The University of Findlay is well known for having the kind of atmosphere that encourages and creates relationships of all kinds. Often, alumni remark on their time at the University by highlighting the many people they met while there, some of whom with which they’ve formed permanent bonds that last well beyond their time as a student.
Just as frequently, however, UF alumni don’t come together until after they’ve graduated, having traversed separate paths, or perhaps having been on campus at different times in their academic and athletic careers. It’s particularly impressive when these alumni combine talents to make great things happen. This, as Mark Meibers ’03 and Brad Morrison ‘91 recently realized, is when the Oiler Experience shines most brightly.
Meibers, the athletic director and assistant principal at Harrison High School in Harrison, Ohio, a Division II athletic school that normally graduates around 250 students, saw, along with other administrators at the school, the need for some new athletic facilities as well as some work on existing ones. The school district had passed a levy that included 10 million dollars in renovations to the high school. “We were all thinking, ‘Great, the levy passed, but now we need to raise money to make our athletic facilities match the first-class school we’ll have as a result,’” Meibers said.
The Harrison Athletic Boosters began to put the message out, getting it on social media and spreading the word in other ways around the area. Ultimately, the boosters stepped up to successfully hold a fundraiser that garnered the funds to put in two turf fields–a game field turf and a practice field facility–and do the necessary upgrading to create the space for all the Harrison athletic teams. The next step was finding the company to do it.
As a member of the UF football squad along with his brother Kenny ’01, who was on the 1997 National Champion team, Meibers had connections to UF athletics. He began talking to UF men’s head basketball coach Charlie Ernst and senior associate athletic director for development and business, Jim Givens. “It was kind of a small circle thing,” Meibers said. “One of them told me that they knew a guy who was a graduate of UF who owned a turf company in Oregon, Ohio and that we should let him bid on the project.” Meibers told them that he’d love to meet him.
Enter Morrison, UF grad and principal owner of Maumee Bay Turf Center, a single source design-build provider for Turf Nation synthetic sports surfaces. The company also specializes in natural field construction, maintenance and renovation, and has manufactured turf for, among many others, the 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018 Super Bowls. Morrison played basketball at UF for coach Ron Niekamp in 1990 and ’91, and his dad, Carl “Dutch” Morrison, played basketball for coach Dr. Jim Houdeshell back in the late 50s, so the connection to UF runs deep. Meibers contacted the company’s sales rep and asked to sit down and discuss the nuances of the project. As a result, Morrison, representing his company, met with the superintendent of Harrison Schools and the booster group and gave his pitch.
According to Morrison, he and Meibers “connected immediately,” over conversation not initially about the project, but rather their days at UF. “It created an immediate bond,” Morrison said. “When schools are spending millions on athletic facility upgrades, there must be that unquestionable level of trust. They are putting the safety of their student-athletes, and in Mark’s case, his own children, completely in our hands. We take this responsibility very seriously. On top of that, we built one heck of a friendship.”
“We were all definitely impressed,” Meibers said, “so we went with them, and we couldn’t be happier. It helped that Brad is a Findlay grad. There’s a sentiment that this guy is a hard worker, he’s intelligent, he’s connected and gives back to the community. There are certainly lots of pillars built around the Findlay brand.”
Now, with the facilities and game field completed, both men have a chance to sit back and ponder the connection created by being UF alumni. “Being down here [Harrison is in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area] we would have never known Maumee Bay without the connection to Findlay,” Meibers explained. “It definitely speaks to what UF brings when it comes to relationships built outside of the classroom.”
“I would not be exaggerating if I said 50-75 percent of the deals we close have some sort of UF connection,” Morrison continued. “A lot of people do not realize how special UF is, and how far reaching the friendships extend, even with classes that are decades apart. As we always say, once an Oiler, always an Oiler. I speak daily about how special the city of Findlay and the University are, and how attending UF was life-changing for me.”
Meibers agrees with the “always an Oiler” philosophy, a fact that he supports by his continuing relationships to the college. “I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to come back and speak with [UF head football] Coach Keys and the team,” he said, “and have found that, as alumni, you’re still welcomed and accepted on campus. That says a lot.”
“Honestly,” Morrison, whose daughter is currently continuing the family legacy by playing volleyball for UF as a senior defensive specialist/libero, added, “UF, to me is one of the best places on earth. I would not be where I am today without the faculty and staff at UF. The entire town of Findlay, as well as the University are true hidden gems.”
Two men. One University. Infinite possibilities. Just one of the examples of the many bonds that UF continually produces for students and alumni. For Morrison’s daughter and many other students who will eventually walk back out under the Griffith Memorial Arch and into the world, these relationships will prove that “once an Oiler, always an Oiler” has a meaning that goes far beyond athletics or academia.