As Alumni Weekend approaches, the Lynchburg College athletic department is profiling the teams and players selected to this year's Hall of Fame Class. The third honor goes to the 1971 men's soccer team, which was led by the late Bill Shellenberger and his assistant, current Hornet Club director George Grzenda, with captains Eric Wagner and Craig Campbell.
The 1971 men's soccer team had a very instrumental season in the history of not only Lynchburg College, but in the region as well. The team went 14-3-1 during the year, and only missed out on the NAIA national tournament because of the small number of teams admitted. However, this team was known for what they did in the state.
During those years, a state championship was contested between the winner of an Eastern Division and a Western Division. The University of Virginia, who had won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in '71, captured the Eastern title. The one tie LC had was with James Madison University, and therefore the two teams had to meet again at a neutral site (Washington and Lee), where the Hornets would be victorious 3-1 and earn the right to host the state championship game.
The game was a hard fought affair, going back and forth with both teams getting a couple of good scoring opportunities. With over 5,000 people in attendance, the largest crowd in the history of Lynchburg College, people were anxious to see a result. At the end of regulation, both teams were scoreless. Two five-minute overtime periods were in store, and both of them finished at 0-0. After the two overtime periods ended, it went to four 15-minute golden goal periods. After 30 more minutes of scoreless soccer, the referees and coaches decided that the third golden goal overtime would be the last due to darkness. Seven minutes into the last overtime, John Chewning subbed in for the first time and headed in the game winner off of a corner kick.
The fans rushed the field and it was the "biggest dog pile I've ever seen," said Grzenda. Wagner added that it was "spectacular to get a result with that crowd. It was the best moment in my career."
The win was extremely important for the city itself and the rest of the region. Everywhere Shellenberger and Grzenda went after the win, people from the town celebrated the victory. In one diner near campus, all of the students lifted Shellenberger onto their shoulders. Dr. Brewer, the President of the college, cancelled all 10:50 classes the next day and presented the team with a plaque on the steps of Hopwood Hall.
Both Wagner and Grzenda stated that the win sparked the development of soccer in Lynchburg as well. The programs at E.C. Glass High School and Jefferson Forrest High School were jumpstarted after the win. Other programs, such as Blacksburg High School, where current goalkeeper Michael Releford attended, bloomed since the victory. Blacksburg is headed by former LC soccer player Shelley Blumenthal, who graduated in '79.
The team was very diverse, with players from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Long Island, and some from eastern Virginia. There was even a player from Thailand. Coach Shellenberger had the task of blending the players of different backgrounds into a successful team, and he clearly succeeded in the task. All of the players were equal as well, with no real superstar on the team, making it a total group effort to win.
All in all it was a great experience for the players, coaches, fans, college, and Virginia as a whole. But the most important aspect that can be said is by Wagner: "It was fun."