Big win for students

Wheaton’s scholar-athletes will soon have more opportunities to practice and play their sport, thanks to a new artificial turf field slated for completion by September 2013.

On the strength of a major gift from an anonymous supporter, Wheaton’s Board of Trustees voted in February to raise funds for the $3.8 million project, under the stipulation that the remainder of funds come from philanthropic contributions. Following the board meeting, a second donor contributed to the project, bringing the funds raised for the effort to $2.25 million. Altogether, the college must raise $3,865,000 by June 30, 2012, to begin construction in time for a fall 2013 opening.

“The generosity of alumnae/i, parents and friends has been, and will continue to be, a major engine for enhancing the college,” President Ronald A. Crutcher said. “This will be an important addition to our facilities and a major enhancement for many students who participate in intercollegiate, club and intramural sports.”

The President’s Athletics Review Task Force, which last year studied the college’s athletics program to assess its role at Wheaton and the resources needed to support it, recommended the construction of an artificial turf field to better serve students involved in the college’s athletics programs.

The artificial turf field, which will include lights to allow for nighttime activities and an endowed fund to cover some of its maintenance, would be located behind the Haas Athletic Center.

“Over half our students participate in varsity, club and intramural sports. The field will benefit all of them,” said Dean of Students Lee Williams. “Building this field is a powerful statement of our belief in the importance and tradition of educating the whole student–one who is intellectually, socially and physically engaged.”

For the intercollegiate field hockey team, the new facility will allow players to compete on campus. At present, the team practices and plays home games offsite. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recommends artificial turf surfaces for field hockey, and many other colleges will not play on natural grass fields. As a result, Wheaton rents time on a field in Rehoboth, Mass., that is owned by the Lincoln School.

The benefits go beyond field hockey. The men’s and women’s lacrosse teams will be able to practice on campus and host games against other colleges earlier in the season. Typically, natural grass fields cannot accommodate competition in early spring due to lingering frost and heavy rains common at that point in the season. Even fall sports sometimes run into weather-related problems.

Club sports — men’s and women’s rugby, ultimate frisbee and soccer — also stand to benefit by having more access to playing fields for their teams.