NIU Athletics moves forward with facility projects
DeKALB, Ill. — The opening of the Nelson Tennis Center at Chick Evans Field House this month marks the first of three significant facility projects that will positively impact the way student-athletes at the University of the Northern Illinois in five different programs compete and train, NIU Vice President and Director of Athletics and Recreation Sean T. Frazier announced Thursday.
These three projects continue the Huskies’ commitment to improving facilities for NIU student-athletes that began with the 2014 NIU Athletics Facilities Master Plan and has been expanded and refocused on specific initiatives during the campaign. 2017 to support.
With the addition of a fourth court and the resurfacing of previously existing courts, NIU tennis teams can now train and – importantly – compete on campus in a facility that is truly a home for Huskie tennis. Thanks to the vision and support of longtime fans and NIU alumni Dave and Linda Nelson, the Huskies can now play all of their home games at DeKalb during the colder months of the season and have a center constant training. In addition to the actual work on the courts, new nets surrounding the courts and interior painting have been completed, and a new scoreboard will be installed as part of the first phase of the project. An official “grand opening” and inauguration of the Nelson Tennis Center will take place at a later date.
“We are very grateful to the Nelsons for their continued support of Huskie Athletics,” Frazier said. “The new Nelson Tennis Center at Chick Evans Field House is a place of transformation for our tennis programs, allowing them to train and compete in every match here at DeKalb for the first time. It is a another facility that is the completion of a project initiated as part of our facilities master plan, and it’s a credit to our exceptional donors, like the Nelsons, who saw the vision and invested in the future of NIU Athletics.”
NIU Men’s Tennis Head Coach patrick fisherwho is now in his 13th season with the Huskies, said the Nelson Tennis Center is a game-changer for NIU Tennis and fills a need in the community for quality indoor courts.
“To put it simply, having an on-campus facility that allows us to host conference matches on campus changes everything for NIU Tennis,” Fisher said. “On top of that, the community we represent has a great need for a facility like this. The Nelson Tennis Center is a dream come true for our student-athletes, coaches, NIU and surrounding Dekalb/Sycamore communities! “
Third-Year Women’s Tennis Head Coach Eric Burns said the facility provides NIU with a recruiting advantage in addition to improving the student-athlete experience by eliminating travel to home games and creating a home-court atmosphere.
“The renovation of the courts at Chick Evans is a huge improvement for our program,” Burns said. “With only three courts, we were forced to drive to Rockford for our [MAC] matches. Now our student-athletes finally have a home in DeKalb where their friends, family and Huskies fans can watch them play.
“From a recruiting perspective, unlike other schools that have to go off campus to a private club to play, our ladies can just walk across campus and play anytime. I believe that can really set us up for continued recruiting success as we transform our program into a MAC candidate.”
Two additional projects that will bring dramatic and much-needed improvements to the NIU football and baseball programs were approved by the NIU Board of Directors at its last meeting.
Replacing the 14-year-old turf at the NIU Soccer/Athletics Complex has been on the Huskies’ priority list for several years and is critical to the future success and development of NIU’s men’s and women’s soccer programs, which have recently seen the men’s Huskie team wins the regular season and 2021 MAC Tournament titles and hosts an NCAA Tournament first round game. The replacement turf provides Huskie soccer student-athletes with a safe, quality playing surface worthy of the programs that use them for practices, games and youth camps. The on-field replacement is the next step in the facility’s upgrades to the complex which included the replacement of the press room in 2020 and the installation of the Pixellot automated streaming cameras used for games and practice.
Board approval of the Ralph McKinzie Field project that will replace the natural grass and dirt field with artificial turf is the first step for the Walt and Janice Owens Baseball stadium project. In addition to the infield, grass will be installed in the foul territory areas and in the visiting team’s bullpen. With an artificial turf surface, NIU Baseball will be able to use the field for practices and games even early in the season when weather conditions force the Huskies to move or cancel games, while reducing maintenance costs. With the upgrades, the ballpark will be officially dedicated in honor of the late Walt Owens and his wife, Janice, at a date to be announced. A longtime coach, teacher and ambassador for Northern Illinois University, Owens – known to thousands of Huskie students as “Coach O” – was a standout athlete who played professionally in the Negro leagues before becoming a coach. exceptional in high school and then in university.
“I am extremely happy for our football and baseball programs which will benefit in many ways from these artificial turf projects,” Frazier said. “Replacing worn turf at the soccer/athletics complex has been on the to-do list for several years to ensure the health and safety of our student-athletes and to drive planning and recruitment. he addition of artificial turf in several areas is a much needed improvement to Ralph McKinzie Field and allows us to take a big step forward in creating the Walt and Janice Owens Ballpark.”
In addition to enhancing the NIU student-athlete experience, these three facilities will enhance community relations through youth camps and venue rentals. Tennis memberships will be available for purchase through the Campus Recreation Department, DeKalb County United Soccer will continue as tenant of the NIU Soccer/Track & Field Complex and Team Exposure baseball has committed to lease Ralph McKinzie Field for at minus 10 weekends during the summer with additional rentals available with improved lot size. These opportunities, along with NIU Athletics summer youth camps and tournaments, allow for year-round use, as well as increased revenue generation at these facilities.
By the end of September 2022, NIU will have invested nearly $2 million in facilities for NIU’s tennis, soccer, women’s track and field, softball, and baseball programs. Improvements to these existing facilities include the installation of a temperature-controlled media room, enhanced streaming capabilities, and an upgraded public address and sound system at the NIU Football/Athletics Complex; the expansion and installation of turf in the home team’s bullpen and batting cages at Ralph McKinzie Field; and the installation of turf in the batting cages and pitching warm-up area at Mary M. Bell Field.
— NIU —