Building On A Winning Spirit

As OBU’s social clubs have decreased in membership, intramural teams are flourishing. Nearly 800 students competed in intramurals last year. This year, those students are anticipating a new era, as they watch the construction of new playing fields and a new campus wellness center.

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Replacing historic, yet aging, Clark Craig Fieldhouse, the wellness center is OBU’s largest capital construction project, with a price tag of $9.62 million. The investment will yield a 59,000-square-foot structure featuring three basketball/volleyball courts, scores of cardiovascular workout stations, an indoor walking/jogging track, three new racquetball courts, an aerobic studio, classrooms, offices, and a two-story climbing wall.

The collection of wellness resources is designed to provide students with opportunities to augment their physical growth during their college years. The center also will be a resource for faculty and staff members, as well as a setting for special events throughout the academic year.

Clark Craig Fieldhouse arrived at OBU in 1948 after the university purchased it from Camp Maxey military base in Paris, Texas. For the next 56 years, it would serve as home for varsity basketball teams, a makeshift indoor training facility for spring sports squads, and a special event center. By the late 1990s, it became evident to OBU officials that the structure would need to be replaced in the near future.

Moving forward with plans for the two-story contemporary facility, OBU razed Clark Craig in late January 2006. The wide spanning sections of the decaying roof fell like dominoes in a line, crumbling over ground where the 1966 Bison basketball team, led by coach Bob Bass and legendary Al Tucker, stormed to OBU’s only NAIA basketball championship.

Varsity sports will not be the focal point for the building constructed on the Clark Craig footprint. The wellness center is designed for the general campus community. However, varsity athletes will benefit from several elements of The Winning Spirit Campaign, which represents an investment of $14.4 million in a collection of projects.

Expansion of the Noble Complex for Athletics, a new track and field facility, a new baseball park with locker room and workout facilities, and an expanded track practice facility and locker room building will directly affect Bison and Lady Bison programs.

The Noble Complex renovation will provide expanded space for classrooms, athletic training, varsity sports weight lifting facilities, and faculty and athletic offices.

“With the addition of new varsity sports programs and growth in student-athlete enrollment, the needs of OBU’s students and athletic programs have outgrown our current facilities,” said Dr. Norris Russell, OBU director of athletics and chairman of the kinesiology and leisure studies division.

“In 1982, OBU signed approximately 130 student athletes, and in 2005 we signed 312 student athletes,” said Russell. “Our current athletic training room and varsity weight lifting room are too small to meet the needs of the number of student athletes enrolled at OBU. Current office space, locker space, and storage space are all inadequate for the size of our programs.”

Russell said with renovation and expansion, the Noble Complex will meet specific needs of student-athletes, and will enhance the educational resources for KALS programs.

The new varsity track and field facility will include an eight-lane track, expanding from the seven-lane track OBU has used for many years. The new facility will be located at the corner of MacArthur Street and Airport Road.

In addition to the track facility, OBU’s current baseball/softball building, on University Street, has been expanded by 4,125 square feet, as it becomes the home of the indoor and outdoor track teams.

The new track building will provide locker rooms and coaches’ offices, and will offer 7,725 square feet of indoor practice space. The additional space includes a raised ceiling, allowing pole vaulters to practice indoors.

For OBU track and field coach Ford Mastin, the additions may raise the level of expectation for a program which has a long-running tradition of strength, despite the lack of its own indoor facilities.

OBU Track and Field has won two of the University’s three NAIA national championships. The teams had a record high of 93 student-athletes for the 2005-06 year. In addition to the two national team championships, OBU has earned three national runner-up finishes, numerous national top 10 finishes, nearly 50 event championships, and scores of All-American honors. Both the men’s and women’s outdoor track and field squads finished fourth in the NAIA’s 2006 championship meet last spring.

From 1982 to 2005, OBU’s Clark Craig Fieldhouse served as the indoor practice facility for the teams. However, the teams have not had exclusive practice space or locker rooms.

“The expanded track building, in addition to the new outdoor track and field facility, will provide OBU with a premier small college track facility,” said Russell.

To accommodate the new track and field facilities, OBU’s baseball team will move to a location on the north campus. The Bison will have a new field, joined by a new locker room and workout facility.

While there was initial concern about leaving a field which has experienced significant upgrades in recent years, as the new park takes shape, it promises to be one of the finest small college facilities in the region. As work progresses on bricked dugouts, an arched brick entryway replicating the historic arches at the east end of University Street, and construction of the locker room and office building, expectations are rising on the campus.

“The new field will offer a picturesque setting for baseball, as we expand into our property on the north side of MacArthur Street,” said Russell. “It will be a great facility setting a high standard for our expanding athletic facilities on the north side.”

Relocation of the track also led to relocation of OBU’s intramural fields. Lighted intramural fields have replaced Worten Field, OBU’s historic track facility, just west of Agee Residence Center. The fields are used for flag football, soccer, softball, ultimate Frisbee, and sand volleyball competition.

“Intramurals are a thriving part of campus life, and moving the fields toward the heart of campus will only enhance the programs,” said OBU President Mark Brister. “There is potential for further expansion for that space, as more than half of our student body participates in intramurals.”

The Winning Spirit Campaign has a goal of $4.78 million. The J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation Inc. of Tulsa has issued a $717,000 challenge grant toward the capital campaign. The foundation’s grant is contingent upon OBU securing the additional $4.063 million for the project by April 12, 2007.

University officials say OBU is nearing completion of the challenge portion, needing slightly more than $600,000 at the start of December 2006. John Patterson, OBU senior vice president for development, said the Mabee Foundation challenge grant funds will be utilized for the Noble Complex expansion and renovation and expansion of the track building.

The Noble Complex, which opened in 1982, is being expanded by nearly 17,000 square feet, and an additional 13,000 square feet of existing area in the athletic complex will be renovated. The project will include construction of new locker rooms and offices for men’s and women’s basketball, and a 3,125-square-foot event space overlooking the west end of the 2,400-seat Mabee Arena.

“We believe that all of these projects will greatly enhance the university’s ability to attract and retain students in the coming years,” said Dr. Brister. “Bison Hill already is recognized as one of the finest college campuses in our state. Completion of these projects will make us well-equipped for the coming years.”