by Doug Ireland
Forty years have passed since the Northwestern State Athletic Field House opened its doors at the south end of Turpin Stadium, and it’s generally stood the test of time quite well.
It was considered so visionary at the time that New Orleans Saints brass came to Natchitoches to glean ideas for their planned facility. NSU’s design influenced dozens of similar buildings around America.
Today, it’s still functional and efficient in most respects. Credit the design process, along with some shrewd re-tasking of spaces since, to create, notably, the Johnnie Emmons Academic Center that can serve about 100 student-athletes at once, and last fall, a nutrition center for constant access by NSU competitors.
But nobody anticipated the impact of Title IX, with the emergence of women’s teams, coaches and staff, along with expansion of rosters in football, track and field and baseball, also accompanied by more support personnel. Throughout this century, annually, nearly 400 women and men have been competing for NSU in 14 sports.
Most importantly, the university is graduating them at a remarkable 80 percent rate. But nearly as crucial, more so, when it comes to setting the stage for competitive success, NSU is disadvantaged. In sports, bigger, stronger, faster wins. The Demons’ conundrum: fitting those student-athletes into undersized spaces for weight training and for sports medicine treatment.
The lack of a modern workout facility is glaring. In recent years, neighborhood rivals Louisiana Tech, ULM, Grambling, McNeese and UL Lafayette all have made significant upgrades in this critical aspect.
Athletics director Greg Burke has the solution, but only if supporters can foot the bill. It’s a $3.5 million, state-of-the-art strength and conditioning annex, nearly 12,000 square feet of essential workout space to handle the needs of 14 teams, some now doing drills in shifts.
The new normal: funding isn’t going to flow from state coffers. It’s do-it-yourself. Northwestern has a core constituency of about 1,000 athletic donors at levels generally ranging from $50 up to $10,000 annually. That’s better than ever, but not up to the task at hand.
Demon football hasn’t had a winning season since 2008. Recruiting and improving with a 1979 weight room is problematic.
For NSU Athletics to develop serious traction this year, more Demon donors have to step forward, at levels ranging from starter to superstar, while a groundswell of current contributors must help move the needle by raising their support levels.