A Blessing in Disguise '96 Flood Spurred North Central to Build New Sports Complex
Hart, Christie, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Christie Hart Daily Herald Staff Writer
Three summers ago, a record storm washed away most of North Central College's athletic fields.
About the only thing left was a crossroads.
The Naperville college could simply replace what it had - mostly some bleachers around grassy fields.
Or, it could develop those fields into an athletic complex - a fan-friendly, special event-luring cluster of facilities that would give it a chance to ring up victories in the sports arena just as it has in its academic pursuits.
The decision seemed relatively easy for North Central's leaders.
"We've made it a point to have excellence in all of our academic areas. Why not invest in other areas, too?" said athletic director Walter Johnson. "Anything that makes us top-notch, we should do it well or not do it.
"We're in a county considered one of the finest in the state and the country," he said. "We either lag behind and be average, or be the kind of institution that will reflect well on the community and the county."
Johnson and school leaders are confident the developing athletic complex, anchored by a new stadium opening for tonight's football game, will be the kind of facility that will show North Central is committed to sports and student life as well as academics.
The 5,000-seat stadium is the latest addition to the athletic complex, which has been rebuilt and redefined since parts of Naperville and the campus flooded in the summer of 1996.
The overhaul has resulted in a new track, football field, baseball field and stadium and a stadium building that serves as seating for the football field as well as a home to training rooms, meeting spaces, offices and classrooms.
The refinished football field, the rebuilt track and the stadium building combine to give North Central one of the premiere arenas for a school of its size, Johnson said. With 1,700 full-time students, North Central is an NCAA Division III school.
As a whole, the athletic complex should demonstrate to prospective students that the college is dedicated to developing well-rounded students, Johnson said.
"We won't know the real impact for sure until about three or four years from now," he said. "We should be able to recruit better student-athletes this year than last and so on every year because North Central will be a good place to pursue their sport as well as their degree."
While some small colleges choose not to field sports teams, North Central President Harold Wilde has said he believes football and other sports add key elements to students' college experience. Some may choose the college because they can keep playing, while others may value the social aspects of football games and other athletic events, he said.
The design of the football stadium building is evidence of the link North Central makes between sports and studying, Johnson said. The four-story building has space for locker rooms and weight and training rooms, but it also will have academic classrooms and may even include professors' offices.
"This isn't going to be used just as an athletic facility," Johnson said.
"It's a way to connect the athletics with the academics. It's one of the by-products of the building I'm most excited about."
Of course, Johnson has been excited about the idea of a rejuvenated athletic center since he arrived at North Central.
To say the flood forced North Central to rebuild its athletic fields is too simplistic, he said.
Sure, the torrents washing away the track and swamping the fields may have put some time pressure on the school.
But really, the flood was more like the last planet aligning than the catalyst starting a renovation reaction. …