University of Northern Iowa expands Our Tomorrow fundraising campaign to include new wrestling training facility
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The University of Northern Iowa is expanding the scope of the largest fundraising effort in the university’s 147-year history to include a new training facility for its wrestling program, pending approval from the Iowa Board of Regents at its next meeting. UNI announced the public launch of its $250 million comprehensive Our Tomorrow fundraising campaign in October 2022. To date, approximately $242 million has been raised over the course of a campaign set to run through UNI’s sesquicentennial in 2026 thanks to the generosity of over 27,000 individual donors.
Conceptual renderings are being developed for a new wrestling training facility that will be shared with the public as soon as possible. This building will be solely financed by private gifts. While preliminary cost estimates are still being determined to provide similar square footage that existed for wrestling in the West Gym, the commitment of donors will ultimately dictate the size and scope of the project. The new facility will meet the program’s existing and anticipated future needs with room for multiple mats, weight and cardio training space, locker room, training room and rehabilitation space, as well as office space for the wrestling staff. UNI and experienced architects continue to collaborate on conceptual renderings.
“Adding a new wrestling training facility to the Our Tomorrow campaign is part of our unwavering commitment to further elevate our wrestling program that competes in the Big 12 Conference,” said UNI President Mark Nook. “We strongly support all our student-athletes at UNI, but the situation at the West Gym escalated to the point where a long-term solution is needed to keep our wrestling program thriving for years to come. Incorporating a new wrestling facility into our existing fundraising campaign is that solution. It is an important part of our commitment to grow the sport of wrestling in Iowa.”
Earlier this year, architects and consultants identified unexpected structural issues at the program’s longtime home in the West Gym, forcing the wrestling program to choose an alternate location for its student-athletes to train and practice. Those structural deficiencies in the West Gym have made it necessary for the building to be vacated as the university makes preparations to take the facility permanently offline.
While university leadership and the wrestling program were aware that the functional lifespan of the West Gym was nearing its end, the structural issues identified this summer necessitated a more immediate timeline for developing plans to house the wrestling program on a long-term basis.
“As our wrestling program enters its 100th season of competition in 2023-24, it’s certainly appropriate and important to invest in a facility that will serve our team and our student-athletes for years to come,” said director of athletics David Harris. “Wrestling is unique in many ways, and perhaps more than any other sport at UNI, the culture and toughness necessary to compete at the highest level is developed and refined in the wrestling room. That’s one of many reasons that it’s critically important for our program to have a dedicated, on-campus training facility for Coach Schwab and our team.”
Head coach Doug Schwab and his staff made the determination that the USA Mat Club in Cedar Falls would be a preferred temporary training location for wrestling, as opposed to renovating existing space on campus to meet the program’s short-term needs until a new facility comes online. UNI leadership and the Athletics department support that decision and all parties are keenly aware that renovations to the West Gym are both impractical and cost prohibitive. UNI Wrestling officially begins practice for the 2023-24 season on October 10.
“I am extremely grateful to Shawn Kelly and his whole crew (at the USA Mat Club),” Schwab said. “They have fully supported our vision and been hands-on throughout this whole process. We couldn’t have done this without them or the men on our team who have stepped up from day one and have always been available and willing to help at a moment’s notice. Whatever has needed to get done has gotten done, they put sweat equity into this project, so I’m very proud of them.
“It’s also been so incredible to see the wrestling community step up in any and every way possible,” Schwab continued. “We will continue to need you and lean on you moving forward. Thank you, wrestling community. Lastly, I look forward to building the next 100-year wrestling facility on UNI’s campus thanks to the leadership and guidance of President Nook and David Harris.”
“I am personally grateful for the sacrifices that Coach Schwab and his team have made since it became necessary to vacate the West Gym,” added Nook. “The spirit of resilience and perseverance that they have displayed is a great example to all Panthers. As we all eagerly await construction to begin on a new training facility, I want the coaches and wrestlers to know how much we appreciate them and how well they represent UNI in the classroom, in our community and on the wrestling mat.”
Under Schwab, the Panthers finished eighth in the nation in NCAA Division I dual meet attendance last season, averaging 2,812 during six home duals at the McLeod Center. UNI also posted the fourth-best team grade point average (GPA) in the nation at 3.48 with a program-high seven student-athletes earning spots on the National Wrestling Coaches Association 2022-23 Scholar All-America Team.
Nook, Harris and Schwab all agree that incorporating elements of the West Gym into the design of the new wrestling facility is essential.
“Without question, we want to find opportunities to honor the storied history of the West Gym in our new training center,” Nook indicated. “While our volleyball and basketball programs also competed there previously, there’s no question that UNI wrestlers past and present have a special affinity for the West Gym. We’ll be very intentional in ensuring that the legacy of the West Gym lives on for future Panthers.”
Wrestling has served as a rich part of UNI’s fabric since its initial varsity team was formed in 1923. The proud history of UNI Wrestling includes the 1950 team that captured the NCAA Division I title at the West Gym. The Panthers also were crowned NCAA Division II champions in both 1975 and 1978. The 1978 NCAA Championships were hosted at the UNI-Dome. The program boasts five Olympians, including Bill Smith who won the gold medal at the 1952 Helsinki Games.
More recently, Parker Keckeisen (184 lbs.) became UNI’s 10th three-time All-American after winning the silver medal at the 2023 NCAA Championships. The Panthers have claimed 17 individual NCAA titles, including Drew Foster (184 lbs.), who won UNI’s most recent individual crown at the 2019 NCAA Championships.
Athletics projects financed through private fundraising efforts are not a new concept for UNI Athletics. In the 1970s, plans for the UNI-Dome were unveiled and approximately $7.5 million was privately raised for the construction of the facility that opened in 1976. The $25 million McLeod Center was conceived and constructed with private dollars and opened in 2006. The University of Northern Iowa is committed to building a new wrestling facility based on the capacity that fundraising efforts will allow.
While UNI is adding a wrestling training facility to its goals, at its essence the Our Tomorrow campaign is about direct investments in students with a goal of creating a path to opportunity for many more students. A total of 405 new scholarships have been established thus far through Our Tomorrow. By 2026, the university hopes to have raised over $70 million for scholarships.
Putting students’ skills and knowledge to work to make a difference today has been an important piece of a UNI education. The Our Tomorrow campaign will support initiatives that enhance student professional and career readiness, provide service learning and community engagement opportunities and advance accessibility and affordability on our campus and in the community.
Since its founding, UNI has adapted to meet the needs of the Cedar Valley, state and the country. Investments in innovative and transformative programs will power UNI’s enduring spirit of innovation. Direct support for faculty will ensure UNI continues to recruit and retain teacher-scholars who make the university and its students successful.
More information about the Our Tomorrow campaign can be found at ourtomorrow.uni.edu.