If You Build It . . .
You can bet they'll come. A new athletics and events center is badly needed for a host of reasons.
The 41-year-old Hill Center has become a dinosaur.
Mike Serventi '72 likes to tell of a conversation he had with a basketball player from another college who used to play against Ithaca. As the player reminisced about the rivalry, he said something like this: "With your sports program as good as it is, I'd really love to see what training facilities you have there now."
But even with Ithaca's success in athletics, a modern facility has not yet gotten off the drawing board. A new facility -- in addition to desperately needed upgrades to Hill Center -- is something many say is a necessity if Ithaca wishes to keep its preeminent spot among Division III athletic programs. "Kids are coming from high schools that have better facilities than we have," says Serventi, chair of the committee that is working to raise funds to build a new athletics and events center.
When Franklin Harrison, assistant manager of recreational sports, is asked how soon a new facility would be needed, his response is concise: "Yesterday." When Hill Center was built in the 1960s,subjects like civil rights and integration fed campus debates, and Vietnam was just beginning to become a hot-button issue. Just as the urgency of those matters has faded , so has the glitter from Hill Center. It has gone from a brand-spanking-new, state-of-the-art facility to a dinosaur in little more than a generation.
Club sports and intramurals have grown exponentially, with some 3,300 students involved, and Harrison sees no indication the trend will fizzle out. "I'm trying to figure out how to squeeze 40 clubs into 20 slots," he says, without exaggeration.
The words "urgent," "immediate," and "necessary" pop up commonly as people involved in Ithaca athletics offer opinions about a new facility. Senior Tariq Ahmad, a thrower on the intercollegiate track and field team as well as a varsity football and basketball player, says, "It would be nice to have our own indoor track. Every athletic program would benefit from the facility they say we're going to get."
The issue goes beyond convenience. "Our equipment has to be set up and torn down every day," senior gymnast Devon Malcolm points out. "With gymnastics, it's a huge safety thing. All the equipment has to be perfectly placed or you're talking about the possibility of a serious injury. We need thicker mats, too, but we can't get them because they 're too heavy to move all the time."
"We need a facility in which we can train safely," says her coach, Rick Suddaby. "We don't have the space. Twenty thousand pounds of equipment gets moved every day, and I have to inspect it every day to make sure everything is right."
College president Peggy R. Williams knows the need for a field house-type facility is critical. She and others envision a campus center that would accommodate not just athletic competitions but Collegewide and community events of every kind, including some -- such as concerts, tournaments, and conferences -- that would generate revenue. "If you we re starting a campus from scratch," Williams notes, "you would put something like this right in the middle."
Serventi, who did not play sports as a student nevertheless seems to be the right person to propel the drive for such a facility, with a clear vision of what needs to be done. He has enthusiastic support from those with much at stake in the project. "If he jumps into something, he's going to make it work," says football coach Mike Welch '73. And director of intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports Ken Kutler adds, "For a non-student-athlete to step forward for something like this is unbelievable."
Serventi points out that it's not a simple matter to add a new building." First, we need to do some serious rehabilitation on our present facility," he explains. "And we have to create a new facility step by step, taking into consideration what will relieve the most tension as far as facility usage is concerned."
But for now, Ithaca athletes will make do with what they have -- and without a whine. "They practice from 5:00 in the morning until late at night," says Kristen Ford, former director of intercollegiate athletics and now director of special campaigns in the institutional advancement office, "and they never seem discouraged. Forty-eight percent of our athletes have to travel to Cornell University for practice sessions. It's frustrating, I'm sure."
Senior Dave Zupan, a sprinter and captain on the men's track team, actually accentuates the positives that can grow out of adversity. "The bus rides over to Cornell force bonds of friendship among both the men's and women's team members because we pack everyone in the vans, and it's hard not to get to know someone when they are basically sitting on your lap. Would having our own facility be nice? Very much so, but until that day comes, we will do our best with what we have."
-- Tom Coccagna