Facility Friday: Indoor Track Training Center at UMass, Kean U. Fitness Center Renovations, Youth Esports Arena

Tabatha Wethal Headshot

Screen Shot 2023 03 16 At 5 34 32 PmRendering courtesy of UMass Athletics

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst athletics department announced last month a $2 million gift from Dr. Jim '77 and Ellen '77 Hunt, which will be the lead gift in the department's fundraising campaign to renovate and rename the "Cage," the current training facility for the men's and women's cross country and track and field teams.

The estimated $8 million capital project will create an indoor performance center for both programs and will be named in honor of the Hunts' in recognition of their commitment to the university and its athletic programs. 

"The former Cage has tremendous memories for me, and I recall congregating with teammates before and after practice in the ancient locker room and around the facility. It was a historic time for cross country and track and field, as I had the honor of competing with six different All-Americans at UMass," Dr. Jim Hunt said in a news release.

The renovated two-level facility will be managed exclusively by the athletics department and will feature a grand lobby and entrance area that will honor the history of the programs and offer an inviting area for student-athletes, alumni/ae and recruits.

The lower practice level will be covered with a track-specific surface and offer space for jumping and throwing events, along with a sprint straight-away.

The second level will feature a practice track along with space for non-impact training.

Currently located within the performance center are recently renovated coaches' offices, team locker rooms and the Peter '78 and Denise '79 Bloom Academic Lounge.

Adjacent to the lower level of the performance center is a training pool that will continue to provide additional workout space.    

Of the $8 million project cost, $5 million will be raised through private philanthropy. Several other stakeholders have committed to help with the project and the current fundraising total stands at nearly $3.8M. Announcements on those gifts will be forthcoming over the next month. The athletic department has established a target of June 30, 2023, to get the remaining funding secured and move the project forward.   — UMass Athletics

The Kean (N.J.) Fitness Center has been revitalized with updated equipment and more space for Kean University Cougars.

Kean U Fitness CenterCourtesy of Kean.edu

The Kean Fitness Center, which reopened in January, features updated cardio and weight-training equipment, a new turf workout area, bigger video monitors, colorful LED lighting and a new entryway to the Fitness Center in D’Angola Gym.

“This is an open space full of light and positive energy,” said Kean Director of Athletics Director Kelly Williams.

Kean’s fitness center and weight room, originally designed and opened in 2006, had the look and feel of a typical gym, catering mostly to athletes doing weight training. The entrance in a side corridor of D’Angola was not easy to spot, which gave it a “back room” feel.

The entrance is now in the main corridor connecting D’Angola with Harwood Arena. “This allows you to appreciate the volume of the space and the 21-foot ceiling height,” said Tracie Feldman, managing assistant director in Kean Facilities and Campus Planning. 

There are new treadmills, ellipticals and other cardio equipment on the mezzanine, with a glass wall on that level illuminated by an LED color light array.

The center’s audio system has been upgraded, and the facility now includes two 85-inch video monitors. 

Steve Remotti, vice president for campus planning and facilities, said the project took about a year to complete.   — Kean University

Kean U 2Courtesy of Kean.edu

The City of Omaha Parks and Recreation cut the ribbon on a new youth esports arena in February. 

XP League Omaha, 2563 S. 171st Court, held a grand opening Feb. 17, inviting youth gamers ages 8 to 17 of all skill levels to their pro-level and coach-led esports experience.

League president Greg Douglas and his nephew Nick Vanderwal, the league commissioner, hope to provide a safe place for the young gamers to not only craft their abilities, but also learn lifelong skills.

“It covers all the great things that you can learn by being a part of a team: accountability, dedication, teamwork,” Douglas said.

There are three membership options for the youths ranging from $149 to $249 per month. Each membership includes at least one practice and scrimmage per week, a custom jersey, in-house events and a moderated team Discord.

Currently, the new gaming arena has 18 gaming stations and a shoutcasting booth to stream games. XP League Omaha offers eight different games including Rocket League, Fortnite, League of Legends, Minecraft, Overwatch and Valorant.

Along with the pro-level gaming systems, the league has four certified coaches who are well-rounded in esports. Each kid who enters the Lakeside Plaza location receives a free coaching session to understand what XP League is.

“The kids get to have a coach who not only understands the games and generally is an excellent player in esports, but also understands that really what we want to do is see kids grow and develop,” Douglas said. “We’re interested in the kids themselves, not just as gamers, but kids as a whole person. That’s why our slogan, ‘We build character, not avatars,’ is so important to us.”

Douglas said the aspect of esports being isolating and negatively impacting a child’s development led him to open XP League Omaha.

“XP League is not only working to maximize the benefit of esports, but also fighting against isolation,” Douglas said. “We want to put (the kids) physically next to their teammates, right aside of their coach, so that they can interact person to person, as opposed to just online.”

In addition to potential isolation, gaming at home has given parents many safety concerns about their children communicating with potentially harmful strangers. For Omaha parent Kimberly Dow, this was a major worry of hers. 

Win or lose, Douglas said he just hopes to get passionate youth gamers into their doors and away from isolation so they can continue learning life skills.

“At the end of the day, if a kid is on a team and they lose, as long as we see development for that kid’s growth, it’s a win for us and I think a win for the kid,” Douglas said. — Omaha World Herald 

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