By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It was a longshot dream for a good while, and it was called an indoor practice facility in those days of want.
Marshall University even produced the hoopla of a ceremonial announcement - with a governor present -- for such a facility at a 2005 football game. However, nothing materialized until the dream found some financial reality in the Vision Campaign for Athletics to fund what was then being called the Indoor Athletic Facility.
"Translating a vision into reality is difficult," Marshall's President, Dr. Stephen Kopp said Saturday afternoon.
"A vision," Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick said, "is a dream with a deadline."
Kopp remarked how not long after preliminary plans for the Vision Campaign were being discussed, some naysayers said they'd "heard this all before and nothing has ever happened."
That changed on this historic day for a university and an athletic program.
So, the massive structure of nearly 102,000 square feet and a 120-yard football practice field got a new title Saturday - the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, named for the most generous benefactor to that aforementioned Vision Campaign that has secured more than $20 million in private funding.
Cline, a mining executive known for his philanthropy, is the majority owner of Florida-based Foresight Reserves LP. He contributed $8.5 million to the first major fundraising effort undertaken by Marshall Athletics and the Big Green Scholarship Foundation. Cline is a Beckley native and former Marshall psychology student.
"I've been around the country and seen a lot of these facilities," Cline said in accepting a formal proclamation from Kopp and Hamrick declaring the complex in his name. "This took half the money for twice the facility."
The Cline Family Foundation's original contribution was $5 million, to establish an endowment to support new faculty and scientists in what will become the MU Sports Medicine Institute. That $5 million was doubled by a match through the West Virginia Research Trust Fund's "Bucks for Brains" program.
Cline later contributed another $3.5 million to the Vision Campaign, driven by Kopp's desire "to do things in the right way," and the push from MU Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, co-chairs Chad Pennington and Mike D'Antoni, and the efforts of the Big Green Scholarship Foundation Executive Director John Sutherland and his staff and membership.
"It's your home state, it's your family, it's what you grew up with," Cline said when asked about the roots of his generosity. "You learn that these people are your family, no matter where you move to in life afterwards.
"So, everybody in this state contributed to me getting started and making it in life and I'll probably never be able to pay them back."
Cline said his contributions started on the medical research portion of the project for a reason.
"Certainly, you've got to have the medical side, the educational side to make the rest of it function long-term," he said. "So, I talked to a couple of senators - at that time governors - and we all discussed how we would incorporate it all to make it more of a logical chance to make it as long-term process, and truly, make it beneficial to Marshall University, not just football."
The IAF dream became a reality with a formal dedication ceremony inside the facility, attended by Vision Campaign donors. Approximately 800 Herd supporters contributed to the cause that has now produced the Cline Athletic Complex and the year-old Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex ... with more to come at the Third Avenue site next door to Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
A 300-meter track and field oval in the IAF and a much-needed Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame home - with 1,400 square feet of display space -- are scheduled next for dedication, likely in late October. Then, to follow, are the 15,000 square-foot Buck Harless Student-Athlete Center (before the start of the spring semester) and the 22,000 square-foot Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute, by next spring.
This day, however, was reserved for the dedication and naming of a facility that not only is one of the nation's best of its kind, but a structure that many naysayers said Marshall could never get out of the ground.
"I've said many times that nobody is going to help Marshall," said the AD who returned in July 2009 to lead his alma mater's athletics staff after working as an AD at Arkansas-Little Rock, East Carolina and UNLV. "Marshall has to help itself."
Hamrick was joined at the dedication by Kopp and co-chairs and prominent Herd alumni and athletic legends D'Antoni and Pennington.
"Projects like this don't happen on a random basis," Kopp said. "They happen because people with a vision roll up their sleeves and get to work."
"What a great day to be a Son and Daughter of Marshall! ... This was a vision some people doubted," Pennington said.
"The indoor facility means everything," said D'Antoni, who earlier -- in a busy day on the athletic side of campus -- was an instructor at the Marshall Basketball Coaches Clinic run by his brother, new Herd Coach Dan D'Antoni. "It means a lot to a lot of kids, and that's the most important thing.
"And we had a lot of people who stepped up and contributed and did some great things. It's just another great structure that the university is moving forward with. It's going to serve many, many Marshall student-athletes through the years, and that's great."
The indoor facility portion of the Chris Cline Athletic Complex was a $16.94 million project, which includes the base construction bid and $585,000 of "extras" or upgrades Marshall decided to add to the facility. Those included brick veneer on the base of the exterior, and upgraded track surface and locker room build-out.
The facility includes 306,000 feet of netting to allow Herd teams like baseball, softball and golf to safely hit.
Only the exterior shell work on the Hall of Fame, academic center and sports medicine institute were included in the original construction bid. The build-out of those adjacent facilities will come next.
The 300-meter track oval, when finished, with have eight-lane straightaways and six lanes in the curves. Bleacher seating will accommodate 750 to 1,000 spectators for indoor track meets.
"Where I feel the most pride for this dedication and opening is that so many student-athletes, for years to come, will benefit from what has been built," Hamrick said. "And so many young people will be able to take advantage of this, now and long after you, me - all of us -- are gone."
Pennington and D'Antoni - Academic All-Americans during their Marshall years - appreciate what the big picture of the project means for those MU student-athletes now and far into the future.
"When you go from 17 to 20 computers for your student-athletes to 170 (in the Buck Harless Program), I think that says a lot," Pennington said. "When you provide a facility where you can be productive athletically but also productive academically, and that they're supported and we're here to support them and their success on and off the field, I think we're completing the circle for our student-athletes."
Pennington was asked when he was at Marshall (1995-2000) if he ever expected to see Marshall with an indoor facility that matches - or exceeds - many of those who play in the power conferences.
"Well, I played for a coach in Bob Pruett, where we just didn't believe in becoming the victim of the word ‘No.' So, this has always been something that I've wished and hoped for, and now we've had the vision, the leadership in Dr. Kopp and mike Hamrick to get it done, and I'd expect nothing less from our program.
"This is what we're about."
It rained Saturday afternoon, too, but nothing could dampen the spirit of the accomplishment the Chris Cline Athletic complex represents on the Huntington campus.
Had it been an inclement football practice day instead of a few hours before the 2014 home opener against Rhode Island, Coach Doc Holliday's team would have tried something new - drilling indoors.
Cline said he figured that Holliday wasn't present at the ceremkony, knowing the fifth-year coach would be busy in the Shewey building next door helping prepare the Herd for Rhode Island. But he threw out a challenge to the MU coach.
"You guys didn't build this for regular-season practice," Cline said, grinning and referring to the invited Vision Campaign donors in the sweating crowd. "You built this for bowl-season practice."