High school students could be seen wandering around East?College Drive in large packs Saturday afternoon. Charter buses could be seen streaming into town and working their way around Marshall on Saturday morning. Most restaurants along East?College were busy throughout the day.
Saturday was the kind of day those behind Marshall's push to become a true regional sports center had in mind when pursuing the designation.
The students in those charter buses were in Marshall for the annual Pursuit of Excellence marching band competition, which this year coincided with a Southwest Minnesota State University football game and Smokefest. Those events put some 6,000 to 7,000 people at SMSU at the same time and helped create a festive, event-type atmosphere around the SMSU campus. There's no discounting the Regional Event Center's importance to the campus and the community of Marshall. The REC certainly has its detractors and always will, even when/if the bubble ever comes to fruition. Had the Mustangs not been playing that night, Pursuit and its legions of fans would've easily filled it. We need to appreciate the REC for what it is, not be bitter because it's not all we were told it was going to be.
At the very least, the REC provides a true game-day experience. Attending a football game at the REC is an apple to the original Mattke Field's orange. Back when the Mustangs played along the highway it was just another football game - usually a cold, windy one. Mattke Field wasn't a draw - at least not a strong enough one to keep the majority of the student body from going home on the weekends. Today's students now have a top-notch, quality stadium to watch their team play that is not only more protected from the wind, but one that offers a true concourse, not just a concessions stand stuck under the bleachers, and because of that they're staying in town for the game because game day has grown from just another day to an event. Keeping the students in Marshall for a game builds a sense of campus spirit and unity that was lacking at SMSU a decade ago. For all its charm, the truth is the original Mattke Field, which still manages to serve a purpose in the community, became antiquated.
No, the REC doesn't have a cover on it, and yes, that was part of the deal, but for now let's appreciate this jewel for what it is.