Stockton sports programs bring plaudits to school

From left, Stockton’s men’s soccer player Dominic Nocito, a sophomore from Delran, dribbles past teammate Bryan Hutches, a senior from Haddon Township, on Aug. 31. The men’s soccer program has won the only NCAA title in school history — in 2001.

Stockton was never supposed to be known for sports - just a college in the middle of the woods and not too far from the shore.

Some think it was purposely planned that way.

The old story goes: When Richard Stockton College was built in the 1970s, someone was so vehemently against sports that even the pool was made too small for competition. Stockton started with just club teams, and had just an outdoor basketball court, outdoor tennis courts and one outdoor playing field.

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But 40 years later, the Ospreys have 17 NCAA teams and a thriving intramurals program - none of which are swimming.

"They wanted it to be passive recreation. There wasn't that emphasis put on sports," athletic director Lonnie Folks said. "There are the old wives' tales. People talk about (the pool) and I just smile and let it go. It's a fun story to have around.

For a school that was supposed to be only passive in sports, it has made a mark on the national level. Two years after reaching the Final Four in Division III men's soccer, the Ospreys made it back and won a national championship in 2001 - the only NCAA team title in school history.

Even through pouring rain and hours away, alumni and family still made the trip to support the team as they won the crystal trophy.

"I think athletics has brought more of notoriety to the school," said Stockton men's soccer coach Jeff Haines, who has been with the school for 17 years. "I think that makes all of us proud because we're doing a good job to promote the college."

While the men's soccer team has the only team title, Kim Marino won an individual track and field title in 2003. Marino was the first woman to win the Division III championship in pole vaulting, the first year the event was added.

Others have come close.

The women's soccer team hosted and played in the 1995 NCAA Final Four. The men's basketball made two runs at a national title. In 1987, the team reached the Final Four and in 2009, Stockton was the national runner-up.

All those times, fans and members of the community supported the team, even traveling as far as Virginia to watch the Stockton men compete in the national championship game even though it was during spring break.

"There were staff members who hadn't seen a game all year who went to the national championship. Students were altering their spring break plans," Folks said. "That was really an opportunity to see that people get it. People understand what we do here."

Even though Stockton was not supposed to be known for sports, officials certainly brought in people that were internationally known.

The first two athletic directors for Stockton were Olympic medalists: Don Bragg (1960, gold medal) and G. Larry James (1968, gold and silver).

In the 1990s, the Ospreys became a training ground for many top-level teams.

Stockton hosted a camp for the U.S. women's basketball team before the 1992 Olympics, where they went to win a gold medal.

The school hosted Saudi Arabia's training camp before the 1994 World Cup and 1996 Olympics, and hosted a match between USA and Saudi Arabia before the 1994 World Cup.

In 2000, the Stockton Athletic Center was erected and marked another change in the sports scene. The school opened a 70,000-square foot multi-purpose recreation center with an NCAA competitive basketball court and practice courts for basketball, volleyball, tennis and soccer.

"It really makes you feel good about what we do in athletics," Folks said. "I don't think anyone envisioned 40 years ago that Stockton would be where it is now."

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