Hanover College held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new athletic complex on Saturday. Taking part in the ceremony were (above, from left): Athletic Director Lynn Hall, President Sue DeWine, Trustee Mark Gabriel, Trustee Stephen Smith, Trustee Chair Phllip D. Scott, Trustee Secretary Elaine Kops-Bedel, and Trustee Vice-Chair Mark Levett. DeWine reacts after starting up the loader that turned the first chunk of dirt (below). (Staff photos by David Campbell)
Hanover College held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new athletic complex on Saturday. Taking part in the ceremony were (above, from left): Athletic Director Lynn Hall, President Sue DeWine, Trustee Mark Gabriel, Trustee Stephen Smith, Trustee Chair Phllip D. Scott, Trustee Secretary Elaine Kops-Bedel, and Trustee Vice-Chair Mark Levett. DeWine reacts after starting up the loader that turned the first chunk of dirt (below). (Staff photos by David Campbell)
After several years, thousands of phone calls and untold numbers of emails, Hanover College's new outdoor athletic complex is nearly a reality.

School officials, coaches and student-athletes took part in an official ground-breaking ceremony at the school on Saturday. Despite the unseasonably cold temperatures and the wet ground from heavy rains the day before, everybody in attendance was all smiles as what was once a dream took a huge step toward reality.

"I'm really, really thankful that I could see this happen," Hanover athletic director Lynn Hall said. "I'm thrilled that these student-athletes are going to get the facilities that they deserve."

The $6 million project will get under way immediately and will involve massive changes to not only the football stadium, but the baseball, softball and soccer fields as well. Taking into account the new tennis courts that opened earlier this year, it is a project that will impact 13 varsity sports.

The project has been long in the making. Nearly every coach and athlete at the school has pined for new facilities to no avail. Hall, who graduated from the school and served as volleyball coach for more than a decade before becoming AD, admits that she never thought she would see the day come when actual dirt was turned for a new facility.

It wasn't until Sue DeWine became president of the college in 2007 that those clamoring for new facilities finally had sympathetic ear.

"The tipping point was president DeWine understanding the importance of athletics, understanding the importance of athletics to the college persona and understanding the importance to the students. She's all about the students," Hall said. "She gets it. She sees that we have some subpar facilities. She's traveled around with me to different schools and saw different facilities.

"She was the one that said that this campaign that we are doing is for athletics," Hall said. "For her to make that statement about how important athletics are to the college spoke volumes."

Still, the money had to be raised and it was not an easy task. The school still hasn't reached its $6 million goal and currently stands $184,000 short.

Part of the reason for the difficulty is what Dennis Hunt, Hanover's vice-president of college advancement, called a "disconnect" between the school and its alumni base. Hanover College has not taken part in a capital works project of this scale since the mid-1990s and alumni were not in the habit of donating to their school.

"In a $6 million project like this, it's normal to have a $2 million donor or somebody who is out there that is going to make a really significant dent right away and excite momentum for the project and make that statement of 'Hey, I believe in it.' We didn't have that," Hunt said. "We didn't have that because Hanover has had a couple decades of inactivity since the last major campaign. So our alumni base has not been as engaged in philanthropy. So in a way, we're breaking new ground on giving as well."

Another problem the school faced was one of perception. Most alums don't often come back to the college and, as a result, many felt that the facilities were just fine.

It was a perception fundraisers had to fight nearly the entire way.

"The hardest part of all of this was alums who haven't been back in 30 or 40 years thought this complex was great," said Steve Smith, a member of the board of trustees who, along with fellow trustee Mark Gabriel, led the charge in alumni donations. "And this place sucks."

The current L.S. Ayres Athletic Complex has been around for more than 40 years and at one time was considered one of the top facilities in the region.

But time has not been kind to the complex. There are currently no pressboxes, lockerrooms, restrooms or storage areas at the baseball, softball and soccer fields, and the facilities at the football field have gone from bad to worse.

So bad are the lockerrooms at L.S. Ayres Field that visiting teams have often decided to stay outside during halftime rather than attempt to squeeze into the small space.

"Every time I came to a game and I saw the other team outside rather than in the lockerroom I was embarrassed," DeWine said. "That was unacceptable."

The new complex, which will be renamed Wayne Perry Field in honor of the school's longtime coach who is the winningest college football coach in Indiana, will have brand-new lockerrooms and offices for the football, lacrosse and track and field coaches. A new pressbox will be perched atop grandstands that will be completely rebuilt.

Construction on the new stadium will begin this summer but then will be halted to allow for the 2013 football season beginning in September. After the season, the project will resume to be finished in time for lacrosse and track and field in March.

Baseball, softball and soccer will begin right away with an eye toward completing those projects before the fall sports seasons begin.

Nearly every aspect of the project revolves around comfort, both for athletes and spectators alike.

"This is a big project, but we're not building luxury boxes or a dome here. We're talking about toilets," Hunt said. "We want to have the kind of facilities that we can be proud of. Every time somebody used a port-a-potty it made us look bad."

The end result of the project is to make the school more competitive in intercollegiate athletics. Fellow Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference members Franklin, Rose-Hulman and Mount St. Joseph have greatly improved their facilities in recent years and athletic programs at each school have improved greatly.

"This isn't Division I, but even here at Division III there is an arms race going on," Hunt said. "Whether we want to admit it or not, facilities like this play a big part in recruiting. We've never had problems with numbers. It's not the quantity of athletes we get but the quality of athletes. This will help."

About 40 percent of Hanover's student population competes in athletics and most of them will be directly affected by the new complex. But Hall was quick to note that all students will benefit from the new facilities.

"Nearly every one of our students will be affected by this," Hall said. "There will even be an indoor golf facility to help with that. This will truly benefit our entire student population."