New playlands give Loyola athletics room to grow


It was a college located on a postage stamp, boxed in on all sides and wondering how it could ever find room for expansion -- unless it built straight up, duplicating the needle-shaped World Trade Center.

But Loyola College, so limited in physical size, which once never offered dormitories and catered to streetcar and then bus-riding day-hop students from Baltimore, has stretched itself out to 89 acres with possibly more to come.

There's still only one athletic field serving 3,132 undergraduates who are offered 16 varsity sports, equally divided between men and women; three club teams and intramural competition. It's a tight-shoe arrangement. Something had to give, but only if the surrounding neighborhoods were receptive to an expansion effort.

Loyola acquired the Boumi Temple's 22.3-acre property at Charles Street and Wyndhurst Road, where a 110,000-square-foot building constructed of Butler stone is under way at a cost approaching $25 million. It will serve as a recreation and aquatic center, including three basketball courts, an indoor swimming pool and aerobic and weight rooms for the exclusive use of students and faculty. No honorary or outside memberships will be entertained.

And as a hope for the future, to best serve outdoor sports, 50 acres between the Woodberry and Cold Spring landfills west of I-83 have been considered for acquisition. Right now, it's an immense hole in the ground, but Charles Holub of Potts & Callahan, who knows something about dirt, predicts the gorge can be filled to accommodate lacrosse and soccer on three practice fields, plus building a small stadium and locker rooms. It's what Loyola desperately needs.

Talks have been held in conjunction with the Baltimore Development Corp., and early in the discussions much input and encouragement came from George Balog, the then-head of Baltimore's public works department. It would be turning an eyesore into a plus for the city if Loyola develops the area.

"Earlier we looked at the Mount Washington Club, but it wasn't large enough to fit our needs," said Joe Boylan, the Loyola athletic director. "The landfill possibility is being talked about, but nothing definitive. We can't project at this time what it would look like, or even if it's going to happen. If we got involved, it would only be after we first met with community leaders so they would be aware of the plans and had input."

The site is a mile from the Evergreen campus, which is positioned between the residential sections of Guilford and Homeland. As with so many other colleges and universities similarly lacking in space, athletic facilities are more frequently being built away from the school proper. Loyola's present Curley Field would no doubt be used for either open space or classrooms if a stadium is built elsewhere.

During the last three years, Loyola and its contributors have made expenditures approximating $70 million toward the Rev. Joseph Sellinger Business School, the Knott family addition at the Donnelly Science Center, the College Center and the current off-campus construction of the Recreation and Aquatic Center.

Loyola, which in the late 1930s offered only tennis, basketball, lacrosse and baseball (then considered its major sport but unfortunately reduced to club status), has an enrollment that comes from 34 states and two foreign countries. A far cry from when it was almost exclusively oriented to Baltimore. Nearly half of its junior class migrates on an annual foreign study tour to Europe and Asia.

Loyola's president since 1993, the Rev. Harold Ridley, S.J., is elated that for the fourth year in a row Loyola has exceeded its previous record number of admission applicants. And Boylan, quite significantly, mentions that Loyola, among NCAA Division I, stands fifth among graduating basketball players, one spot behind Stanford and tied with Northwestern.

"It's a challenge to get the basketball program turned around," he said. "Lacrosse has been a big draw for us. Right now, we're known for lacrosse. Before that, it was basketball, and going back earlier, I understand baseball got most of the attention."

Boylan, in his eight years directing Loyola athletics, has provided a stabilizing influence. He came well-prepared and is a good communicator, and the school has benefited. Somehow, Loyola finds ways to grow.

Loyola, despite its tenacious and expensive struggle to broaden its scope, has been terribly remiss in not putting at least a plaque on the wall to honor the deeds of its most celebrated athlete. More than 50 years ago, Jim Lacy achieved what no player from a Maryland college has done before or since -- to lead the NCAA in basketball scoring. Lacy's Loyola school records are still intact, which is an immense testimonial to his incomparable ability.

Although he's in the school hall of fame and his jersey, No. 16, retired, a more imposing tribute needs to be considered. Loyola shouldn't forget its past; certainly not what Lacy contributed. He probably doesn't care about what is perceived as incongruous neglect, but his friends do.

Meanwhile, impressive physical projects at Loyola continue. Eighteen new offices for athletic administrators and coaches were built a year ago as an addition to the Ralph DeChiaro College Center, extending outward for what has the feel of a subtle overhang, yet blending with the architecture of Loyola.

The college has had to maximize every inch of space to get where it is. Being progressive and not resigning itself to the status quo has given once- conservative Loyola and its administration the look of a college that's progressive, refusing to be restricted by physical boundaries but relentlessly pursuing any and all possibilities.

Its vision and compelling desire to be innovative, to try aggressive formulas to accommodate sports and recreation agendas makes for a perspective that needs to be encouraged and sustained.

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