Rio Grande announces rebirth of football program

Published 7:23 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

University of Rio Grande football helmet


RIO GRANDE — The T-shirt reads “Rio Grande Football Unbeaten Since 1950.”

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That unbeaten “streak” could be in jeopardy now that the University Rio Grande announced the rebirth of its dormant football program on Tuesday.

Rio Grande had football from 1914 to 1949 with the last game played on Thanksgiving Nov. 24, 1949, which was a 44-0 loss to Wilberforce on a snow covered field in Detroit, Mi.

But the chance to start a new winning trek is going to begin in the fall of 2025.

“Football is a cherished tradition in Ohio and we believe the time is now to revive it here at Rio,” said university president Ryan Smith. “This initiative strengthens our bond with the southern Ohio community.

In a time when many colleges are eliminating athletic programs and even closing their schools, Rio Grande is continuing to add to its athletic programs.

In recent years the RedStorm has added men’s and women’s bowling, men’s and women’s golf, archery, men’s and women’s wrestling, men’s and women’s rugby, men’s volleyball, dance, bass fishing and eSports.

Those programs were added to men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s track and cross country, women’s volleyball, baseball and softball.

“It’s all about more opportunities for the students in our region, both educationally and athletically, as well as for people who just want to come and be involved in a vibrant campus environment,” said Smith.

With the resurrection of the football program plus the addition of a marching band as well, Rio Grande athletic director Jeff Lanham sees Rio Grande as a destination for area athletes.

“This move signifies our commitment to growth and development, enhancing campus life and fostering deeper community engagement,” said Lanham.

“With football comes the opportunity to unite our stakeholders and amplify school spirit, while the addition of a marching band further enriches the experience.”

The athletic department is now taking applications for the head coaching position and plans to hire by this summer. After a head coach is selected, assistant coaches will be added.

Games will be played initially at Jackson High School’s Alumni Stadium.

The university is also planning to invest in the construction of a new fitness center that will benefit all of the RedStorm athletic programs.

Smith said the addition of football, a marching band and a new fitness center should bring an additional 150 to 200 students to the campus.

“The fitness center that we currently have was built 32 years ago, but the addition of these two programs is going to put us at right around 700 student-athletes,” said Smith.

“We’re building locker rooms to go along with it as well. That’s Phase 1 of the project. Phase 2, depending how fast we can get there, is a turf field and a stadium where we currently play rugby.”

Rio Grande is an NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) school and member of the River States Conference which does not sponsor football.

To solve that problem, Rio Grande is applying to become an affiliate member of the Appalachian Athletic Conference for football only. The AAC is the largest NAIA conference in America.

The AAC membership includes schools in Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia including Kentucky Christian in Grayson, Ky., and Bluefield (Va.) University.

Other schools are Brenau University in Gainesville, Ga., Bryan College in Dayton, TN., Columbia College and Columbia International in Columbia, S.C., Johnson University in Knoxville, Tn., Milligan University in Elizabethton, Tn., Montreat College in Montreat, N.C., the University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Ky., Reinhardt University in Waleska, Ga., St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, N.C., Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Ga., Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tn., Truett McConnell University in Cleveland, GA., and Union College ins Barbourville, KY.

Point University in West Point, Ga.,, is an affiliate member.

The school’s Board of Directors voted on March 21, 1950 to dissolve the football program for financial reasons. The football equipment was sold and the profits used to buy new basketball uniforms including No. 32 which was worn by Rio Grande legends Bevo Francis.