Friday September 21, 2012Top of the roof to ya, Gators! Indoor tennis complex nears completion
Updated: 2:54pm, September 21
Updated: 2:54pm, September 21
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The roof already is up, as are some of the walls, but it’ll be December before the lavish $1.5 million addition to the Alfred A. Ring Tennis Complex is finished.
The celebration, though, started early.
A few hundred were on hand Friday for a ceremonial “topping off” of the the Charles R. and Nancy V. Perry Indoor Tennis Facility, hosted by the University Athletic Association. The event served as a precursor to the actual grand opening in three months when UF’s two-time defending NCAA champion women’s team and a men’s squad led by a dynamic new coach will move into the posh new tennis palace.
Florida will be one of just two universities in the state with indoor tennis capability.
“This stuff doesn’t happen without private support,” said Phil Pharr, associate executive director of major gifts for Gator Boosters. "And, as I always like to remind people: We do what we do without state or university funding, so it's not a drain on the university."
Take a bow, Nancy Perry (pictured right with UF's coaches), whose contributions to the UAA made the project possible.
“She clearly loves Florida,” women’s coach Roland Thornqvist said.
“I wish my husband was here to see this because I know he would get a kick out of it,” said Perry, who lost her husband, UF alum and local construction magnate Charles Perry, in 2005. “He loved the Gainesville community and was so proud of the University of Florida for the education it gave him and the opportunities to be successful.”
Now the UF tennis programs has another resource to maintain its success.
“This is going to allow us to do some things on a rainy day that we might not be able to do otherwise,” said men’s coach Bryan Shelton, who came to UF in June from Georgia Tech, where he led the Yellow Jackets women to the 2007 NCAA crown. “It also says something to our current players, the coaches, the fans and the kids we’re out there recruiting. It says we’re here to win. We’re here to get it done. Whatever it takes, we’re willing to do.”
The Perry facility will replace the covered pavilion that went up nearly 20 years ago, but had out-lasted its usefulness.
Originally built to allow the Gators to practice in bad weather, the pavilion’s open perimeters allowed rain to blow into the structure, making it too slippery to play. Plus, the courts were not NCAA regulation behind the baseline or between courts, so matches could not be staged there even if weather permitted.
Twice in the last three years, Baylor came for women’s matches that were cancelled by rain. In 2010, a men’s match against Mississippi State was rained out and could not be rescheduled. The Gators finished second the Southeastern Conference regular-season standings that year by a half-match.
“I think the opportunity to have this as a severe-weather option is going to help our program,” Executive Associate Athletic Director of Internal Affairs Chip Howard said. “And it’s going to be really nice in there.”
Or as Thornqvist put it: “We’ll be able to hit balls come rain or shine, which can only add to our development as a program and the development of our players.”
The 22,800-square foot facility will be ventilated and feature three courts (with regulation space around them), state-of-the-art surfacing and lighting, plus a small area for fans to watch matches.
Thornqvist said the program’s newest jewel is a credit to Athletic Director Jeremy Foley and his commitment to all sports.
“Obviously, football is king here. It’s the engine that drives it all,” he said. “But the commitment to all the other sports are first-rate, second-to-none, and we all feel that every day when we come to work. ... I don’t know how much this building is going to end up costing, but the fact that we’re able to put it up in this economy just shows you the commitment to tennis and Olympic sports in general is at the top in the country.”
It also speaks to the generosity of UF fans like the Perrys, whose legacy now will live on at the Ring Complex.
“Obviously, Roland has experienced the top of the mountain top,” Shelton said. “The Perrys are saying, ‘You guys are doing it the right way and we want you to continue to have success -- so now get your men’s team on board, too!’ They’re saying they value the program, know great things are happening here and want them to keep happening.”