On a sunny and mild Friday afternoon, Feb. 3, the shovels dug into a pile of dirt at McDaniel College.
The groundbreaking for McDaniel's new stadium signified a renewed commitment to the school's athletic program, and the official beginning of a new era for both the 1,600 students that attend McDaniel and the Westminster community.
"It will be the predominant structure that people will see when they come up the entranceway (to the college)," said Dr. Roger Casey, the college's president since July 2010. "It's a brick stadium that will match the other campus buildings, and is a great symbol of the kind of winning tradition that we want to have as well. Having the facilities to attract these kinds of students is a very important aspect."
The new facility will be christened the Kenneth R. Gill Stadium. Gill, a 1961 graduate of then-Western Maryland College and current trustee, is the founder and chairman of Gill Group Inc., one of the largest food service equipment and supplies contractors in the nation.
A four-year letter winner for the Green Terror football team, Gill has donated $2.25 million for the stadium project.
"His life was changed here," said Casey of Gill. "Ken and (wife) Joanne are great supporters of the college, and we thought it was appropriate to honor his family by naming the stadium after Ken."
The stadium, which is being funded exclusively by charitable gifts and is not drawn from the college's operating budget, will cost $8 million. A total of $7.7 million had been pledged at the time of the groundbreaking.
"I played football here when the stadium had concrete stands," said Gill, recalling his days at Hoffa Field, the football team's home from 1922 through 1980. "More than 50 years later, my teammates are still my best friends. I really benefited from the lessons taught to me by faculty, coaches and classmates."
Construction of the new stadium will begin this month, and will be completed in time for the 2012 fall sports season. The stadium architect is Marshall Craft Associates, and Manekin Construction will build the facility. Gill Stadium is scheduled to open on Sept. 15, when McDaniel hosts Muhlenberg in the football home opener.
The facility will be used by six McDaniel sports teams: football, field hockey, men's and women's lacrosse, and men's and women's track and field. It will be built on the site of the former Bair Stadium, which will be dismantled this month. The artificial turf field, installed in 2004 with help from the Baltimore Ravens, is not scheduled to be replaced.
The new stadium will retain much of the charm of the old one. The classic bowl setting, which includes one of the best drive-in tailgating sites in college football, will remain the same.
But the stands that seated just 900 spectators at Bair Stadium will be replaced by a two-story brick and concrete structure with a capacity of 1,434.
"This gets us to a level where we are not only competitive in the Centennial Conference, but this stadium will compete with those in the Patriot League and the Ivy League," said Paul Moyer, who served as an athletic director at several Division III programs before coming to McDaniel last July. "It definitely compares favorably with any place that I've been."
The first part of the stadium project happened in 2010, when new lighting was installed.
The new stadium will have concession areas, public restrooms, observation boxes, and a reception and gathering room. A large, enclosed press box, filming areas, home and visiting team meeting facilities, and training and coaches' rooms will also be included in the new facility.
A new entrance and roadway on West Main Street and a pedestrian walkway that links the famous "caboose" with the new stadium will also be a part of McDaniel's new look.
"We didn't use other facilities as a model, but we did talk to a number of athletic directors and relied on Paul's experience about features that they found attractive," said Dr. Ethan Seidel, the vice president for Administration and Finance at McDaniel. "We didn't make any site visits, but we depended on our architects' experience. We also met with the coaches and teams that would be affected, with our sports information director, with our training staff, and with our prior and current presidents to get a sense of what was needed."
At a school where approximately one-third of the undergraduate students participate in intercollegiate athletics, it was no surprise that several McDaniel student-athletes were part of Friday's groundbreaking ceremony.
One of the participants was South Carroll High School graduate Danielle Decolli. Now a McDaniel sophomore and a member of the field hockey and women's lacrosse teams, Decolli believes that the new facility will change the way potential student-athletes view McDaniel College.
"It will be a great stadium to play in, and will create even more of a college atmosphere that our athletes will really enjoy," said Decolli. "The new stadium will definitely help with recruiting. The field is beautiful, and when you look up at the campus from the stadium it's a really great view. Now, the seating area will be just as attractive."
The new stadium comes at an opportune time for the McDaniel football program. From 1997 through 2002, the Green Terror earned six consecutive Centennial Conference championships and won several games in the NCAA Division III national playoffs.
But the program hasn't finished above the .500 mark in seven seasons, and in December the contract of veteran head coach Tim Keating wasn't renewed.
In 2011, the Green Terror football team posted a 2-8 mark but was competitive in nearly every game. A young team that returns Division III All-America running back Joe Rollins, combined with the impact of a new stadium, provides immediate hope for a program that is searching for a new head coach.
"This stadium says that McDaniel College is making a commitment to athletics, and to the student-athlete experience," said Moyer, who came to McDaniel after directing the Moravian College athletic program for 11 years.
"We want that experience to be comparable to anything that they would be able to get anywhere else," he said. "That kind of excitement is great for a coach to sell, and it's clearly had an impact on our search."
For more information about McDaniel College, visit http://www.mcdaniel.edu or call 410-857-2290.