Thursday, December 1, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

Alma mater

The smaller colleges often go unnoticed.

Such can be said of my alma mater, the University of North Alabama.

There was lots and lots of football, as normal, over the Thanksgiving holidays. I saw a few good games - Dallas vs. Denver in the NFL and Georgia vs. Georgia Tech among the major colleges. There were others.

But in case you missed it (and you probably did) the UNA Lions got a 45-yard field goal in overtime from kicker Yuta Fukuda to beat Central Arkansas 41-38 in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.

That’s right. In Division II, the champ is decided on the field, not through opinions, votes and polls.

And the championship game is played each year at Florence, Ala.’s Braly Municipal Stadium, the home of the UNA Lions.

North Alabama is just one win away from playing in that title game. And the semi-final matchup with Northwest Missouri State will be on the home turf this Saturday, Dec. 3.

There are other UNA alumni in the Marshall County area, too, and some students from here now attending college there.

It’s a great school - just the right size, I think - not too big and not too small.

The Lions are in pursuit of their fourth Division II football title, having won three straight in 1993, 1994 and 1995. They’re now 22-7 all-time in the playoffs for the most wins of any current Division II school.

A few weeks ago, on our return trip from the Smoky Mountains, the family stopped on the UNA campus for a break. We also rode by my former apartment, in an older house that is now boarded up. But it looked as if it had been bought, hopefully by someone intending to renovate the two-story structure.

Three-year-old Erin needed to get out of the van and roam by the time we got to Florence. We all did. We had been riding too long.

The roads on campus had changed - no more driving through the center.

So we parked and walked to the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat, home of Leo III and Una (pronounced YOU-nah).

The lions are twins - brother and sister - born November 18, 2002.

Just one mascot, also named Leo, was there when I was in college back in the early 1980s. I walked by the habitat every day going to and from classes.

That apartment was only a few blocks from campus.

When Leo III is fully grown, he should be nearly eight feet long and about four and a half feet tall at his shoulder. Una will be smaller and should be about five feet long and about three and a half feet tall at her shoulder.

They eat raw meat, which looks like hamburger meat, that contains special vitamins and minerals. Just like meat for people, the meat fed to Leo III and Una is inspected and kept cold until it is fed to them. Also, Leo III and Una chew on bones, which help clean their teeth, and they are fed pig ears and other items as special treats.

Today, both Leo III and Una attend home football games in a trailer made specifically for them. It has separate areas for Leo III and Una with a fresh air supply, is heated or cooled depending on the weather, and has a special slot to provide the lions water and food.

Leo III and Una will be on hand at Braly Municipal Stadium Saturday for the semi-finals and hopefully one more time, on the next Saturday, Dec. 10, for the championship game.

This weekend’s game, I believe, will be televised on one of the many ESPN channels, and the title contest will be, too.

It’s great to see UNA back in the hunt for a national crown, and maybe more people will take notice in the coming weeks.

I’m proud to call UNA my alma mater.

Go Lions!

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