By Parrish Alford
TUPELO – Any expense incurred by Ole Miss athletics by loading the bus and driving here Thursday was offset in a big way.
As Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork addressed a mid-day gathering of fans and alumni at the BancorpSouth Arena meeting rooms – the Tupelo stop on the “Rebel Road Trip” – he let them in on a little secret.
Minutes before he started talking Bjork got the word that athletics had received a commitment for a $2 million gift.
That’s what you call winning the day.
The donation was marked for no specific expense but was given to the school’s “Forward Together” campaign, the centerpiece of which is the new basketball arena. Dirt work has already begun.
“To have people step up pretty much every day toward our campaign, to receive a gift like this today is big for our program to keep that momentum moving ahead,” Bjork said.
The donor’s name has not been released.
The gift brings the capital campaign to $110 million – $10 million short of what Bjork believes he needs to remove the bleachers and begin bowling in the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“Hopefully by the summer we can have a lot more momentum to define a timeline and maybe do some things after this football season. If not, then after the 2015 season,” he said.
Women’s basketball coach Matt Insell and football coach Hugh Freeze also addressed the crowd. Freeze, 15-11 entering his third season as coach, before and after he spoke.
On previous visits to Tupelo, Freeze has spoken about the journey of a rebuilding football program and the challenge of guiding it through the “wilderness.”
The message Thursday was more directed to what fans can do to help the program move forward.
“I don’t know what your strengths are, but I know you have something that is of value to us and to the place you love, something you can give,” Freeze said. “Here would be my challenge to you: Do what you have been doing and one extra thing.”
Something extra could include a monetary donation, but it could also include writing encouraging notes to players and coaches or perhaps praying for people in the program.
Seemingly small contributions are meaningful, Freeze said.
He also challenged the group to remain focused on moving the program forward and to not been thrown off track by criticism.
“We’ve had some good times, we’ve had some disappointing times, but I think everyone would say we much farther along than we thought we’d be at this point,” Freeze said.