployed sportswriter with useless Hofstra knowledge oozing out of every pore! Let’s get started.

What is this Flying Dutchmen you so often speak of and why don’t you refer to Hofstra as the Pride?

Flying Dutchmen was the nickname bestowed upon Hofstra sports in 1937. From the 1993-94 men’s basketball media guide:

Ironically, the name originated, not from the athletics program, but in a Physical Education class in 1937, the second year of Hofstra’s existence. Instructor R. Burr Smith is said to have commented on student Robert Kreuger’s sluggish progress across the basketball court, sardonically quipping “Look at the Flying Dutchmen.” The name “Flying Dutchmen became popular immediately and was one of several nicknames voted on by the student body in a 1937 issue of the student newspaper, The Chronicle, and was the overwhelming favorite.

It was a perfect nickname, one that paid homage to Hofstra’s Dutch heritage while also summarizing the uphill battle the university’s sports programs would face as a perpetual underdog. And everyone was happy with it for more than 60 years.

So what happened? Why Pride?

The school’s booster/fundraising club was founded in 1989 and dubbed the Pride Club. The word “Pride” was added to the Hofstra seal and served as the closest thing the school had to a logo throughout the ‘90s (well, that or a Visa card, but that explanation is probably for another time).

All remained well until the turn of the century, when the school began referring to itself as the “Pride” but also continued to recognize the Flying Dutchmen nickname—at least until 2005, when committees convened and spent lots of hours and lots of money and devoured lots of takeout food to determine Pride was the official and only acceptable nickname for Hofstra. This also coincided with the unveiling of the “H” shield a new seal and a new logo, all of which was part of the university’s reimaging.

It’s a lot like the Malibu Stacy episode of The Simpsons. “But she’s got a new hat!”

Those of us who were so fond of the Flying Dutchmen had three choices: Accept the new nickname and the burying of Hofstra heritage, remain silent yet saddened by the change or start a blog called Defiantly Dutch and steadfastly refer to Hofstra athletics as the Flying Dutchmen and Dutchwomen.

So here we are. We’d be busting with—ohhhh nooooo—pride if we heard fans bellow “LET’S GO DUTCH!” but Pride, unfortunately, has been drilled into you since the first piece of Hofstra propaganda landed in your mailbox, so we won’t hold it against you if you yell “LET’S GO PRIDE!” I may cry a little inside though.

Geez that was a long-winded answer.

Yeah you might want to get used to that.

OK, anyway, let’s get on to the sports. What are the high-profile teams on campus?

Hofstra has a men’s lacrosse team that is perennially among the top 20 teams in the land, but here, in the hotbed of lacrosse, the diehards are disappointed the Dutchmen have never made the Final Four. They were ranked second in the country in 2006 but blew a five-goal fourth quarter lead against UMass in the quarterfinals at Stony Brook.

The football team was a regular participant in the Division I-AA playoffs in the years prior to and just after the turn of the century but has fallen on hard times lately and no longer has friends in high places (former school president James Shuart was a football player at Hofstra). As I wrote yesterday, this year is pivotal to the future of the program.

The softball team has become the top program in the northeast under Bill Edwards and had its record streak of 11 straight conference tournament championships snapped last year. The women’s basketball team was an also-ran in multiple conferences until 2005-06, when it reached the final eight of the WNIT. Several impressive recruiting classes have the Dutchwomen ready to emerge as a contender in the CAA.

The centerpiece of the athletic program is the men’s basketball team, which played in a conference without an automatic bid and was ranked as one of the worst programs in the land when I arrived on campus in 1993 (back when you damn kids were still getting around on your hands and knees) but has emerged over the last 15 years as the best program in the metro area—major or mid-major. The Dutchmen won the America East and made the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and 2001 under Jay Wright, who parlayed his success here into a gig at Villanova, whom he led to the Final Four last year. We’re all very—ohhhh noooo—proud of him.

Wright’s assistant coach and good friend Tom Pecora replaced Wright just as the Dutchmen were moving into the far more competitive Colonial Athletic Association. A few bumpy seasons ensued, but Pecora and the Dutch faithful were rewarded in 2006, when Hofstra made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team and reached the Sweet Sixteen, where it fell to eventual national champion Florida by three.


No, but occasional forays into revisionist history keep me from losing my mind.

So what happened in 2006?

The rage-just-bubbling-beneath-the-surface version goes something like this: Hofstra went 12-2 down the stretch, losing only to CAA champion UNC-Wilmington (the second time in the CAA title game), and beat fellow at-large contender George Mason twice in an 11-day span, including in the CAA semis. In the final minute of the latter game, some punk on Mason punched Hofstra’s best player, Loren Stokes, in the nuts.  Said punk was suspended for Mason’s next postseason game.

Amazingly, remarkably, despite the absence of said punk and despite Hofstra’s sterling record against Mason, it was Mason that received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and Hofstra that went to the NIT. I am sure the fact Mason’s AD was on the selection committee had nothing to do with it. Mason went on to reach the Final Four and became America’s darlings in the process, proving, once again, that America is full of idiots. The wound is still a bit fresh and I spend approximately 63 percent of my time ranting and raving about Mason and its arrogant, Twitter-averse coach and hoping Hofstra wins its next game against Mason 198-2.

I see. So who, aside from George Mason, is Hofstra’s biggest rival in basketball?

Old Dominion is the rival you can respect. Always well-coached, always competitive, always free of players who punch other players in the nuts and always free of coaches who get all wounded when their Twitter posts are publicized. The Monarchs beat the Dutchmen in the quarterfinals of the NIT in 2006 to earn the trip to Madison Square Garden and edged the Dutchmen by one point in last year’s CAA quarterfinals, but they’re impossible to loathe.

How about in football?

It used to be Delaware, which engaged Hofstra in multiple memorable games—including a pair of I-AA playoff contests, both of which Delaware won—in the mid-to-late ‘90s. But football fuels the engine at Delaware while Hofstra views it as a drag on the bottom line, so the rivalry has faded in recent years.

The best rivalry may be one that could end Saturday. Stony Brook, under the direction of AD and former Hofstra football player Jim Fiore, is no longer content to follow Hofstra’s path and play in the shadow of the Flying Dutch. The Seawolves have big hopes and dreams, particularly in football, yet Hofstra has bigger things in mind for its men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse programs than playing local rivals. It also has a 12-0 advantage in football to protect.

A Cold War between the schools appears to be in progress: Annual games in men’s lacrosse and men’s basketball disappeared off the schedule this year. Is football next? Come out Saturday just in case.

How early should I get there?

Well, kickoff is at 7 p.m., so I’d say…6:59.

Really? Why?

Because meager student support for athletics is a Hofstra tradition unlike any other. Playing Division I-AA football (much like the Pride nickname, we don’t acknowledge FCS here) doesn’t get the juices flowing. There’s no bowl game to play for and the Dutchmen don’t face teams you’ll see every week on ESPN or ABC.

Of course, there is the opportunity to play for a national championship determined on the field, not by a bunch of computers, and the CAA is a remarkable league, one that placed a mind-boggling eight teams in the I-AA preseason top 25. So it’s your loss if you don’t attend football games…and your loss, too, if you don’t get right on the bandwagon when basketball season starts.

There’s national exposure to play for in men’s hoops, yet the pacing of the scheduling, with the bulk of Hofstra’s home games occurring during Intersession, makes it tough to build and sustain student interest. So every February, someone—usually a writer but occasionally Pecora—complains about the lack of support from the student body. Subsequently, students come to realize their time at a Division I school is finite and begin coming out in droves and embracing the team and doing goofy stuff like storming the court after a perfectly routine win. Do not storm the court after a perfectly routine win.

But I’m a big fan of Florida football and UNC basketball.

Don’t be That Guy. I know where you’re coming from—my wardrobe from eighth grade through my second year of community college consisted entirely of Tar Heels duds—but you’re at Hofstra now. Don’t be That Guy who watches I-A football on Saturday afternoons in the fall and Big Six basketball on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the winter and couldn’t identify a single Flying Dutchmen football or basketball player.

The beauty of Hofstra is it ISN’T Florida or UNC. You don’t have to camp out for days to get tickets to games. If you want to paint your chest and get on TV, you will, because nobody else is doing it. You can walk by Pecora on campus and go “Hey, Pecora, what’s up?” and he’ll shake your hand and implore you to come out to a game instead of expressing his displeasure with America’s unmannered youth by trying to kick the crap out of you.

Appreciate the tangible connection you can have with the athletic program, both during and following your time here. Appreciate the loyalty and investment one must make in rooting for a mid-major and embrace the role of the underdog. Because, let’s face it, in the end, we’re all mid-majors, abused by and at the mercy of the Floridas and UNCs of the world.

Wow, good stuff. I’m stoked. I’m going to Shuart Stadium Saturday night and I’m not going to miss a single basketball game in the winter. If I someday become just as passionate and unemployed as you and start a blog called Persistently Prideful, will you add it to your blogroll?

Get off my lawn.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

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