Coaching Management, 14.9, October 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1409/bbumrenovation.htm
Spring comes later in Michigan, and as a result many early-season sports are played against a backdrop of snow and rain. With this in mind, the University of Michigan is set to undergo a $5.5 million renovation for its softball stadium, Alumni Field, aimed at increasing capacity and easing the difficulties of cold-weather play. The improvements will include heated dugouts, an indoor hitting and pitching facility, and new press and concessions areas.
The project was part of a master plan drafted in 2001 that also includes upgrades to the university’s other stadiums. The plan, like all university expenditures, needed final approval from the University’s Board of Regents. “We did a needs assessment comparing our facilities to our Big 10 peers,” says Mike Stevenson, Michigan’s Executive Associate Athletic Director. “We talked about safety issues, current standards, seating, and ADA compliance.”
It wasn’t a difficult sell. Despite winning a national championship in 2005 and a Big 10 title in 2006, the team’s facilities lagged behind others in the conference. There was already support from fans, who consistently sell out Alumni Field, earning it the nickname, “The Little House,” a play on the football stadium's nickname, “The Big House.”
According to Stevenson, about $4.5 million for the renovation will come from the athletic department’s budget while the other million will be made up through fundraising efforts. But raising that amount of money can be difficult for a team that’s only been in existence since 1972 and has a limited number of alumni to call on for support.
“When you look at all the athletes who've participated, they’re just out of school and haven’t had long to acquire wealth,” Stevenson says. “Baseball raised $8.5 million for a $9 million project and they're still going strong.”
To overcome the relatively small number of softball alumni, the program is striving for 100 percent participation from former players—even if they can only afford to give $25 or $50. The coaching staff has been very involved in fundraising efforts, contacting former players to keep them updated about the renovation's progress.
Bonnie Tholl, Associate Head Coach, says the staff makes it a point to keep in close contact with all 200 former players. They send e-mail updates and newsletters, and plan tailgating events during football and softball season. When it comes time to ask for donations, Tholl says the staff makes sure alumni understand how the improvements will benefit the entire softball program.
“They're really excited about having a great new facility, not just for current student athletes, but for the whole program,” Tholl says. “We want them to feel like this is not just a stadium for the 2006 or 2007 team. If they graduated in 1980, Michigan softball is still their program and we want to make sure to really nurture that environment.”