ABILENE, Texas - Abilene Christian University today announced that a long-awaited on-campus football stadium will become a reality, thanks to the largest gift in the university's 108-year history.
April and Mark Anthony's $30 million commitment includes $15 million for construction of an on-campus football stadium; $7 million for ACU's College
of Business Administration, where both April and Mark studied; $5 million for
a science building in honor of Robert R. Onstead; and $3 million in undesignated funds. The Anthonys' gift is part of $55 million in donor commitments announced by the university, which plans to construct or transform three major facilities for its science programs.
ACU director of athletics Jared Mosley said the Wildcats project to open the 2016 football season on Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium, pending the
completion of fundraising.
"I was a student-athlete, so I know the importance of athletics on campus, as well as high standards for the academic side," said Mark Anthony, a 1986 graduate of ACU who played on the Wildcat golf team. His wife, April, is a 1989 graduate and a member of the university's Board of Trustees, and they live in Dallas. "This is going to bring the alumni, current students and faculty all together in a first-class facility everyone will be proud of."
The projected $30 million Wildcat Stadium will seat about 8,500 fans with overall space for about 12,000 people. The facility will include a number of amenities, including premium seating and accommodations for Game Day activities.
"This announcement marks an historic moment in the story of ACU athletics," Mosley said. "I am grateful for the generosity of April and Mark Anthony, and I look forward to the ways Wildcat Stadium will transform our campus community, enhance student recruiting, and help us better connect to our alumni through the countless events that will call this stadium home."
Wildcat Stadium will be built on the current site of Elmer Gray Stadium. The historic ACU facility was built in 1954, and it has been a large part of U.S. track and field history. It hosted the 1960 U.S. Olympic Trials for women's track and field; NAIA men's national meets in 1978, 1979 and 1980; NCAA Division II outdoor championships for men and women in 1993 and 2005; USA Track and
Field southwest region championships in 1997; and meets with top NCAA Division I competitors.
Construction on a new stadium – to house ACU's traditionally strong track and field teams, as well as its fast-rising women's soccer program – will take place along Campus Court, replacing the current soccer pitch south of Wells Field, the home of Wildcat softball. The stadium will include seating for about 1,000 fans, a press box, locker rooms for ACU teams and visiting squads, team rooms, and a
"Both stadiums will provide our student-athletes with some of the best facilities in which to compete and further develop their God-given talents," Mosley said. "Along with a world-class, on-campus facility for our football team, we are excited to provide two of our most successful programs – one entering its eighth season, the other its 10th decade – with a state-of-the-art stadium that will better meet both of their needs."
ACU's football program has won national championships in 1973 and 1977, and 12 conference titles, the most recent in 2008 and 2010. Thirty-one Wildcats have gone on to play in the NFL, including four who were on active rosters in 2013.
The Wildcat football team will play its first full Southland Conference schedule in 2014, and head coach Ken Collums said a new stadium will provide ACU's program a distinct recruiting and competitive advantage over some of its opponents within the league and at the FCS (Football Championship
"Our goal is clear," said Collums. "We intend to be one of the top up-and-coming FCS teams in the country. And while we already enjoy tremendous strengths as a program, securing our own stadium will provide an extraordinary new surge of momentum."
Mosley said he hopes the new facilities will help the university re-engage with former student-athletes.
"The generosity and stewardship of our alumni is such a great testimony and example for this current generation," Mosley said. "We stand on each other's shoulders when building an athletics legacy, so it is gratifying to see men and women who have been influenced by ACU in years past step up to provide something so significant in the lives of current and future Wildcats."
During its history, the ACU football program has called as many as five different stadiums "home," including Shotwell Stadium since 1959. Through the 2013 season, the Wildcats are 163-109-3 there, a winning percentage of .605. That includes a 4-2 home postseason record, including playoff victories in 1973 and 1977, when ACU won NAIA Division I national championships.
Arguably the most memorable ACU game ever played at Shotwell took place Nov. 22, 2008, when the Wildcats beat West Texas A&M, 93-68, in the
second round of the national playoffs, with the two teams combining to break more than 40 records. The first nationally televised game from Shotwell was Aug. 27, 2009, a CBS College Sports broadcast of the season opener for the Wildcats and Northwest Missouri State. And one of the great moments in ACU athletics history occurred Oct. 16, 1976, when Ove Johansson kicked a 69-yard field goal in a win over then-East Texas State, a world record still unequaled at any level of football.
The Wildcats also played home games at Wildcat Park near the original North 1st Street campus in the early 1920s, A.B. Morris Stadium on the current campus from 1937-42, Fair Park in central Abilene, and Parramore Field on the Hardin-Simmons University campus. The last time ACU played a game on its campus was Nov. 27, 1958, when the Wildcats beat Howard Payne in what would later be named Elmer Gray Stadium.
Since the 1920s, Wildcat track and field and cross country teams have won 56 NCAA national championships and 124 league championships, while
individual student-athletes have included 37 Olympians, set 21 world records, and won four Olympic gold medals. In 1999, Texas Monthly magazine named the ACU track and field program the Texas Sports Dynasty of the Century.
"Elmer Gray Stadium's place in the history of U.S. track and field is well known with legendary performers like our own Bobby Morrow, Earl Young,
Billy Olson, Tim Bright and Delloreen Ennis, as well as Wilma Rudolph, Michael Johnson and others having competed there," Mosley said. "We deeply appreciate that history and the legacy the stadium will leave behind, and look forward to providing our student-athletes with the 21st-century facility
they need to continue to excel."
The soccer program, begun in 2007, won the Lone Star Conference regular season championship in 2010 and the LSC tournament championship in 2011, while reaching the NCAA regional tournament both seasons. The program has a sterling .639 winning percentage since its inception.
Information for this story provided by ACU Athletics.
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