fields reflect evolution of intercollegiate athletics
Northwestern took its first steps into intercollegiate athletics during the term of President Henry Wade Rogers, who served from 1890 to 1900.
Rogers believed that student athletics could improve student health. It could "teach self-mastery, the ability to control one's temper, and to work with others," not to mention suppress that "annoying feature of college life:" the college prank.
In 1895 Rogers joined the presidents of several top Midwestern schools to consider the regulation of college athletics. (A future issue will feature the creation of The Big Ten Conference.) What resulted from that initial meeting was the Presidents' Rules, which included a provision that all games would be contested on grounds owned by one of the participating schools.
While Northwestern did not distinguish itself in intercollegiate competition during the 1890s, a growing interest in the contests focused attention on the need for better playing facilities. Early in the decade, the trustees directed the creation of a field and grandstand, named Sheppard Field in honor of Robert D. Sheppard, University business manager and donor of lumber for the area's fence. It served as the University's primary athletic grounds until 1905, when Northwestern Field opened on Central Street west of Ridge Avenue.
In 1910 Patten Gymnasium rose on the site now occupied by the Technological Institute. The building was considered a hallmark work of architect George W. Maher and vastly improved Northwestern's prospects in athletics. It included an indoor track, a swimming pool, exercise rooms and a baseball practice area. The gym's showcase event came in 1939, only months before it was razed, when it hosted the first NCAA basketball championship. By 1941, a new gym of the same name was constructed on the north campus.
Upon taking office in 1920, President Walter Dill Scott made the construction of an outdoor stadium a top priority. At the urging of Business Manager William A. Dyche, the trustees appointed a committee to plan the new facility. Dyche Stadium was completed in 1926 and named in honor of Dyche for his part in promoting the project.
One of the key gifts of the University's Centennial Campaign of the 1950s came from Foster G. McGaw, founder of American Hospital Supply, with whom President Roscoe Miller had developed a warm relationship. The two often discussed the University's most pressing needs, including a top-notch gymnasium to replace the old Patten Gymnasium. For a little more than a decade, Northwestern's basketball team had been forced to play its home games at Evanston High School, a practice that ran counter to the earlier provision of the President's Rules. However, in 1953, McGaw Memorial Hall opened and provided not only a first-class home for basketball, but also a venue for major convocations as the Chicago area's largest auditorium north of the Loop.
In 1956, Northwestern hosted its second NCAA basketball championship there. In 1983, the University completed a dramatic interior renovation that included the creation of Welsh-Ryan Arena, the current home for men's and women's basketball and high profile events such as commencement ceremonies and rock concerts.
Over the last half-century, as interest in intercollegiate athletics reached new heights, demands have intensified on the student-athlete. Northwestern has kept pace by adding facilities designed to enhance training, practice and sports medicine. The Byron S. Coon Strength and Conditioning Center and Trienens Hall, an indoor practice facility, sit at the north end of the recently renovated football stadium, renamed Ryan Field to honor the support of the family of current Board Chairman Patrick G. Ryan. The centerpiece of the Campaign for Athletic Excellence, Ryan Field features a three-tiered press box with luxury seating and the state-of-the-art Buehler Sports Medicine Center.
Northwestern's pursuit of athletic excellence continues into the new century. An indoor tennis center is currently on the construction drawing board. The Combe Tennis Center, eventual home to the men's and women's tennis teams, will include six courts, locker rooms, training facilities and spectator seating.
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Last updated 06/19/2002 and © 2002 Northwestern University