Mike Waddell wants to be a better neighbor.
athletic director knows the school and the Towson community went through some tense moments last year over its new arena plans.
And while relations have improved since then, Waddell wants to further ease the strain by getting university athletes and coaches involved in the community through youth clinics, volunteering and discount tickets for neighbors.
"If you want them to come to birthday parties, I can probably arrange that," Waddell joked during a presentation at a Greater Towson Council of Community Associations meeting in February.
In turn, he hopes Towson residents will become more involved in supporting TU teams.
"I want the little kids who grow up around Rodgers Forge and north, south, east and west of central Towson to grow up wanting to be Tigers," he said.
Waddell's meeting with the GTCCA was one stop of many as he looks for more ways to unify Towson neighborhoods with Towson sports.
Waddell was as part of President Robert Caret's push to elevate the university's profile through sports. In the last decade, that initiative has seen the Tigers move into a key mid-major conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, and the planned construction of a .
But that initiative hasn't yet paid off in wins or community involvement.
Though some sports (most recently, women's swimming and diving) have found success, the football team finished 2010 with a dismal 1-10 record. The men's basketball team, another flagship, this season.
And long before shovels hit the ground, the arena project was beset by controversy and community protests, . Due to construction and rowdy students, the university has often been viewed as aloof with the community in recent years.
With athletics, many residents express a lack of ownership. Even high-profile local games often fill less than half of the Towson Center.
Waddell, who came to Towson from the University of Cincinnati in October, intends to change that, bringing in people he calls "sidewalk alumni."
"From the time they come out of GBMC or St. Joe's to the day that they're put into the ground, they need to think of what it means to be associated with the black and gold from a university perspective," he said.
To enhance community interest, Waddell plans to host a football clinic for young players in conjunction with the spring football game on April 30.
He also plans to establish a discount ticket package for Towson residents based on zip codes. More details and dates about discount tickets will be available when the department unveils marketing plans later this month.
In addition, he is looking into more volunteer opportunities for his student-athletes. In the past, Towson student-athletes have helped with community clean-up days and with preparing the Friends of the Towson Library Book Sale.
The new ideas aren't unique to Towson. At the University of Delaware, Towson's CAA arch-rival, the athletic department hosts clinics with its women's basketball team and dispatches athletes on book drives and fundraisers for organizations like the Ronald McDonald House.
Pat Foretich, a Stanmore Road resident and once an outspoken critic of the arena's construction, said he believes the university is making good-faith efforts and is not just trying to divert attention from past conflicts.
"I think it's an honest outreach," Foretich said. "It's beneficial to both sides to help the kids."
He added that the community has asked the athletic department in the past about using its baseball and softball fields for youth baseball championship games, but had not heard back.
The idea was presented again to Waddell at the February GTCCA meeting, and the athletic director said he was open to anything.
Tyler Mays, vice president of the Rodgers Forge Community Association, goes to Towson games occasionally and said that though athletics are far from a silver bullet, he's happy to hear about Waddell trying new things.
"I think that is a good sign and a good step in the right direction for the university to get some of the neighbors at least to care about the athletics program," he said.
David Kosak, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations and a 2009 TU graduate, has a unique interest in the Tigers' success and looks forward to improved outreach programs.
"The university can really advance what a great place we are, what an awesome city Towson is on a much larger scale than the community can," Kosak said. "I want to make sure that we as a community support that."
However, Kosak said, the Tigers will need to win before neighbors start showing up in droves.
Waddell, not surprisingly, shares that concern. He wants to see Towson contending on the national stage in basketball in the next five years.
But first, he wants Towson to become a regional contender. The football team's 2011 schedule opens against Morgan State and includes a trip to Maryland. The men's basketball team beat Coppin State and UMBC, though they late in the season.
"I don't just want to be the king of Baltimore, I don't just want to be the queen of Baltimore in terms of our athletics. I want be the best in the league,” he said. “I want to be in the league winning the nation. There's no reason why we can't do it."