Construction crews have been a seemingly constant presence on the campus of Hood College during the past few years. But when they are finished this fall, they will have left behind three gleaming new athletic facilities.
Three years ago, the private liberal arts college in Frederick added a synthetic turf field for its lacrosse, soccer and field hockey teams. Last year, the Hood College Athletic Center opened, providing a new home for the basketball and volleyball teams, plus a 4,200-square-foot state-of-the art fitness center open to all students.
And the work continues this summer, with reconstruction of Hood's pool and the addition of six new tennis courts, which are slated to open by September.
The substantially upgraded facilities are part of a dramatic transformation for the NCAA Division III school. Hood's enrollment was all women from its founding in 1893 until it admitted male commuter students in 1971. Co-ed residential enrollment began in 2003, and the school will move into a new athletic conference this fall.
“It's not only helped us with student-athletes, but with students that may not participate in sports,” Hood Athletic Director Gib Romaine said of the upgrades. “A lot of kids come from high schools with nicer facilities than what we had before. Our old weight room was drab and we made the best of it we could. It wasn't very appealing. Now we have free weights and cardio and there are windows in there so you can look out over the campus. It's a nice setting.”
The 2011-12 season marked the first time Hood's basketball teams had their own home court. Romaine said the teams played previously at several locations, including Gov. Thomas Johnson High School, Frederick Community College, Fort Detrick and Mount St. Mary's University.
“It's nice to have our own place,” Romaine said. “The teams were at a disadvantage, and now, with the facilities we have, we're more competitive as we recruit.”
Swimming coach Don Feinberg, in his 11th year at Hood, is finding that out firsthand.
The pool construction project will give the campus something it has never had before: a place to swim indoors year-round. Hood's pool has been an outdoor facility in the spring and summer months and covered with a temporary bubble from September through May.
Feinberg said the Monocacy Aquatic Club, which also uses the pool, spent nearly $200,000 18 years ago to supply the bubble, giving both the club and the college a place to train during the winter months.
When the renovations are complete, the pool will have a permanent roof and will be expanded from six lanes to eight. The project also includes new locker rooms and offices for Feinberg and tennis coach Djerdj Matkovic.
Feinberg said the new pool already is having a positive impact on recruiting, even though it's still under construction.
“Bringing recruits onto the campus was sometimes a very trying experience,” Feinberg said. “They would come from campus visits at other colleges with beautiful facilities that were heads and tails above what I was able to show them. I'd show them the pool and they'd ask, 'Where do we swim?' And they were dead serious.
“But recruiting in the past year has really taken a turn for the best. Word has spread in the swimming community that we're going to have a new facility and new locker rooms and that's helped our recruiting tremendously. The new field and the new gym and the weight facilities have also helped tremendously. It's a boost that we're headed in such a positive direction.”
MAC has about 170 youth swimmers, and Feinberg, who has coached with the club since 1980, said he anticipates the renovated pool and a spike in swimming interest because of this year's Olympics could help MAC's numbers grow to more than 200.
Feinberg said Hood and MAC have enjoyed a “symbiotic relationship” over the years, which may be developing in a broader sense because of the school's new facilities. Hood did not charge admission to basketball games in its new gym last season, and Romaine said there are no immediate plans to start doing so.
“We want people to come,” Romaine said. “We stayed away from charging admission. It's something we may do in the future, but we're not looking at that right now. We want to open our program to the Frederick community.”
As the pool and tennis court projects are completed this summer, another challenge awaits with the fall season. Hood is moving from the Capital Athletic Conference to the Middle Atlantic Conference, which has 18 private liberal arts colleges in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Stevenson University in Baltimore County also is joining the conference this year.
The CAC includes a mix of public and private colleges, and Romaine said the move to the new conference puts Hood in a league with schools of similar size and tuition. NCAA Division III schools are not able to offer athletic scholarships. Hood's annual tuition is about $40,000 per year, which Romaine said puts the school “about in the middle of the pack” in the new conferene.
“It'll be more of a level playing field for us in terms of the type of schools and the costs of the schools,” he said.
It would be understandable if the pace of development cooled a bit once the pool and tennis courts are done this fall. But Romaine already has his eye on another potential project: a permanent home for the college's track program.
Hood had 60 athletes on its men's and women's track teams this past spring. But much like the basketball teams prior to last winter, the track program is a nomad. Romaine said the team works around the practice schedule at Frederick High School and improvises practice areas on campus.
“They've been very creative at finding different parts of the campus to use,” Romaine said. “We're looking to upgrade the track program. It's been very competitive and we need to find a facility where they can have their own site. That's in our plans in the future.”