Multi-million dollar donations rejuvenate plans for new aquatic center, tennis court

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Author: Michael Tonetti

Two seven-figure donations made in November to the college’s athletic department have ignited a final push toward the construction of a new aquatics facility and two additional tennis courts at Occidental. Barry Crosthwaite ’80 and Jennifer Townsend Crosthwaite ’84 will provide $1.5 million to finance the proposed Ranier De Mandel Aquatic Center, and Ian McKinnon ’89 and Sonnett McKinnon will similarly provide $1.5 million for the expansion of the McKinnon Tennis Center.

The current aquatic and tennis facilities are unable to host SCIAC competitions, forcing Occidental’s swim and dive and tennis teams to seek alternative sites for their competitions.

“Neither current facility meets competitive needs, forcing our teams to compete off campus for a disproportionate amount of contests,” Athletic Director Jaime Hoffman said. “We want to bring our student-athletes home.”

The two additional tennis courts will give the tennis center the six courts needed to host SCIAC competition. Members of the Tennis team are looking forward to bringing their home competitions back to Eagle Rock.

“I’m excited not only for the courts but for the future of Occidental tennis,” Avery Chernin (sophomore) said. “The additional courts will be a great asset both for practice purposes, as well as for the recruitment of new players. I think I speak for our entire team when I say that we are all extremely grateful for the donation.”

Aquatic competitions will also undergo a dramatic transformation. The current pool is more shallow at its east end, forcing one water polo team’s goalie to stand while the other treads water. This is but one issue that the aquatics teams encounter in the country’s oldest collegiate competition pool.

According to Hoffman, the new aquatics center will measure 30,000 square feet and will consist of an NCAA-certified 25-yard by 36-meter swimming and diving pool that will boast eight short-course meter swim lanes. Additionally, the center will have three-meter and one-meter springboards, which will allow Occidental’s divers to practice on campus for the first time in the college’s history. Currently, the divers must travel 15 minutes off campus to practice at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center.

“I think the community is recognizing how unfortunate it is that we have so many athletes who are going off campus to have to practice and compete,” swim and dive head coach Shea Manning said. “This is about making sure all of our athletes here are able to have an athletic experience that’s on campus.”

Taylor Pool has served many of Occidental’s most successful athletes, but some athletes indicated that the facility has become a handicap to the team in recent years. Despite his personal success, NCAA DIII national champion Steven van Deventer (senior) believes the pool makes practices inefficient.

“Our facility is so small [Manning] has had to lead three practices some days to not have an overrun pool,” van Deventer said. “Once we have the new pool, he can focus on other aspects of the team rather than be on the pool deck for many hours.”

In addition to training benefits, students hope that the new facilities will also help attract potential teammates. Previous swim and dive coaches have recruited on the prospect of a new facility, but until now, it was mostly hopeful speculation.

“When I was recruited I was told I would be swimming in a new pool within two years, and I know in the past ten years this has been used to recruit swimmers,” Van Deventer said. “The facility is the number one reason we are unable to bring in more student athletes.”

While the recent pledges are not enough to start construction on the projects, President Veitch’s determination to enhance the athletic facilities have increased hope that more donations will follow, according to assistant athletic director Mike Wells.

“President Veitch has publicly stated that these projects are No. 1 on his priority list for fundraising,” Wells said. “We are closer than we’ve ever been with the two new courts, making it almost certain that this project’s completion is in sight.”

Despite the outdated facilities, Occidental’s aquatics teams have triumphed in the current facilities. Together, men’s and women’s swimming and diving have received 107 All-American awards, produced 12 individual national championships and won 28 SCIAC team championships.

“Obviously there is a long line of success in Oxy aquatics, dating back to Sammy Lee ’43, an Olympic gold medalist, and as recently as [Van Deventer] winning back-to-back national championships,” Manning said. “So although we’ve seen great success in the current facility, I think that is only going to grow when we’re in a facility that is more competitive with our conference and the rest of the NCAA.”

Ximena Santiago
Ximena Santiago

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