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MU breaks ground on soccer complex

Nov. 17, 2012 @ 12:02 AM

HUNTINGTON -- For Marshall University Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, a vision is "simply a dream with a deadline."

And that deadline, as it pertains to a new, $8 million soccer complex, has been met, Hamrick said, as he and several others participated in a groundbreaking ceremony Friday.

The Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex, as it will be known, will sit on the former site of Veterans Memorial Field House, a dilapidated structure that was going to take about $5 million to renovate before the Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District donated the arena to Marshall.

The Field House has been demolished over the course of the past year, and, since the site is a construction area, Friday's groundbreaking was more ceremonial than most. Those involved with the project stuck their shovels into a trough full of dirt in the parking lot of Joan C. Edwards Stadium, a few blocks away from where the actual facility will be.

The soccer complex is part of a $30 million campaign that will eventually see the construction of an indoor football practice facility, an indoor track and an athletics hall of fame, along with an academic support center and a sports medicine research center.

Construction on the soccer complex is expected to be complete by Aug. 1, meaning next season Marshall men's and women's soccer will play on the synthetic turf field in a 12,000-square-foot facility with seating for 1,000, a parking lot, a 500-square-foot press box, locker rooms for home and visiting teams, and coaches' offices.

"This whole thing has been phenomenal," Bob Gray, MU men's soccer coach for the past 18 seasons, said at Wednesday's ceremony.

The new facility takes the place of Sam Hood field, a field that Hood donated to the university in the mid-1990s.

The shovel Hood used to break ground on that facility was on-hand at Wednesday's groundbreaking, and it will be one of the first items to go into the MU sports hall of fame. Hood also took part in Wednesday's ceremony.

"If it weren't for Sam Hood, I wouldn't be standing here right now," Gray said. "Soccer in the area wouldn't be what it is today without Sam Hood."

Former MU and NFL quarterback Chad Pennington, co-chairman of the Vision Campaign, which is conducting fundraising endeavors for the entire $30 million project, said Friday's ceremony is the realization of an attitude those affiliated with Marshall University have taken toward improved facilities.

"We won't say 'no' around here," Pennington said. "When we have a vision and a plan, we're going to make it happen."

Pennington said his own attitude toward the project is a reflection of the community surrounding Marshall University.

"It's important to me that you realize I'm a product of you," Pennington told the crowd assembled for the groundbreaking. "I'm a son of Marshall."

Pennington said he's seen updated architect renderings for some of the projects and promised supporters of the campaign they won't be disappointed with the results.

"I don't think I can put into words what's happening," he said. "But I don't think the Tri-State has ever seen anything like it.

"Because of (Marshall's) story, we deserve these facilities."

Pennington and others were also quick to point out the new soccer field isn't just for Marshall. It will host tournaments that pump millions into the local economy along with community events, and will continue to pay tribute to veterans not just through the name, but through parts of Veterans Memorial Field House that will be incorporated into the new structure.

"It was a tough decision on the (the parks department's) part to donate the Field House," Marshall President Stephen Kopp said. "They recognized that we needed a facility that truly recognized veterans ... that was befitting of the magnitude of their sacrifice."

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