A Warm 'Fire Up' Welcome

CMU President Dr. George E. Ross (right) welcomes new athletic director Michael Alford on Friday during the annual Chippewa Challenge at the Soaring Eagle Casino.

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June 9, 2017

Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Handshakes, welcomes and well wishes.

And some inspiring words.

It was a feel-good day for Michael Alford as he donned a maroon-colored polo shirt emblazoned with the action "C" on Friday and made the rounds during Central Michigan University's annual Chippewa Challenge golf outing.

Alford, 47, was named CMU's Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics on May 15. On Friday, he and his wife, Laura, met and greeted about 450 of Chippewa supporters at the Challenge, spread over three Mount Pleasant golf facilities - Buck's Run, the PohlCat and Mount Pleasant Country Club - and ending with dinner at the Soaring Eagle Casino.

"Unbelievable," Alford said in meeting with the media after the dinner. "Laura and I were talking in the car on the way back, and I asked her to give me one word that summed it up after we met the people and she said, `energy.'

"The energy and the love that they have for the university really stood out. It really stood out when I was here during the interview process. The pride they have in this university is just overwhelming, and you feel it everywhere you go."

Alford succeeds Dave Heeke, who left in April after a decade as the university's athletic director for Arizona.

"The legends that have come through here, Herb Deromedi, Dave Keilitz, Dave Heeke, Marcy (Weston)," Alford said in listing his most-recent predecessors in the position. "It's got a national reputation of being a first-class program. When that opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it.

"My job is to come in and continue the growth of CMU athletics and keep it going on a positive note, keep raising the bar, and keep the same standards that those before me have set."

The Alfords were escorted around the three courses by CMU athletics officials, spending about 60 minutes at each course, stopping at various spots to meet donors, exchange pleasantries, and put faces to names.

It was part of a whirlwind weekend for Alford, who officially begins at CMU on July 3. He has served at Oklahoma, leading development and marketing while overseeing several sports.

At Oklahoma, he also served as part of the Title IX, gender equity and diversity and inclusion teams, while negotiating corporate sponsorship agreements and helping to manage master plans for facilities.

His background includes stops at the universities of Southern California and Alabama, along with ABC, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys.

"Laura and I are so excited to be coming here," said Alford, who lettered in baseball at Alabama Birmingham and earned his Master's degree from Arkansas. "We just can't wait to make Mount Pleasant our home and engage ourselves into the community. You want to come in and just listen.

"I want to learn what CMU means to our student-athletes, what CMU means to our donors, to our alumni. I want to hear their vision for the athletic department and what inspires them and put together a strategic plan to meet those goals."

The Chippewa Challenge, a marquee event for CMU athletics, served as a perfect vehicle for the Alfords' introduction. The annual event attracts ardent CMU supporters, alumni and staff.

In its eight-year history, it has generated nearly $1 million in support for Chippewa student-athletes, according to Craig Willey, Deputy Athletic Director/External Operations.

"Proceeds directly impact the student-athlete experience by supplementing our team operating budgets," Willey said. "We are extremely thankful for our longtime presenting sponsors, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Soaring Eagle Casino, CMU Bookstore, Graff of Mount Pleasant, and Quest Software, along with all of our other sponsors and the more than 400 golfers who participate annually and make this such a successful and special event."

The outing raised more than $110,000, more than $20,000 coming from the silent auction, which went online this year for the first time, allowing parties who could not attend Friday's event to take part.

Alford was introduced at the dinner to some 500 CMU supporters by University President Dr. George E. Ross.

Ross listed several athletic achievements during the 2016-17 season:

• Mid-American Conference championships in women's basketball, softball and baseball.

• NCAA Championships qualifiers in wrestling (9) and gymnastics (2).

• A highly successful season for the women's soccer team.

• A football victory over Oklahoma State

• An oh-so-memorable men's basketball win over Western Michigan.

Ross also pointed out the academic success of CMU student-athletes, 140 of whom achieved a grade point average of 3.5 or better.

"The Chippewa Challenge has become much more than a golf outing," Ross said. "It's about friends, it's about Central Michigan University. It's about supporting our students."

He said that in choosing Alford to lead the athletic department, he was impressed by the consistent response from those who had worked with him.

"Everybody we spoke to who has worked with Michael mentioned his leadership, his drive, his ability to achieve goals, and his integrity," Dr. Ross said.

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