HUNTINGTON — Thanks to a few ceremonial turns of dirt with some kelly green-handled shovels, construction on Marshall’s Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex is ready to begin. The $8 million project was boosted with a groundbreaking ceremony last Friday.
“I don’t think I have the words to express what will happen with this complex,” said former Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington, co-chairman (with Marshall alumnus and Los Angeles Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni) of the Vision Campaign fundraising effort. “This is something that the Tri-State has never seen and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Pennington took part in Friday’s event with several other speakers, including the Marshall President, Dr. Stephen Kopp, and Athletic Director Mike Hamrick.
Others who are excited for the project include Thundering Herd soccer coaches Bob Gray and Kevin Long.
“This facility will rank up there as one of the best in the conference (USA),” said Gray, coach of the Marshall men’s team. “And you’re talking about a league that includes South Carolina and Kentucky, so that’s SEC money, and while we won’t have the biggest facility, it’s right there as the nicest.”
The 12,000 square-foot structure, scheduled to be completed next August in time for the 2013 season at the site of the former Veterans Memorial Field House, will include a synthetic turf playing surface and a grandstand with a permanent seating capacity of 1,000.
“We could have gone with a much larger grandstand, but we went with more of an MLS mindset,” Gray said. “They purposely built facilities that seat about 20,000 people because they didn’t want crowds of 20,000 to look small in an 80,000-seat facility.
“We’ll be able to fill this stadium every single game and if there’s an overflow and people are standing on the rails, that adds to the atmosphere. If it becomes apparent that we needed to expand it at some point, we can.”
Marshall women’s Coach Kevin Long said the Herd programs already have “used” the complex.
“We’ve been talking to our current players about this facility as they’ve been recruited,” Long said. “It has been a positive in recruiting already, but it’s just going to be that much more effective when we actually walk them through it and they see the facility itself rather than pictures of what it will be in the future.”
While the complex might be first and foremost on the soccer coaches’ minds, Long is just as excited about the rest of what is coming via the Vision Campaign.
“The soccer complex itself is just step one in the process,” he said. “When you look at the current economy, not a lot of places are building too much. Yet Marshall is saying, ‘Look at the soccer complex we’re building. Look at the indoor practice facility we’re building. Look at the academic center, the sports medicine center, the Hall of Fame we’re building.’
“All of these things are beneficial for what they are, and it also shows how important Marshall thinks the athletic facilities are.”
Of course, the soccer complex will be a boon specifically for Long’s and Gray’s programs.
“No longer do we have a locker room that we have to clear out when we have a home football game,” Gray said of the Edwards Stadium room that also serves as the locker room for visiting football teams. “No longer will we have to schedule our practice time around and among other sports trying to use the same field.
“We’ll train, practice, watch video and have our offices all in one facility. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
The new complex will enable both programs to make more efficient use of their time. Both coaching staffs currently have offices in the Henderson Center, which also houses the women’s locker room. With practices and games at Edwards Stadium or Sam Hood Field, many man hours are spent simply moving people back and forth among facilities.
“Having all of our resources at one site – coaches’ offices, locker rooms, field, meeting space – this gives us the opportunity to do more things in training that we are currently more stretched to try to accomplish,” Long said.
“It will be one-stop shopping for Marshall soccer. We will be able to fit a lot more into our day. We’ll have immediate access from leaving the field to going to watch video, for instance, instead of spending that 10 minutes moving the team from the stadium back to the locker room and meeting areas.”
Long also pointed out how the new complex will wipe out some competitive disadvantages the Marshall teams have faced in the past. “We will be practicing on the same playing surface as we play on, which hasn’t been the case as we’ve practiced at Edwards Stadium and then played at other places,” he said. “People probably don’t realize, but because the stadium is tapered (crowned), in games we have to chase balls into the corners that would run into the wall at the stadium.
“That’s not a small thing – it really is a big deal in our preparation. And we’ve been training 120 days per year on turf, then playing our ten home games on grass.
“Now we’ll be practicing and playing on the turf, which will hopefully be a home field advantage for us since most teams in the conference play and practice on grass.”
The project is just one more step in Marshall’s growth spurt. “This is part of the bigger plan for Marshall,” Gray said. “We’ve been moving in a great direction ever since they built the student recreation center and put the new dorms in a couple years ago.
“Marshall, in the last few years, has made huge strides in becoming an outstanding institution with the student experience we offer. Kudos goes to the leadership from Dr. Kopp and Mike Hamrick to everyone who is participating and making this possible. These changes are going to make us the envy of Conference USA in terms of sports facilities.”
The Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex will also be utilized for more than just Marshall.
“The soccer associations in the community are already calling, wanting to know if they’re going to be able to rent the space,” Long said. “Absolutely, there will be a plan for that.
“We can picture state championship matches, adult league championships, all of the biggest soccer events that want to play at a great facility with a quality surface. Spectators will have a great view and be close to the action. This is going to be the great place to play in this region.”
That should be a boon for the entire university.
“When people set foot on campus for an event, Marshall sells itself,” Long said. “As young people come to events at our complex, more and more of them, whether they become college student-athletes themselves, will end up being students at Marshall.”