Home court advantage

Facilities upgrades give Loyola Athletics a competitive edge

By Christianna McCausland

The McClure Tennis Center as seen from above

Rick McClure has coached tennis at Loyola for almost four decades. For much of that time he had to be resourceful. With only four tennis courts, he staggered practices and squeezed players onto courts. For matches, the men’s and women’s teams borrowed courts from neighboring Notre Dame of Maryland University. Then, as Coach McClure describes it, “a miracle donation” arrived.

Through the Bright Minds, Bold Hearts comprehensive campaign, an anonymous donor gifted $3.2 million for the creation of a tennis complex to be named in honor of McClure. The donation was one of many that helped Loyola Athletics surpass its $12 million campaign goal and, in addition to the tennis facility, funded an Air Dome and important upgrades to Reitz Arena.

For McClure, the new facility, which opened in spring 2015 and includes eight lighted tennis courts and improved spectator seating, has been a game changer.

“My players go to a first-class facility, and they can be proud of how they represent themselves and their school. I’m thrilled for them,” he said. “Running practice is fun now, because we can spread everyone out and have as many as 16 players on the courts. They can get so much more out of practice, whereas before they simply didn’t get to hit as many balls.”

Student-athlete C.J. Cash, ’19, cannot underscore enough the role the facility plays in recruitment. He remembers his own visit to Loyola and his excitement upon seeing the giant poster of the coming center, and since coming to Loyola, he has benefitted from the new courts. He says the lighted courts—which are unique among Loyola’s peer institutions—provide incredible flexibility, and the eight courts allow for efficient practices with plenty of ball time as well as room for individual coaching. Thanks to improved seating, matches attract more spectators.

“I love to look to the right and left and see my teammates playing down the line,” Cash said. “We can each encourage each other—or it might be that you can hear the fans encouraging you and cheering you on. It makes competing way more fun.” Most importantly, Loyola can now host a tournament, a recruitment tool impossible in the past. More than 100 spectators come out each autumn for the weekend-long event and potential recruits come from all over the country.

Two basketball players reach for the ball in mid-air

Renovations to Reitz Arena have helped improve both student-athlete recruitment and the fan experience for basketball and volleyball, thanks to a $1 million gift from Jim Forbes, ’80, and his wife, Hollis. The 2,100-seat venue, which is home to the basketball and volleyball teams and hosts many special events each year, has been renovated and refurbished, with enhanced scoreboards and signage. The basketball court itself is now named Forbes Court in recognition of the couple’s generosity.

Practice makes perfect, so it’s not ideal if a soccer or lacrosse team has to cancel a practice or move inside for weight training or to watch a team video due to weather. The addition of the Air Dome has thus been a boon as, quips head men’s lacrosse coach Charley Toomey, ’90: “It’s always 60 degrees and sunny in the dome.” The temporary structure, which was dedicated in January, inflates over Lugano Field and the practice turf at Ridley Athletic Complex during winter months.

Lacrosse players' arms lift the Patriot League trophy into the air

“It’s fun as a coach because everyone comes to practice every day with a smile on their faces,” Toomey said. “It’s a benefit to us as coaches, but it’s also nice to give something to our student-athletes who give up so much—they stay home Friday nights, they travel on weekends. To give them a competitive environment is a really nice benefit.”

The Air Dome is a unique facility in the Baltimore area and is attracting interest. Toomey said requests for rental of the facility have already started to come in. “This gives Loyola an advantage and allows us to attract the highest-quality athletes and to impact our current student-athletes to be the best they can be.”

Donna Woodruff, assistant vice president and director of athletics, said these investments in infrastructure are not important only for the coaches and players. There is a trickle-down benefit to the entire university.

“Athletics are so visible. We have the opportunity to be on TV, to be covered in the newspapers,” she said. “So when you’re building new infrastructure that looks good and shows investment, aside from how it affects student-athlete performance, it becomes a marketing tool. It has a positive effect not only on Loyola’s athletic programs, but on overall enrollment.”

According to Woodruff, the successful campaign is evidence of the positive impact Loyola had on the lives of those alumni who cared enough to give. “Now it’s up to us to ensure that in every aspect of campus life, including athletics, our students have the same great experience and they will stay engaged with Loyola in the future.”

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