The Project is Part of the Winning Together Campaign, Which Will Also Modernize the Historic Dawes Gymnasium and Provide Room for Athletics and Enrollment to Grow
With ceremonial shovels, hardhats, and an artistic rendering, Blackburn College students, faculty, staff, alums, trustees, and guests assembled on Friday, April 28, to officially break ground on the future home of a new athletic practice facility. The $6.4 million building will provide vital indoor space for eight of Blackburn’s NCAA Division III athletic programs and essential intramural and recreation room for the entire campus. The event also marked the public launch of Winning Together: A Campaign for Athletics & Enrollment to build a critical new chapter in Blackburn’s legacy by successfully recruiting more students and providing Blackburn students greater access to expanded athletic and recreational facilities.
“No other Division III school in the Midwest will have a practice space like ours,” said Baseball Coach and Interim Athletic Director Mike Neal, who spoke during the ceremony. “The uniqueness of the facility is certain to aid in the recruitment and retention of students.”
Boasting over 40,000 square feet of space, the indoor facility will be a home base for Blackburn’s golf, softball, baseball, and soccer programs. Located on the north end of campus, it will feature a 200 x 120-foot turf field, retractable batting cages, a golf performance center with simulators, and a putting and chipping green. The new building will also include new locker rooms, coaching offices, and athletic training space.
In remarks during the ceremony, Deputy Governor Andy Manar shared his belief the building will produce many positive dividends once built and operational. “I learned from (former Illinois Senator Vince Demuzio) very early on when I worked for him how important Blackburn College is – not just to Carlinville and Macoupin County, but to the state of Illinois and the entire region,” Manar said. “It helps drive our economy locally. Dream big, do big things like this that look far into the future that will help drive not just retention of students but the growth of enrollment here at Blackburn. And this will have an impact, without question.”
The new building is part of a comprehensive effort to provide Blackburn students greater access to expanded athletic and recreational facilities on campus. The lack of practice facilities limits crucial training time to compete at the NCAA level, especially for outdoor sports during inclement weather. The $7.7 million campaign, which includes the $6.4M new building, will also modernize this historic Dawes-Woodward Complex. Constructed in 1913, it is a living monument to the students who built it brick-by-brick as part of the school’s unique Work Program. The project – which includes a new basketball and volleyball court, roof replacement, HVAC upgrades, and a revitalized entryway – will relieve the pressure off Dawes and allow it to continue serving as an integral part of campus life.
“The vital role athletics plays in attracting new students to Blackburn – and keeping them here – cannot be overstated,” said Glen Krupica, Winning Together Campaign Manager. “Student-athletes are more invested in Blackburn. As a result, they tend to have higher GPAs, higher retention rates, and higher graduation rates. For every volleyball player or golfer we recruit, we are also recruiting an artist, a business major, or a future educator, and these enhancements will help our dedicated coaching staff do just that.”
“Not only does this facility enhance our athletic programs, but it will also have a beneficial impact on academics, co-curricular programs, and the work program,” Blackburn President Gregory J. Meyer shared with the crowd during the ceremony. “It’ll provide a venue for intramurals for all our students, and it’ll foster community connections in that we’ll be able to provide summer camps and host youth soccer leagues or weekend tournaments. It will support and enhance the experience of our student-athletes and all our students.”
The new building will allow existing athletic programs to increase the number of athletes recruited but also allow for an expansion of their athletic offerings. First announced in February 2023, Winning Together will also help create space for Blackburn’s new men’s and women’s wrestling teams. The new facility will feature dedicated locker rooms and practice space, and, with the demand for Dawes relieved, the gym will host competitions. Khris Whelan – a four-time Junior National Champion, alternate on the 1976 Olympic Greco-Roman Olympic Team, and National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee, will coach both men’s and women’s teams. The wrestling programs will begin competition during the 2023-2024 academic year.
“We have the opportunity to educate young people, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college,” Blackburn Trustee Jennifer Shelby said. “They learn in the classroom, through our student-managed work program, and on the athletic fields and courts. The knowledge and experience they gain during their four years at Blackburn enable them to move forward confidently and explore amazing future opportunities.”
A Trustee since 2010, Shelby has been one of the influential voices helping to plan and shape the campaign. “The entire Board of Trustees is confident that Winning Together will truly be transformative for the College, the community, and the entire student experience.”
Site work on the building is expected to begin in the next couple of months, with an estimated date for all Winning Together projects to be completed by the fall 2024 semester.