By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Pittsburg State University announced Wednesday morning that Alan and Roberta Whetzel have provided a $1.2 million leadership gift for the renovation of John Lance Arena.
The Whetzels’ donation helps pave the way for the renovation of the Weede Athletic Center and the construction of an Indoor Event Center, a three-phase project with a total cost of approximately $12 million.
“If you walk down the long hallway in the Weede, Phase 1 is everything south of the hallway (the basketball arena) top to bottom,” PSU athletics director Jim Johnson said. “Everything north of the hallway, dressing rooms, training rooms, is Phase 3. Phase 2 is the events center (a 300-meter track around a 100-yard football field, plus an 8,000-square foot weight room).”
Pittsburg State students passed a referendum last month authorizing school officials to invest $3 million of their fees for the events center. The remainder will come from public and private donations.
“It’s always a great day to be a Gorilla, but today is even more special,” women’s basketball coach Lane Lord said. “For volleyball and basketball, this is an unbelievable day, and really for the whole university.
“The Whetzels have talked about this. It’s been their vision, it’s been their passion. We’ve been so excited, and for it to finally happen and for us to be able to play in a facility that’s going to be one of the best in the MIAA next year is just unbelievable.”
“It’s a mixed bag of emotions, being very grateful and thankful, the excitement and anticipation,” men’s basketball coach Kevin Muff said. “I’m very excited to see the finished product when it gets here in August.
“But probably the most important feeling I feel right now is being very blessed to have people like the Whetzel family, who do this because they have a strong tie and desire to see students and student-athletes be successful. To see them be so compassionate about it but yet removed from the point that they don’t want a lot of recognition … to see their dream come to fruition is very neat.”
“Of course, we’re grateful to Alan and Roberta Whetzel,” volleyball coach Ibraheem Suberu said. “We’ve had only one court. It’s been challenging for our basketball teams and volleyball team … the bulk of the training time that all of us have is always between 3 and 6:30. So imagine all these sports being able to train at the same time and each having their own court, that is exciting. Men’s and women’s basketball will have enough space to practice, and volleyball can train at the same time, it’s a great opportunity.”
The Whetzels met when they were students at Pittsburg State. Alan, from Kingman, played basketball, and Roberta, from Parsons, was a cheerleader. Both graduated as physical education majors — Roberta in 1959, Alan in 1960.
After spending several years in teaching and coaching, the Whetzels formed Business Systems, Inc., an electronic business supply company based in Wichita.
“We simply want to acknowledge President (Steve) Scott’s and Jim Johnson’s vision and leadership to make this happen,” Roberta said. “And we also want to acknowledge former coach Gene Iba for bringing us back to the basketball program at Pittsburg State. We got interested in the project about six years ago. We had so much wanted this to be something that would happen while Coach Iba was still here, but he thought retirement looked pretty good.
“When we very first got involved in this, our kids one year for Christmas gave us a hard hat that had gorillas all over it and a little shovel. And we still have them.”
“We can get out and use them now,” Alan said.
Construction on the first phase has begun. The floor that was installed in 1996 has been taken up, and pieces will soon be available for sale. The first floor piece was presented to the Whetzels by Suberu, Muff and Lord.
Concrete and utility work is being finished, and once commencement ceremonies are finished next month, the bleachers will be removed, a new maple floor will be installed and new seating will go in. The arena renovations are scheduled to be completed in time for volleyball practice in August.
“The playing surface will be new. The atmosphere will be new,” Alan Whetzel said. “Our hope is to have the best facility in Division II. Our indoor facilities have not been the best in the MIAA. Now we’re going to leapfrog all the rest of them, I think.”
The renovation inside John Lance Arena leaves the track teams with no indoor oval, but those programs are willing to sacrifice now and receive huge dividends later.
“We are going to make do,” track coach Russ Jewett said. “There are lots of programs out there that don’t have an indoor track. We don’t want to be one of those for long, but we’re certainly willing to be one of those for short term in the best interest of everybody in athletics at Pittsburg State.
“What we will do is we will use the inside space that we have — which won’t be much — to the extent that we can. We’ll be an outdoor track team during the winter months. If we have a winter like we had this past year, it won’t be a huge hardship. We’ll just have to find a way to get it done. ... We look at it as we’ll take a little bit of a half-step backward for a short term for a couple of giant steps forward in the long term in what will eventually be probably one of the best facility situations in all of NCAA Division II.”
Completion for the indoor facility is likely fall of 2014 or January 2015, Johnson said.