By Samantha Thompson
In the world of sports, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of playing at home, where fans come out to scream your name, to wear your colors, and to root, root, root for the home team.
But this year some UC Santa Cruz athletic teams won’t even get to see the inside of their gym, and some won’t play a single game on Santa Cruz turf.
The cause of this less-than-desirable situation is the renovation of the West Field House Gym, which is home to men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball, as well as various intramural and club teams. The gym has been closed since June, 2007 in order to complete a retrofit, which will bring older buildings like the West Field House Gym up-to-date. The new structure will be built according to seismic code and will include features like an elevator, in order to be more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
While all of these revisions are necessary, the problem that the displaced teams have had to deal with is unfortunate timing.
The closure of the West Field House Gym has had a significant impact on sports teams and has forced men’s and women’s basketball to play away games for the entire season.
“That’s the worst part for me,” senior and women’s basketball player Talia Joyce said. “[We] always play in an unusual gym and always sleep in hotel beds instead of [our] own bed. It’s a lot more of a time commitment than if we had games at home.”
While players and coaches have tried to cope with their new situations as well as they can, the constant travel has undoubtedly taken its toll.
“In the beginning half of the season when our schedule was so heavy, we were playing three games a week, and one of those was supposed to be at home,” said Nikki Turner, women’s basketball coach and assistant athletic director. “That part of it wears on them a little bit. Overall we’re adjusting okay, but fatigue definitely sets in.”
Not only have games been affected by the gym renovations, but practice times and locations had to be changed as well. With the East Field House Gym as the only other useable on-campus indoor space, indoor athletic teams now share the non-regulation-size gym with each other as well as club sports, intramural teams and recreation classes. This has created inconvenient practice times for some of the teams.
Women’s basketball has evening practices twice a week and 6 a.m. practices three times a week, as opposed to the late afternoon practices held last year.
“That gets hard because a lot of people have 8 o’clock classes,” Turner said. “So you’re up late for the practice the night before, then you’re having to get up not too many hours later to practice again, and then go to school all day.”
In order for men’s basketball to get practice time in, the team jumps in a van and makes the trek down to Mission Hills Middle School in Santa Cruz for 7 p.m. practices during the week.
“It just hinders everything because we have to practice at 7 o’clock at night as opposed to two in the afternoon like last year,” said sophomore and men’s basketball player Greg Palmer. “That means that we don’t get back to school until about 9:30 or 10 p.m., and that’s kind of when we’re able to start our homework. It’s just a big inconvenience.”
And so is the gym.
Not fit for the burly frames of 14 college-age players, the middle-school facility is also considerably smaller than what the team is used to playing on, which has made practices somewhat difficult.
In order to practice on a regulation-size court, players have to run beyond the sidelines each time they want to run a play. “Had we run the plays within those lines, it would have just messed us up for when we play on a real court because it would have bunched us up,” Palmer said.
He added that adjusting to such a concept was tough. “It screwed everyone up because you’re taught from when you’re about two years old that you can’t go out of bounds.”
But practices aside, life for these athletes outside of sport has also been affected by shifting schedules.
“The impact on my student athletes is not just that we’re practicing at a later time, the impact of [having to practice on] Saturday and Sunday nights is hard socially,” said Jonah Carson, men’s volleyball coach. “And Sunday night is a good study night for our guys — I’m sure that just having a free weekend would be nice.”
While student athletes have found ways to keep up with classes while traveling — by studying early and even taking tests on the road — some have been less fortunate.
“I had to drop one of my classes because I was going to miss a test,” Joyce said. “I asked if she would give me the test early and she said no, so I actually had to drop a class and find a different one to take.”
The original timeframe for construction, according to intramural and club sports director Kevin “Skippy” Givens, was that the gym would be complete come early December. “Then that got pushed back into January, but quite honestly we never believed that rhetoric,” he said. “We weren’t even planning on using it until spring quarter, and now we’re not planning on using it at all.”
While many athletes have been left in the dark as to what caused the delay, the initial hold-up began because the bidding process to decide which company would take on the project lingered far too long.
“When the bids came in for the project, it was obvious that the deadline wasn’t realistic,” said Ryan Andrews, executive director of OPERS. “Every company that bid on it said that it was enormously out of the budget range.”
After putting more realistic deadlines on the project, a contractor was finally selected.
The retrofit also includes upgrades such as a new office for coaches upstairs, a renovated training room where athletic injuries are treated, better showers and new locker rooms. Even though all of these renovations were pushed months behind schedule, the project still moved forward with construction that displaced all indoor athletic teams.
“We just couldn’t put it off again because we’d been putting this off for two years already,” said Linda Spradley, director of athletics. “When we got the bids back, the contractors said they could do it in three months, but that it was going to cost five times as much and that didn’t make any sense. So this was the only time left that everybody could do it and it could be done in a way that wasn’t going to cost us an arm and a leg. It just happened to fall into this particular period of time.”
While the unfortunate timing has had its most profound impact on the athletic program, other programs like intramural sports, club teams and physical education courses have also had to deal with the negative consequences surrounding the lack of facilities. Many teams, clubs and classes are sharing gym time with each other or being relocated.
“It’s not just an intercollegiate athletics thing,” Carson said. “There are clubs practicing in racquetball courts now instead of in a gym where they should be.”
Even after relocating teams and moving a few intramural sports outdoors, some intramural activities still had to be eliminated entirely this year due to the lack of space.
“We’ve had record-breaking years for participation in intramurals every year for probably the last five years,” Givens said. “Every year is more popular than the year before. Now we’re probably going to see a dip of about 25 percent.”
The intramural sports program had nearly 4,600 participants last year, but is now expecting to only be able to cater to about 3,500 students with the renovations of the West Field House this year.
“We’ve been aware of [this project] for a number of years, but again, once the timing came down the way that it did, that’s where it got frustrating,” Givens said. “We were thinking best case scenario, and that’s all we were really going on. We didn’t even really think about Plan B.”
Givens continued, “Now the men’s and women’s volleyball teams are playing in the crackerjack box gym over here, which is smaller than a high school gym, and that’s where it gets embarrassing. So it’s really affected the athletics program even more than intramurals, which has been profound in and of itself.”
The most recent projected completion date of the retrofit for the West Field House is March 11. After that is completed, new floors are being put in by a different vendor and all new three-point lines will be drawn due to a change in NCAA rules.
“We’d love to have it open for this year,” Andrews said. “Time it right, and maybe we’ll have it open by May, but then school’s pretty much over. So basically we’re shooting for summer.”
The biggest gripe for some players has more to do with the underlying issue of a lack of attention and respect for athletics at UCSC.
“It just shows the glaring lack of facilities that we have here at UCSC,” Givens said. “Before the West Gym was even closed, we already had the poorest facilities of all the UCs.”
Many within the athletic program wish to one day be able to put in an event center which would provide athletics with its own facility for practices and games, allow intramurals and recreation to have their own facilities, and make UCSC a space to host shows and events, giving students a lot more than just a sports venue.
The hope is that students will start to recognize just how much athletics can bring to a campus and will affect change through referendums, which have in the past paid for the swimming pool and the Wellness Center.
“Some students don’t want the campus to be developed and they don’t want to see it change,” Carson said. “But if there’s a way [that some change] can echo more of what the students think is important and will help them as a part of their student experience, then they might be for it.”
Even though the past few months have been tough for UCSC’s student athletes, coaches, intramurals and recreation, morale has remained relatively high and those affected by the change have found a way to bounce back from the ill-timed renovations of the West Field House Gym.
“We are crisis management here sometimes,” Spradley said. “So it’s a crisis year facility-wise, but in the long run it’s going to be nice because it will be a better facility.”