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$5M pledge highlights MU ceremony

Ceremony
Apr. 27, 2013 @ 12:11 AM

HUNTINGTON — To say Marshall University had a big day Friday is an understatement. Officials were present for a groundbreaking ceremony for the indoor athletic complex, but the exclamation point on the event was the announcement of a $5 million pledge from alumnus Jim Justice, who owns The Greenbrier resort.

That proclamation came from Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, who read a letter from Justice, who was unable to attend. In it, Justice said he loves Marshall more than anyone could ever know and wanted to do what he could to help his alma mater. His donation takes the amount raised through the Vision Campaign, which will support the athletic complex as well as some other new facilities, to more than $15 million. The indoor complex is expected to cost more than $16 million.

That was really the theme of the ceremony: highlighting all that is being done by alumni, community leaders, employees and students.

"Today is about helping the student athletes get a facility they need and deserve," Hamrick told the large crowd gathered on the east side of Joan C. Edwards Stadium. "We're building things, and our university is moving forward."

The project, which will be constructed on the former Sam Hood soccer field, includes a 100,000-square-foot indoor practice facility with a100-yard turf field and running track for the women's track team. Also part of the building is a hall of fame, a 12,000-square-foot student-athlete academic center and an 18,000-square-foot sports medicine translational research center. That latter piece, said John Niemuth, the head architect for AECOM, which designed the facility, sets Marshall apart from the competition.

"We've worked with your rivals up the road, but there is nothing in the city of Morgantown like there's going to be in the city of Huntington," Niemuth said.

It's taken a lot of hard work and vision, thus the Vision Campaign, to get to the "shovel-in-the-ground" ceremony. Hamrick said it starts with Marshall President Stephen Kopp, who told him during the interview process a few years ago that the new athletic director had to be direct about where Marshall was falling short in athletics. Hamrick said he looked Kopp in the eyes and told him. Hamrick joked that he thought his blunt response would cost him the job, but Kopp called him the next day to make the offer.

"There are few things in life that make you as proud as seeing a collective vision become reality," Kopp said. "It's all of us working together, and these student athletes deserve the best we can give them."

He said he came to the groundbreaking from a meeting in the College of Business, where he was asked what he was going to do for their facilities. He said he could visit every college on campus and probably hear the same thing. But Kopp challenged anyone to look at a photo of campus when he arrived in 2005 and compare with to how it looks eight years later.

"Ask if we've done things. Hell yes, we've done things," Kopp said emphatically, noting the unstable economic climate a few years ago that could have halted such enormous plans. "You can't roll up in a little ball and be terrified of the future. The approach we've taken is this is a time of great opportunity, and our expectations ought to be at the highest level."

Hamrick said he moved forward knowing Kopp had his back. But he said he needed some help, so he recruited two of his favorite Marshall athletes: former Herd basketball player and current Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni and former Thundering Herd and NFL quarterback Chad Pennington.

D'Antoni's Lakers are in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and he couldn't attend. But he sent a letter of support, expressing his excitement to help make a dream a reality.

Pennington, who was honored Thursday night with TEAM for West Virginia Children's "Service to Children" award, spoke Friday and said it's hard to believe that 18 years ago, he was getting ready to step foot on Marshall's campus as a student athlete. He said he knows firsthand how much this new facility will mean to the football, track and baseball teams as well as other student athletes who currently do not have sufficient places to train, rehab or study.

"It's not a football facility. It's a student-athlete facility," Pennington said. "The way we respect what they are trying to do is by supporting this facility."

He also said the new facility isn't about catching up or equaling what other universities have. He said Marshall has always held itself to a higher standard, and the facility follows that path as well.

Though the facility will serve students in both athletics and academia, some stand to gain more than others. That includes the women's track and field team, which currently does not have a home track, nor a proper place to train. Hamrick highlighted the accomplishments of the team, including junior Hadassah Lynch, who was part of a 4x400 relay team that set a school record this year.

"Do you know where she trains? On a rubber mat in the hallway of the Henderson Center," Hamrick said. "Not one time has she or her teammates complained about what they don't have."

Lynch, who is a business major, said not having a track has been the elephant in the room that will finally be addressed. Like her team, she said the university community has worked twice as hard to raise millions of dollars that some said could never be done.

"There's a good chance I won't get to run on it, but knowing other ladies will brings joy to my heart," Lynch said.

Construction on the athletic complex is set to begin in the next 30 to 60 days. The construction will include building the shells of the hall of fame, sports medicine research facility and the student-athlete academic support center.

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