Felicia Shelton, a junior at Georgia Gwinnett College, cheers on the men's soccer team during the first game in school history on Saturday afternoon.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- No pressure, the president said, you're only making history.
That was the message from Georgia Gwinnett College President Daniel Kaufman to the school's men's and women's soccer players in a pre-game meeting, and just prior to the first-ever coin toss before a varsity sporting event on the school's intramural field on Saturday.
With visitors from Tennessee Temple University, GGC held its first varsity athletics events before a crowd of several hundred on a field that last year was a dirt mound, and two years ago was a wooded area.
It's been about two years since the school began plans for an athletics program, and a year since it hired an athletics director.
"You want to give young people a sense of time and place, that it isn't just another soccer game," Kaufman said. "It has significantly more implications than that."
School spirit created by the addition of the athletics program was a difference that Student Government Association President Seijin Tranberg said he noticed when he returned to campus this summer.
"There are chants, and I'm like, 'I don't know these chants,'" he said. "It's really cool because it's completely student-initiated, and kids are bringing signs for their friends. It's very organic development toward Grizzly pride, to GGC pride."
When Athletics Director Darin Wilson joined GGC last August, he said he was impressed that the school already had a mascot and logos.
"Now they have somebody to really cheer for, in our teams," Wilson said. "I think having athletics on a campus just elevates everything. It elevates the academic piece, it helps your social piece and certainly I think it helps from a publicity standpoint, not only in this area, but across the world. Because we have so many international athletes, particularly on our men's soccer team."
The Grizzlies compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and will field six teams this academic year. Along with the two soccer teams that began on Saturday, GGC will also have a baseball program, men's and women's tennis teams and a fastpitch softball team.
Wilson said school officials would continue to discuss funding and needs around the campus to determine when it decides to add women's volleyball, basketball or other programs. Wilson said there isn't a timetable yet to add more programs.
The Grizzly Soccer Field expects to be finished before the end of this season, Wilson said. That's part of the $13.5 million athletics complex that will have baseball, softball and soccer fields.
Adding something new has become such a routine for the school that Tranberg said there's a running joke, "it's the GGC way, nothing's ever the same, it's always changing."
For upperclassmen like him, Tranberg said the school's identity has changed dramatically in a short time.
"Sometimes there's this dichotomy, there's this split, is that really us? Do we want to become that?" Tranberg said. "But in retrospect, I think a lot of people are comfortable with the direction of where we've gone, and where we're going."
Along with his message of winning the right way and representing the school, Kaufman reminded the soccer players that they will always be a part of history.
"They will always be the first varsity athletic team at GGC, that's something they need to understand, and have an appreciation for in terms of the context of who they are," the president said.
Kaufman said in the school's six-year existence, he's been a part of several days like Saturday, but the athletics component adds another dimension.
"For us as an institution, it make us attractive to some young people who might not consider coming here (otherwise)." Kaufman said. "If they think they have the ability of playing varsity sports in college, they might think about coming here. It engages our community, it engages student families. It really does help position us as a regional college rather than just a little college here in Lawrenceville."