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Shovels and Justice Dig Deep for Herd Future at Groundbreaking

Chad Pennington speaks at the groundbreaking Friday.

April 26, 2013

Groundbreaking Photo Gallery

By Jack Bogaczyk


HUNTINGTON - It was a gorgeous, bright, sunny day for Marshall Athletics ... and that's not just a reference to Friday afternoon's weather.

"I'm so excited about today ... a great, amazing day," former Thundering Herd quarterback great Chad Pennington said.

"What a spectacular day it is," said Dr. Stephen Kopp, Marshall's president. "There are few things in life that make you as proud as seeing a collective vision become a reality."

The formal groundbreaking ceremony for the Thundering Herd's Indoor Athletic Complex next to Edwards Stadium was what Athletic Director Mike Hamrick called a "joyous, historic" occasion, and one that will boost the future of MU's sports programs in innumerable ways.

"Today," Hamrick said, "is about providing our student-athletes the facilities they need and deserve."

The ceremony also brought the revelation that one of the Mountain State's foremost personalities - Jim Justice, chairman and owner of The Greenbrier -- had contributed $5 million to the Vision Campaign. That $20 million capital campaign, quarterbacked by Hamrick and co-chaired by Pennington and MU hoops legend Mike D'Antoni, is funding two-thirds of the Marshall Athletics facilities project.

The $5 million from Justice was the previously anonymous contribution to the Vision Campaign that Hamrick had announced in a recent letter to Big Green members.

Justice, a Marshall alumnus (BA and MBA) and former Herd golfer (three-year letterman; two-year captain), was unable to attend the ceremony. But his devotion - as well as donation -- to the kelly green and white was made obvious in his remarks from "America's Resort" in White Sulphur Springs:

"My wife, Cathy, and I are proud to be a part of this great day at Marshall," Justice said. "We met there and our daughter, Jill, earned her degree there. And I mean it when I say I love Marshall more than you'll ever know. People don't know how much Marshall means to me and my family.

"These new facilities will not only be an asset to all of the athletes, but a source of great pride to all of us who are Marshall alumni, and Cathy and I would like to show our commitment to this project by pledging $5 million to the Vision Campaign.

"I really want what is best for Marshall and this project is definitely that. I'm very, very proud of what Marshall is doing in athletics, and the direction we're headed in the future. This is just a great day for the Thundering Herd."

Scott Morehouse, associated AD for facilities and operations, said construction on the IAF is expected to begin by mid- to late May.

The final completion date for the Indoor Facility is Aug. 29, 2014. The athletic department's hope is that the new Hall of Fame will open then, too, with the academic center and sports medicine translational research center to follow, in that order.

"It's one thing to talk about it," Pennington said. "It's another thing to be about it."

The ceremony between the east stands of "The Joan" and the training facility/weight room was attended by hundreds of Marshall student-athletes, numerous contributors and supporters, and athletic department staff and coaches.

Handling the shovels for the symbolic turning of dirt were Kopp; Hamrick; Pennington; AECOM lead architect Jon Niemuth; Herd track and field sprinter Hadassah Lynch; the MU Board of Governors Chair, Dr. Joseph Touma; Huntington Mayor and M Club President Steve Williams; and Big Green Scholarship Foundation President Vicki Taylor.

At the 50-minute ceremony, Lynch, a junior from Parkersburg, represented Herd student-athletes. She was chosen because the indoor facility's six-lane, 300-meter track will perhaps benefit that program - which now most often works out on a rubber-padded Henderson Center concourse and at Huntington High's track.

Lynch spoke of "the elephant in the room" with the Herd having no track and field facility "and how the construction of an indoor facility will help the Herd "overcome a huge obstacle ... It's going to put Marshall University at a place where we will be able to compete at the highest level."

AECOM, also the architectural firm for the Herd's $8 million Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex that is going up at Fifth Avenue and 26th Street - it will open late this August - was represented on the dais by Niemuth. In particular, he spoke about the sports medicine translational research center, a part of the project for which President Kopp pushed intensely.

"The component is truly one of a kind in the country," Niemuth said. "I've never seen anything like that ... You're going to have a class facility."

Kopp and Hamrick both referred back to nearly four years ago when the latter was hired back to his alma mater as AD, and how the president was looking for an athletic chief who didn't tell Kopp "the answer (for more revenue) was sell more chairbacks."

The MU president thanked Herd student-athletes for their patience in the school's need for facilities, adding that "now we are delivering on it."

Pennington answered the naysayers the Herd has heard about a perceived notion that MU athletics couldn't raise the coin needed to make the Indoor Facility and soccer complex a reality.

"Mike and I heard it time and again; `You can't do it,'" the former quarterback said. "We'll, we're doing it ... What this facility does for our university is, it completes the process."

Hamrick and Pennington referenced the scope for the new complex, and that it is not just about sports, but with the academic and medicine sides, it's about the whole student-athlete.

"This is about our own standard, not another in our conference, or another in the nation," Pennington said. D'Antoni was unable to attend the groundbreaking. His Lakers were scheduled to host Game 3 in their NBA Western Conference quarterfinal series in Los Angeles on Friday night.

In a letter to Hamrick that the MU athletic director read at the ceremony, D'Antoni wrote that he's "a little busy trying to win our first-round playoff series," and referenced the Lakers' winning tradition.

"The Thundering Herd also has a proud tradition and as one of the co-chairs of the Vision Campaign with Chad, I am thrilled that today will be the beginning of a new era for Marshall Athletics," D'Antoni wrote. "These new facilities are long overdue and (his wife) Laurel and I are pleased to be part of the campaign that will give our student-athletes some of the best facilities not only in the area, but in the country! Thanks to our leadership on campus, especially Dr. (Stephen) Kopp, this dream is about to become a reality.

"The four years I spent at Marshall were the best four years of my life not only because of the great times we had on the basketball court, but also because of the sense of family I felt there. With these new facilities, our university has the best to offer potential student-athletes from across the country. We've come a long way from the (Veterans Memorial) Field House and Gullickson Gym!

We all play a role in making the Herd successful and I hope you, too, will join us in the Vision Campaign to make our university even more successful. We need all of you!"

Hamrick reminded listeners that the hard work isn't done. Justice's $5 million commitment took the Vision Campaign past the $15 million mark, the Herd AD said. In a $30 million project, $10 million is being produced by bonding from ticket surcharges in football and men's basketball.

"There is still work to be done," Pennington said. "But this train is moving, so get on it ... fast."

Besides the IAF and soccer complex, the Herd also has a $3 million project under construction to add four, 24-seat sky suites atop the Edwards Stadium pressbox.

The winning base bid for IAF construction was $16.35 million -- $50,000 under what was budgeted -- by J & H Reinforcing & Structural Erectors, of Portsmouth, Ohio. The MU Board of Governors approved a contract last week.

That bid was for the complete IAF, but only the shell and core (no built-out interiors) of the academic and sports medicine centers and hall of fame.

Again, a look at the facilities for which dirt was turned today:

Indoor Athletic Facility

The 101,600-square foot IAF includes a 120-yard football field, inside a six-lane, 300-meter track oval (eight-land straightaway) to create a venue for indoor track meets. Netting will be installed to allow practice for baseball, softball, golf. The roof apex is 70 feet.

A decision has been made to add $535,000 to the contract with five approved "alternates." Those are: upgraded track surface ($58,000); brick veneer around base of IAF exterior ($194,000); east side camera platform ($136,000); locker room build-out ($168,000); portable bleachers, about 750 capacity ($29,000).

Hall of Fame

This 1,400-square foot facility will be devoted to all MU sports. We'll work with a museum design firm for displays. There will be wall hangings with bio sketches on our more than 200 MU Hall of Famers. There will be some information on the 1970 football team plane crash and a memorial to the 75 who died. Other items will include chair seats from the old Veterans Memorial Field House, memorabilia from Fairfield Stadium and the "We Are ... Marshall" movie, Herd trophies from over the years, items donated by former athletes and coaches, etc. in other words, names like Greer, Pennington, Moss, D'Antoni, Lee, Leftwich, Slack and Gatski finally will have a proper home for recognition.

Academic center

The Buck Harless Student-Athlete Program will move from cramped quarters in Gullickson Hall and be housed in more than 14,000 square feet above the medicine center. The facility will be home to Harless Program offices, a computer lab with up to 75 computer stations for student-athlete use, a reception area, a recruiting room (for prospects and their families on recruiting visits to learn about the academic program), eight tutoring rooms to hold 2-4 persons each, quiet study areas, a classroom, and an auditorium with tiered seating (capacity about 75).

Sports medicine translational research center

The 19,955-square foot building will house five doctors' offices, nine exam rooms, a waiting area, check-in desk, conference room, physical therapy area with an open floor plan, weight equipment (connected to physical therapy), cardio equipment, a hydrotherapy area, two polar plunge pools and a thermal plunge pool. There also will be athletic training offices for four, and taping tables and stations related to therapy.

"I don't think people understand what will be here; it's huge," Herd football Coach Doc Holliday said of the Indoor Complex. "What it does for the entire university, for our student-athletes, what it does for our athletic department, it's big for all sports, not just football.

"The track and field team finally will have a track to go to inside. Look at what they've done without a facility. How much better will that be? Baseball can go inside. Softball can go inside. Soccer can go inside.

"The other thing is -- and I don't hear it nearly enough -- the credit Mike Hamrick should get for getting this done. For him to pull this off like he has, it's huge.

"He deserves all the credit for taking advantage of the opportunities that are there ... and also to John Sutherland and his Big Green staff. To be able to raise the kind of money Mike and those Big Green people have, considering the economic conditions out there, that's just remarkable."