Photo courtesy of Kent State University
The softball complex and gymnastics practice gym will be renovated starting this summer, addressing key facility issues and safety concerns.
“This has been a long time coming,” head softball coach Eric Oakley said. “For years we’ve had one of the worst facilities in the conference. The players, both past and present, have certainly worked hard and deserve to have these upgrades. We are very grateful to the university.”
Head gymnastics coach Brice Biggin said he “felt a sense of relief and accomplishment” after he heard the news.
“We had been fighting for an upgrade for 15 years,” Biggin said. “The whole project kept going lower and lower on the list. It was frustrating because we felt like things were on a good path, but eventually it went off the screen. We’re just so happy for the athletes because they need this.”
Randale Richmond, director of athletics, announced the changes in a press release from Kent State Athletics March 24. The Kent State Athletic Department along with the Kent State University Capital Fun approved the updates.
“I am thrilled to announce our plans to enhance these athletic facilities and am grateful to the university for believing in our athletics vision,” Richmond said in the press release. “These types of projects greatly enhance our student-athlete experience at Kent State and go a long way toward our athletics vision to be a nationally recognized, comprehensive athletics department that inspires communities and transforms lives.”
Turf will replace the current grass outfield at the Diamond at Dix, and an improved drainage system will be added to the infield.
“We’re going to be able to access the field more,” Oakley said. “We’ve had times where we had to practice on the baseball field or the football field because we can’t get on our own field because the outfield is too wet or the infield is not playable. It’s going to help with home field advantage.”
A brown warning track will also be added around the field, along with a new padded backstop and an update to the batting cages’ turf and netting.
Oakley said the renovations will attract more future athletes to the program.
“It certainly will help us with recruiting,” Oakley said. “For recruiting, our field has been a place where we do a quick thumbs up, say ‘here’s our field’ and keep going because we see some of the teams we play, like Miami or Northern Illinois, and their facilities are a lot nicer.”
The softball diamond will also be renamed to honor women’s athletic pioneer Judy Devine at a dedication ceremony April 30. Devine organized and coached three women’s sports and served as assistant athletics director, associate athletics director and senior associate athletics director during her 31 years at Kent State.
In the gymnastics gym in the M.A.C. Center, a new below-ground foam pit and ground-level vault runway will replace the current above-ground runway and resi pit, a foam landing mat placed after the vault.
“As far as training and learning new skills goes, it’s going to make a huge impact on our vault team specifically,” Biggin said. “When you’re training new skills, there’s things created to make things as safe as possible. We have a resi pit, but if you land on your head in it, you’re going to get injured. [With a foam pit], if you kind on your head and rollover, your likelihood of getting hurt is very slim.”
Biggin emphasized the advocacy of Kathy Wilson, who serves as faculty athletics representative, and Richmond in getting the updates his team needed.
“[Kathy] is the single biggest person as to why this is getting done,” Biggin said. “She was one of the two people who interviewed me for a lot of our needs and concerns. Randale came in and saw [our current vault set-up] as a safety issue and went to president [Todd Diacon.] Between Kathy, Randale and [Diacon], they got it done.”
The gymnastics additions will be finished by the end of the summer and softball by the end of fall.
Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]