FORT WAYNE – As sure as there are a sun and stars and Saturday football, the traditional trains that announce their presence with a loud, extended whistle at Saint Francis games will once again rattle near the south end zone of Bishop D’Arcy Stadium this season. But this time, the locomotives may be heard more than they’ll be seen.
Striped party tents only a few feet behind the end zone that once served as temporary housing for Saint Francis football fans and donors will be replaced this coming season with a two-story structure that will nearly span the width of the field, blocking much of the view of the railroad tracks. Along with providing more seating, the facility will also serve as the Cougars’ weight training facility as well as a locker room for visiting teams.
And the University of Saint Francis didn’t have to dig into its pocket for one nickel of it.
It’s completely donor-funded, Saint Francis athletic director Mike McCaffrey said.
Because Saint Francis is a private institution, the generosity of alumni and major donors serves as the financial engine behind the university’s athletics teams.
As is the case with most colleges, football and the men’s and women’s basketball programs continue to be the featured attractions at Saint Francis.
Kevin Donley’s football team last season finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League.
The Cougars tied last year’s national champion Marian and Saint Xavier, which won the NAIA title in 2011.
While the men’s basketball team finished sixth in the Crossroads League (formerly Mid-Central College Conference), the Cougars are not that far removed from their 2010 national championship and runner-up finish a year later.
Gary Andrews’ women’s team tied for first in the conference, then defeated No. 1-ranked Indiana Wesleyan to win the Crossroads League tournament championship.
Despite a No. 1 seed and No. 2 national ranking, the Cougars’ season was cut short with a loss to Northwestern College in the NAIA tournament.
However, many of the other Saint Francis sports struggled throughout the 2012-13 season. Only the women’s golf team (third place), softball team (tied for third) and baseball team (fourth) finished higher than sixth place in the Crossroads League standings.
Even though many of the programs struggled on the fields and courts, McCaffrey said the athletic programs are on solid ground financially.
I would say we haven’t had a budget cut in several years, McCaffrey said. We tightened our belt. The fortunate thing in athletics is coaches can fundraise. They can raise the dollars to make sure the kids are getting the experiences they deserve.
We’ve had to fight some budget constraints, but we have some flexibility. The situation we’re in is that we have been very, very conservative. We’ve learned to live within our means. Some universities are laying off people left and right, and we haven’t had to do that.
Instead, there’s a donor-funded $1.5 million building that should be ready this football season.
It’s a huge deal, Donley said. We built the facility in ’98. The (artificial) turf went in in the summer of ’04. Since then we haven’t had facility updates or additions. This is huge. Having our own weight facility that close to our dressing room is a big deal; having the ability to speed train inside in the winter months is huge.