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Date Posted: 18:06:28 08/20/03 Wed
Subject: Western Illinois is building so recruits will come (Journal Star)
Western Illinois is building so recruits will come
Upgraded facilities should eliminate strike against WIU
August 20, 2003
By KEVIN CAPIE
of the Journal Star
MACOMB - It has been said Abner Doubleday got it perfect when he laid out the baseball diamond with bases 90 feet apart. So it stands to reason that any change, even a couple of inches, could cause problems.
Maybe that's why catchers at Western Illinois University's Vince Grady Field found a little bit of difficulty trying to throw out base stealers at second base.
"Second base was five inches (farther than it should have been) toward center field," Western baseball coach Stan Hyman said of the misalignment discovery when the field was skinned and resodded last year.
"The infield around third base was two inches lower, and first base was three inches higher," he said.
The baseball-field woes were just a sample of the facilities problems that plagued the WIU athletics department.
Nobody disputed the problems. The question was how to pay to fix them.
The answer came in Target: Western Forward, the initiative started by athletics director Tim Van Alstine to raise about $15 million for improvements over the next 10 years.
So far, $1.1 million in improvements have been made. None of the funds for the projects has come out of the department's operating budget of about $5 million a year.
Nor has Target: Western Forward apparently hurt other fund-raising projects for the program, like the Western Athletic Club.
"If anything, it has helped expand the Western Athletic Club," said associate athletics director Dwaine Roche, who oversees the booster organization. "People see the commitment that is being made through Target: Western Forward and want to be a part of the athletic department."
Membership in the club has grown to about 1,000. Roche said the goal is to expand to 1,500.
Western also has begun a Letterwinners Club to boost fund-raising from former Western athletes.
Those funds, along with state appropriations and student fees, support the operating budget for the athletics department, including scholarships, equipment and travel.
"Those costs keep going up," Roche said. "It's good that we're able to increase the fund-raising in those areas as well."
The money for Target: Western Forward has come from a variety of sources.
The Hanson Field track, the most expensive project to date, cost $518,000 upon completion in fall 2002. With that came a new drainage system, a new asphalt base and a new surface made from recycled tires.
"That's something that had been on the radar screen a long time," said Larry Mortier, WIU vice president for advancement and public services. "We knew we had to replace the track."
The project came together with a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs through the Used Tire Recovery program, which provided about 20 percent of the funds. It is the only state money Target: Western Forward has received.
The university also received money from Ford Motor Co. for the new surface.
Other private donations helped, including $50,000 from Waste Management, the first regional corporate donation. Citizens National Bank of Macomb contributed to the women's locker-room suite.
Western graduate Luan Aten spearheaded Waste Management's contribution. She is the company's territory manager for west-central Illinois.
"Western is our largest account in Macomb, so we were happy to do it," Aten said. "This has also let us build relationships with other decision makers at the university like (WIU president Alvin Goldfarb) and Larry Mortier. Before, we dealt mostly with the physical plant."
The contribution to Target: Western Forward has led to other sponsorship opportunities within the athletics department for Waste Management.
"We've sponsored basketball and football games the past two years," Aten said. "We'll invite our employees down to tailgate before the game and let our customers come out and meet us."
Said Van Alstine: "The neat thing about Waste Management is they have now caused other corporations like them to take an interest in the athletics department. I've talked with other companies their size in the telecommunications area, computers and insurance."
As one of the first Target: Western Forward projects, the new track also represented an opportunity to galvanize the university behind the initiative.
"We did a lot of things in-house, rather than have a lot of outside people do them," Van Alstine said. "The good thing about these kinds of projects is the people take an ownership in them. We saved a lot of money that way, and it kind of bonded the university because there were so many people involved."
It is hard to pin down an exact estimated cost of the complete Target: Western Forward project, because the plans for each piece are fluid. The Hanson Field renovation is a good example.
The preliminary plans unveiled last fall included a new three-story press box and football offices built up and into the hillside behind the main grandstand.
Those plans have been scrapped, and the new plan will be revealed Oct. 25 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Leathernecks football.
"I've already seen the first renderings of what we're looking at, and it's very impressive," Van Alstine said. "It's going to make our stadium a perfect setting, with a natural bowl."
New lights for Hanson Field were going to be installed during the full stadium project. But when alumnus Al Boyer donated $150,000 of the necessary $175,000 to the lighting project last summer, the timetable was moved up and the project was completed in time for last season's football opener.
The original ideas to upgrade the baseball facility at the beginning of the campaign included a new infield and a batting cage.
Since then, the baseball component has blossomed into a $400,000 project that will include a new stadium with fixed box-type seating, a grandstand, a press box, new dugouts and fan amenities.
"I just came in and said that I would do whatever I could to improve the project," said Hyman, who was hired as WIU baseball coach in August 2001. "Originally a modest goal was two new dugouts and a batting facility. That's what I thought was a realistic project."
Through talking with former players at the program's first alumni game, in 2002, the decision was made to expand on the initial vision.
"Last fall, Bob Watson and Rick Short came back," Hyman said. "They were the ones at the alumni game that brought up the need for a new stadium."
Watson played at Western in 1969-70 before he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. Short is playing in Japan after he won the Triple-A Pacific Coast League batting title last season.
Although active fund-raising for the new stadium has yet to begin, better than a quarter of the total has been raised already.
Watson, a business operator in Bloomington, contributed $25,000. Rick and Paul Reuschel, possibly the most prestigious former players in WIU baseball history, also have donated to the project.
Rick Reuschel played 19 seasons in the major leagues with three teams, and Paul Reuschel played five years. The brothers also played for the Cubs before Paul Reuschel became a coach at several high schools in and around his hometown of Camp Point, near Quincy.
Construction on the new dugouts and batting cage at WIU has begun and should be completed in time for next season. The completed stadium is slated to be ready for the 2005 season.
"The two biggest recruiting tools, besides the quality of a Western education and the new coaching staff, has been the new stadium and the (spring-break) trip to Hawaii," Hyman said.
"In the past the No. 1 thing used to recruit against us, besides the lack of success, was that it wasn't a good facility."
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