When Wisconsin-Stevens Point took the field against Wisconsin-Platteville on Sept. 10 at Community Stadium, the matchup represented more than just another game on the regular-season schedule.
This was the Spud Bowl, the 25th edition of this event, and while the Pointers suffered a rare loss in the game, falling 26-3 to the Pioneers, the final score wasn’t nearly as important as the purpose the game served.
The game is set up to raise money for scholarships, which are given to students with agricultural backgrounds. The school has teamed up with agri-businesses and agricultural producers in the area to make the event a success.
Five more scholarships were awarded this year and more than $100,000 in scholarships has been given to incoming and current Stevens Point students throughout the years.
Senior defensive back Joe Mleziva transferred to Stevens Point in 2008 and had no idea the game existed before he arrived on campus. It didn’t take him long, however, to understand the significance of it.
“There is added pride for the game,” Mleziva said. “Any game that contains as much tradition and history as the Spud Bowl will get any football player excited to be involved, especially a Pointer. It means a lot to me knowing that I just have to go out and play football to help others. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Stevens Point is 22-3 in the Spud Bowl. Tony Romano is now the chairman of the Spud Bowl committee and is a former player at Stevens Point. He said playing in the Spud Bowl was something he always looked forward to during his career.
“As a player, it’s a blast,” Romano said. “It was our first chance to be successful at home in front of one of our biggest crowds of the year. By the time you are a veteran on the team, you have a real sense of the winning tradition that accompanies the game and the responsibility to keep it going.”
The Spud Bowl is no doubt one of the most unique events in college sports.
Where else can you go for a game and find a large tent set up inside the stadium that has a potato bar in it?
Where else can you go in college football and be at a game where local farmers have donated funds and potatoes to help make the event a success?
The Spud Bowl has clearly carved out its own unique spot in college athletics.
This year, the Stevens Point Area Youth Football Program had a scrimmage during halftime and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association donated 500 mini footballs. Many of those balls were tossed into the crowd.
The game, which had 35 sponsors this year, also raised money for the Susan G. Komen and Circle of Friends Foundations over the weekend. More than $28,000 was raised to aid the battle against cancer.
Tamas Houilihan, the communications director of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, has been involved in the Spud Bowl since the beginning and is thrilled that it has become such a huge hit.
“The game brings together area agri-businesses and agricultural producers, while also supporting student scholarships and the UWSP athletic department,” Houilihan said. “It’s a fun event and it’s a great way for the community and the university to join together and form a wonderful camaraderie.”
The work behind the scenes is what has made the Spud Bowl a success for a quarter of a century. The committee will meet several times during the year to make sure everything is rolling in the right direction. Romano is impressed with how hard the committee members work to make the Spud Bowl a success.
“I have to rely heavily on the committee to inform me of what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past, and we do a very good job of making the necessary changes,” Romano said. “We have a number of really dedicated committee members, some of them have served on the committee since its inception, and I think that says a lot about our local agriculture industry.”
Applicants for the Spud Bowl Scholarships must meet certain criteria.
An applicant must have at least a 2.5 GPA and be a resident of the Stevens Point service area, which includes the counties of Adams, Columbia, Forest, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Marquette, Menominee, Portage, Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara and Wood.
An applicant must also have a farm or agri-business background, including that the scholarship applicant or the applicant’s immediate family is actively involved in agriculture. An applicant must also be involved in extracurricular activities, have past involvement in community service and have financial need.
Members of the football team are not allowed to apply for a scholarship because of NCAA rules. Stevens Point head coach John Meich does point out, though, that roughly 10 percent of the team hails from an agriculture background.
Romano still remembers what it was like to play in the Spud Bowl and shared some of his memories during an interview.
“The first was my first Spud Bowl as a true freshman,” Romano said. “It was against Northern State and we lost in overtime. But it wasn’t the loss that stuck with me at the time. Having played on a state championship team in high school, I thought I was prepared for college football. The game was so physical, the contact was loud and everyone was fast. I was wrong about being prepared.”
His final Spud Bowl still lives in his memory as well.
“We beat Tri-State 57-3 where our offense exploded and our defense only gave up a field goal,” Romano said. “At that point, we were 17-1 all-time in the Spud Bowl.”
Mleziva also recalled one of his memorable moments in the Spud Bowl.
“My favorite game was in 2009,” Mleziva said. “We not only played Wisconsin-Eau Claire in the Spud Bowl, but it was also our first conference game. We beat them 48-33.”
Miech said a lot of teams are afraid to play the Pointers in the Spud Bowl because of the success his team has had in the game. But win or lose, the most successful coach in school history takes pride in the fact that his team has a chance to compete in a game such as the Spud Bowl.
“It’s an honor to play in a game that honors the hard-working farmers in our area,” Miech said.
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