September 1, 2011

After 17 years, trailblazer calls it a day

By Christan Shirk

Another D-III college soccer season is about to kick off as most players and coaches finish a second week of preseason preparation, sites like this one awake from the slumber of the long and uneventful off-season, and the NSCAA dusts off its final 2010 rankings and puts a new preseason bow on it. However, while many of the routines and rhythms of seasons gone by repeat themselves yet again, one mainstay of the D-III soccer landscape is missing. No, Jay Martin has not retired from his head coaching post at Ohio Wesleyan. No, Messiah College has not been forced to move up to Division I. But regular visitors to D3Soccer.net will be disappointed when they click their bookmark this week only to be greeted by the large print words: D3Soccer.Net Has Left the Building.

D3Soccer.net Has Left the Building

Thus ends an era in D-III soccer history as this groundbreaking and influential website closes up shop. Except for a temporary hiatus in 2002, D3Soccer.net has been a constant and invaluable resource for D-III soccer fans for the past decade. In truth, the site dates back 17 years, having gone by other names with different URLs prior to 2001, and there have been few greater constants in D-III soccer during that period than the one-man project that gave the sport its first dedicated division-wide presence on the internet. 

In 1994, before many schools had a working webpage for their teams, Tim Lawrence of Baltimore, Maryland, created a website with information about that year’s NCAA Division III soccer championship. “Johns Hopkins University, for which my son was playing, had reached the national tournament, and I was frustrated at the general lack of information on the web with regard to Division III soccer in general and the tournament in particular. I decided to create a website with information about the tournament, as well as a site dedicated to JHU soccer,” explains Tim.

Tim Lawrence

Tim Lawrence, trailblazing creator of D3Soccer.net

A 1972 graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, Tim had not played high school or college soccer and had never followed college soccer until his son Jared enrolled at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1992. “While I played for my fraternity team, I do not even recall if CMU had a team then,” confesses the legislative aide to a Maryland state delegate. In 1992, Tim was still working in database management and project management for the federal government and kicking the ball around in recreational leagues in his spare time; Johns Hopkins was still playing in the old Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) and its soccer program was in turmoil. How things would change in just two years for Johns Hopkins and, in turn, for D-III soccer.

In 1993 Hopkins was among the schools that left the MAC to form the Centennial Conference and Matt Smith was hired to turn around the school’s soccer program. The revival came quickly, although at the end of the following September, what would thereafter be taken for granted — Hopkins as a D-III power and a D-III soccer presence on the internet—hadn’t even been given consideration yet. On an early season road trip the squad was decimated when nearly half the team contacted a severe case of food poisoning, going 2-2-3 over the next seven games. Additionally, Tim’s son Jared, a junior midfielder that season, missed the entire month of September with mononucleosis.

In October the squad was back to full strength and nine straight wins later Johns Hopkins was in the Division III tournament and Tim had launched his website. It was his first foray in creating a website and one does not want to contemplate what might have been (or not been, in this case) had Hopkins not qualified for the tournament. Jared made Dad proud, scoring four goals, three game-winners, to push Hopkins through regionals and the quarterfinals and into the Final Four. Johns Hopkins would reach the title game, losing 1-0 to Bethany (W.V.) in overtime, and Jared went into the record books as the tournament’s leading scorer. The four-year starter would cap off his collegiate career in 1995 as a conference honorable mention defender, also garnering conference All-Academic and CoSIDA Academic All-District honors and John Hopkins’ 1996 Dr. William Howard Award that recognizes a senior who excels both as a scholar and an athlete.

It would have been understandable if Tim had moved on to other things following his son’s graduation, but he continued going to games and, primarily for the benefit of the families of Jared’s younger teammates, maintained his website. The names and URLs of the site which would become Tim’s main hobby as its reach spread beyond the Johns Hopkins’ community in the 90’s “have long since escaped my 60 year old memory,” admits Tim. But he does recall that “the URL was as long as my arm, and I couldn’t remember it to tell people who were interested.”

D3Soccer.net Logo Growing in content and readership at the turn of the century, it was time to change that. In January 2001 Tim registered the name D3Soccer.net which was both easy to remember and more discover-able by fans hungry for D-III soccer coverage. It was the first time he had invested any money in the site: a practical matter rather than reflecting any change in commitment on his part. With Tim funding and maintaining the site by himself, D3Soccer.net would change little in terms of appearance and content offerings over its decade of existence. It was and remained to its end a simple but functional site, and always free of advertising and pop-ups.

D3Soccer.net home page
The home page of the simple but functional D3Soccer.net site before being taken off-line.

Principally the site provided links to all available D-III men’s soccer team web pages and conference websites, lists of early season tournaments and end of season conference playoffs, and the most comprehensive, accurate, and prompt list of D-III scores that could be found on the internet of which selected results were “headlined” on the home page each day. It’s probable that the daily scores were the most popular feature and what made the site so popular—where else could you find all D-III scores from across the nation, almost all posted before you went to bed each day? No where!

Tim refuses to divulge how he managed to compile his list of scores that were never matched by the various semi-automated scoreboard systems that have tried to tackle D-III soccer. “That shall remain a trade secret” quips the former database manager, but one has to imagine that a hefty time investment was part of the equation. “During the season, I would estimate I spent about 40 hours a week on the site,” admits Tim. “During the off-season, however, I spent a lot of time in preparation, updating conference links and team links, gathering schedules, etc. I would estimate I spent over 800 hours each year on the site.”

In 2000, before the site became D3Soccer.net, Tim also launched a companion message board. “I saw message boards for other sports and figured that would be a nice, low-maintenance addition to the site that would enhance the D-III soccer experience for players, coaches, and fans.” He would bring his daughter, affectionately known as Princess Kate, on board to help with the message board maintenance. Simply named D3Soccer Message Board, it allowed fans from across the nation to interact with one another, discovering that they were not alone in their passion for D-III soccer. This appealed to parents, friends, current students and alumni, and even players and coaches, although for obvious reasons some coaches ended up prohibiting their players from even visiting the message board. Interaction would range from the amiable exchange of information and perspectives to the spirited banter and ribbing between rivals schools. Known to many until now simply by his screen name, BlueJayFan, it was here that visitors got to know a little about the man behind the website.

D3Soccer.net Content

Links to the standard content at D3Soccer.net

The website and message board in tandem certainly fed off each other to some degree with the site garnering more unique visitors and the message board more visits. Tim believes that “it is probably safe to say that almost every person who visited the message board at one time or another visited the website, but I would not say that everyone who visited the website would visit the message board.” Since the site and message board grew almost solely through word-of-mouth, the Mid-Atlantic region unsurprisingly dominated the demographics early on and always remained a majority.

Tim shies away from the characterization of his website and message board creations as being monumental, but that’s exactly what they have been. Unprecedented and largely unmatched as a comprehensive source of D-III soccer information and as a home for fans to opine, interact, and exchange information. Tim humbly notes that “most of what I posted could be found on individual school sites.” While that may be true, Tim was a trailblazer for consolidating the piece-meal information that was out there into a single site with a division-wide perspective. And the influence that has had on the D-III soccer community maybe is best illustrated by the fact that numerous creators of other sites and message boards dedicated to D-III soccer had previously been visitors to his site and posters on his message board.

Most of these other sites and message boards have come and gone with varying levels of success but did not displace D3Soccer.net or its message board. However, Tim never saw them as competition. “I never had a problem with people starting up D-III websites. I encouraged that, in fact, and offered help on occasion. I started [my site] to fill a void. I always said that when someone came along and duplicated what I was doing, and did it well, I would bow out.”

Does Tim have any sense for why his simple site has outlasted most of the other attempts, some with more sophisticated, graphically enhanced sites? “Function over form, basically. I presented what fans wanted in an easy-to-navigate, albeit not at all glitzy, format. And they did not have to wade past advertising and pop-ups to get it. I considered modernizing the site, but did not see that it would make it significantly more functional. Earlier efforts by other sites failed, I think, because they were much more profit-oriented. D3Soccer.net was driven by passion, not profit.”

D3Soccer.net Headlines

The final headlines posted at D3Soccer.net last November

The site grew to a peak of approximately 120,000 hits per season in the mid-2000’s and remained there until last season when the site experienced its first significant decline in visitors. Tim admits “that made me question the continuing value of the site to the D-III community,” but that was not his primary reason for retiring the site. That would be the “800 hours per year that I now have free to spend with my four grandchildren, with more down the road, hopefully. Still, I would not have abandoned the D-III soccer community if I did not see a viable alternative out there.”

While the website is not returning for the 2011 season, the message board will continue. Given the geographical spread of participants and the wealth of insight they bring to the community, it has become not just a place for banter and discussion but a real source of information and informed opinion. As Tim says, it keeps itself running.

So what will autumns be like for Tim now that he does not have the site to maintain? “I will be attending JHU and other matches, and instead of rushing home to update the site, I might hang around a bit and chat with the coaches, or do some sightseeing on the way home from away matches. But I will definitely be following D-III soccer.”

Enjoy yourself, Tim. You certainly deserve it as you do the gratitude of thousands upon thousands of D-III soccer fans. Your legacy lives on through sites such as this one, and we thank you.


Comments or feedback for the author?  Email Christan Shirk.



CHRISTAN SHIRK

Christan Shirk

 

Christan Shirk is a Messiah College graduate (1993, Civil Engineering) and has been a keen and passionate observer of D-III soccer for over a decade and a half. Never more than a rec-league player himself, Chris brings an analytical approach and nationwide perspective to D3soccer.com. He loves D-III soccer history, statistical number-crunching, and off-the-radar action, all of which he gladly shares with his readers when he's able to find time to write. [see full bio]

Questions or comments?

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