If you build it, they will come
Published: Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010 16:01
The gentle autumn breeze swirls through the empty stands at Joseph J. Morrone Stadium. The metal bleachers are cold against bare skin. On the field, the crisp green grass gently gives way each time someone takes a step.
The words Joseph J. Morrone Stadium sit in large navy blue letters, centered across the press box. Above the stadium's name hangs a large blue and white banner that reads "Connecticut Soccer" and is littered with pictures of the Huskies.
Over the years, students, family and fans have come to recognize Morrone Stadium as the ideal representation of UConn soccer.
But it wasn't always like this. It wasn't always this nice, nor was it always this popular. In fact, it was the power and prestige of Joseph J. Morrone himself that brought UConn soccer to where it is today.
Nowadays, Morrone can be found in his Gampel office or in the classroom teaching his Theory of Coaching class.
But in 1969, Morrone came to UConn as the head coach of men's soccer and the assistant lacrosse coach.
"When I came here there was no stadium," Morrone said. "I would get my own kids and their friends to run the lines. We didn't have any people attending the games at that time in 1969. Soccer wasn't big here or anywhere."
Before there ever was a soccer field, the area where the present day stadium stands was a swamp, filled in with water and overgrown foliage. When it came time to make a field, Morrone decided to have two fields that ran perpendicular to Stadium Road; one for soccer and one for lacrosse.
In Morrone's first three years as head coach, the Huskies were 13-25-2. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the talent picked up, the wins picked up and consequently so did the crowds.
"We built our program to the point where we were the Notre Dame of soccer if you will, like the Notre Dame of college football," Morrone said. "We were like the Yankees and Red Sox in baseball. Every place we went, we were the team to beat."
Slowly, the building of a soccer stadium was set in motion. Bleachers were set up, the fields were turned 90 degrees and perhaps most impressively, a press box was built.
The development of the press box at Morrone Stadium was one of Morrone's own ideas. At first it was a 6-foot folding table that stood on the sideline. Eventually the athletic department saw the need to help the press and they bought a trailer that opened up to face the field, Morrone said.
When former UConn Athletic Director Todd Turner authorized the building of the main set of bleachers at Marrone, the original plan was to put up a 60-foot press box atop the bleachers. Morrone objected to the plan, citing the need for the 120-foot box that currently sits atop of the bleachers.
The most interesting part of the entire plan was that Morrone promised to find the means to fund the project himself.
"I went out and found a donor to give us all of the materials," Morrone said. "I found a donor who drew the plans up. I found a donor who would provide two foremen who would not only work on the press box, but lead a group of volunteers to work it as well."
Morrone didn't stop there. He went to the dining halls on campus and received two refrigerators that he put in the press box to serve cold beverages. He asked local donut shops to donate donuts to the press box on game days.
As all of this was happening, Morrone was also forming the organization "Friends of Soccer," to raise money in support of the soccer program. The Friends of Soccer still exist today.
When it came time to build the press box, no hired laborers showed up to the construction site. Instead it was the people involved with Friends of Soccer that came to build the press box.
By the end of it all, a calculated total of 2,037 hours of labor and $80,000 in funds, materials and services were donated towards the completion of the press box.
At this point in his career, Morrone had been more than a head coach of a soccer team, the field manager, the maintenance man, the security and the man who brought soccer to Connecticut.
"I actually locked the gates after games," Morrone said. "I was the last one out. I remember when we first put the press box up, I literally walked the grounds picking up trash to make sure the place was looking good."
Morrone did the near impossible. He took a dozen fans in attendance at his first game in 1969 and turned that into 9,200 fans who watched his team play Alabama A&M in 1982.
Under Morrone, the UConn soccer program was the first in the country to have food and clothing concessions at the games. All of this was possible with the Friends of Soccer partnership, Morrone said.
Morrone retired as the men's soccer coach in 1996 and on April 11, 1997, the UConn Board of Trustees changed the name of the Connecticut Soccer Stadium to the Joseph J. Morrone Stadium.
In 28 years with the UConn soccer program, Morrone finished with a 358-178-53 record. In 1981, he led the Huskies over Alabama A&M in the National Championship.
This past April, Morrone Stadium was named the fourth-best soccer venue in the United States, according to goal.com.
For those who watch the soccer teams play, is it appropriate that the Connecticut Soccer banner flawlessly hangs over the press box and over the words Joseph J. Morrone Stadium? That question is best answered by the UConn faithful.