UNCP softball feeling squeezed

First Posted: 1/15/2009

PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s women’s softball team will need a new place to play ball within the next three to five years.
Chancellor Allen Meadors said by that time he hopes to university will receive money to build a new Information Commons Building — an upgraded library.
Architects have selected the women’s softball field as the spot to build the library. University officials have talked about relocating the field, but with the recent growth, the university has run out of space.
On Thursday, the board of trustees voted 9 to 2 against negotiating a lease agreement with the town of Pembroke to play its softball games at the town’s new $4 million recreational complex, which is three miles from campus.
Some said moving the play off campus would hurt recruiting and that it would be too costly to upgrade the field to NCAA standards because lights and dugouts would have to be installed.
“I have a problem with investing money into something we don’t own,” said Trustee Ray Pennington, the former athletic director and baseball coach at UNCP. “More importantly, I think it is unfair to the women’s softball team, their coach and the student body. It will hurt recruiting and I don’t think our student body will go that far to watch our girls play.”
Trustees Roger Oxendine and Freda Porter supported moving the games to the Pembroke park. Oxendine said it would be a temporary solution until the university can find money and the land for a new softball field.
“I would rather move it off campus than end with nowhere to play,” Oxendine said. “There is no sin in traveling to an athletic field. N.C. State and other schools do it.”
The UNCP campus currently consists of 50 buildings and 155 acres. Ground is expected to be broken in November on a new Health Professionals Building which will be built north of the softball field. Meadors said buying land should be a priority for the university.
“We have spent $1.5 million in land purchases in the last eight years,” Meadors said. “We need to buy probably another $3 million before we are comfortable.”
Neil Hawk, vice chancellor for Business Affairs, said there is a need for 80 acres through 2017 — 50 acres for academic buildings and 30 acres for athletics.
“We could be caught at a point three to five years where we have no place for our teams to play or practice,” Meadors said. “No one in this room wants to stay on this campus more than I do. But if the money becomes available I don’t want us to turn it down because we want to keep the athletic fields where they are. I don’t think you want us to stop the growth of this campus over those two issues.”
Before the vote, Meadors said the town of Pembroke had turned down its lease offer of $1,000 per month for 10 years. He asked permission to continue the negotiations.
“We keep talking about where are we going to get the money to buy the land,” Oxendine said. “We had that same conversation about the football program. Football is here. We’ll get the money. If you start the process, it will come from somewhere.”
In other business, the board:
— Heard from Athletic Director Dan Kenney, who said he is exploring conferences that its football team can join. UNCP competes in the Peach Belt Conference and those schools don’t have football teams. UNCP reinstated its football team in 2007 and competed as an independent.
Kenney said it may be difficult to find a football-only conference nearby.
“There are only two NCAA independent schools within a 500-mile radius of UNCP — ourselves and North Greenville,” he said. “The possibility of finding four others besides the two of us to join a football-only league, you might find it difficult to do.
“We are exploring the options out there and we will be prepared in April to come back with additional information.”
— Learned that the university has received a $1 million gift from E. Marvin Johnson and his son, Robert Johnson, co-owners of the House of Raeford Farms Inc. Johnson requested the naming rights of the new Braves football stadium, which will now be known as Grace P. Johnson Stadium.
University officials said the gift is the largest private, non-deferred donation in the school’s history. Grace Johnson is Marvin’s wife.
— Learned that the SGA is preparing to hold a gubernatorial debate on campus on April 1.

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