Rock Chalk Park Officially Underway

April 16, 2013

LAWRENCE, Kan. – A long-awaited project that signifies another chapter in Kansas Athletics’ quest for excellence began with the ceremonial groundbreaking for Rock Chalk Park Tuesday morning.

Kansas Athletics Director Dr. Sheahon Zenger, Thomas and Dru Fritzel of Bliss Sports, KU Endowment President Dale Seuferling as well as the coaches and student-athletes who will call Rock Chalk Park home gathered at the site of the project to officially get started. Jim Marchiony, KU’s Associate AD for Public Affairs, gave the introduction to what was a historic day for both the city of Lawrence and the University of Kansas. Marchiony thanked the large crowd for making their way out for the chilly event, but left the welcoming to Zenger.

“It is a great day for Kansas Athletics,” Zenger began. “And within Kansas Athletics, we believe in being a coach and student-athlete centered athletics department. We believe in substance over style and underselling and overproducing. Today is exemplary of that belief.”

The morning focused largely around the Fritzel family and their generosity, the city of Lawrence and its partnership and to KU Endowment for making Rock Chalk Park possible. Zenger explained how the Kansas athletic department has spent nearly 20 years looking for a solution for the facility needs for track and field, soccer and softball.

“Today we officially address those needs,” Zenger said.

Construction plans call for a track and field stadium with approximately 7,000 permanent seats and room for some 3,000 temporary seats, a softball stadium for more than 1,500 spectators, and a 2,500-seat soccer stadium. Zenger said two different independent studies showed that Kansas Athletics would likely have had to spend in excess of $50 million to build these facilities. Under the partnership of Thomas and Dru Fritzel and Bliss Sports, however, Kansas Athletics will be able to build them for $39 million, spread out over 30 years.

The complex will be near the intersection of 6th Street and George Williams Way, just east of K-10. Kansas Athletics now begins construction, along with the KU Endowment Association and Bliss Sports, and plans to have the new facilities ready for the 2014 Kansas Relays. An official opening date for Kansas soccer and softball has not been announced.

While giving due credit to each of the three programs for their successes with sub-par facilities, Zenger made it clear that his vision – and the vision of all involved in the project – was not only to build a facility that could compete with fellow Big 12 Conference schools, but to be even better. He also reminded those in attendance that nearly 75 percent of Rock Chalk Park’s inhabitants will be female student-athletes as men’s track and field will be the only male team housed at the facility.

In his third year at Kansas, Zenger then turned it back over to Marchiony who introduced head softball coach Megan Smith, head soccer coach Mark Francis and head track and field coach Stanley Redwine. Each took turns addressing the crowd, but the focus of each speech reiterated excitement and sheer gratitude to everyone involved.

Smith, as well as the other coaches, first thanked the Fritzels, Kansas Athletics, Dr. Zenger, KU Endowment and the city of Lawrence. Smith, who is in her fourth season, then took a moment to explain what Rock Chalk Park means to her sport.

“This is such an exciting day, not just for the three coaches up here, but for our entire athletic department,” Smith said. “Just to speak to the enormity of this project, I want to talk about how it will impact my own sport. We have a group of 18 young women who go out every day and work with all of their hearts and souls to represent Kansas well. They do that on a field that is not up to par with the rest of the country. When people see this stadium, they will know that Kansas supports softball and Kansas supports women’s athletics. We are extremely excited and thank everyone that made this possible.”

Francis followed and joked about previous players thinking he was a liar when telling his recruits and players that a plan had been in the works for a new field throughout his 14 years at Kansas.

“Dr. Zenger is the fourth Athletics Director that I’ve worked for. Every single one has promised us a new field,” Francis said. “And he is the one that is actually following through with it. I just really appreciate that he spearheaded this and is going to make this happen. We play against teams with some of the best facilities in the country and you can see it on our kids’ faces when we go out there to practice at their place the day before the game. You know what’s going through their head, because it’s going through mine, too. The thought of ‘How come we don’t have something like that?’ To their credit, they never complained, but I’m really excited that our players are going to get to play in a facility they deserve.”

Redwine, in his 14th season at the helm of the storied track and field program, was the final coach to speak. He also expressed his gratitude and eagerness about what’s to come. Redwine explained that not only will Rock Chalk Park benefit his current athletes, but it sets a standard for recruits as well as the type of professional athletes that this facility will draw to compete in the Kansas Relays.

“It’s so good to see something coming out that as coaches we can believe it’s going to happen,” Redwine said. “This is a place that will welcome recruits and a place that our athletes can call home. That’s always exciting and we’re really fortunate. We’ve worked really hard to not use anything as an excuse, but this is something that is going to help our athletes improve in everything that they do.”

Seuferling concluded the speeches with a story about the early beginnings of the KU Endowment. That in 1890, KU Endowment was created to help acquire the land where Memorial Stadium still sits today – and that they are happy to continue to be a part of bringing first-class facilities to Kansas Athletics.

With that, each of the vital members to the project grabbed a shovel to officially break ground. After the speeches and interviews had settled, Zenger took a moment to reflect on the personal side of making student-athletes’ dreams become reality.

“That’s really why you get into this,” Zenger said. “I went into this business to be a coach and work with young people, but as you become an administrator you get further and further removed from that. So I get to live that dream out through the coaches. Something like this is really gratifying because you feel connected to the student-athletes in giving them something that will help them live our life-long dreams.” The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.