Looking to gain an edge over its Atlantic Coast Conference counterparts, Virginia Tech Athletics unveiled the recently completed Student-Athlete Performance Center last Thursday morning.
The nearly $20 million center replaced the old Bowman Room on the fourth floor of the Jamerson Athletics Center and now serves as the primary space for the sports nutrition staff to meet the nutrition needs of student-athletes from all 22 of Virginia Tech’s varsity sports.
“This project, in addition to what it represents on the face value, also represents that we’ve now completed a total renovation of the Merryman Center and Jamerson Center,” Director of Athletics Whit Babcock said. “The new Student-Athlete Performance Center has more than 25,000 square feet of space. It triples the previous space. It will provide constant nutrition for our student-athletes and wonderful event space for athletics activities, graduations and more.”
The 19-month renovation project came about primarily as a result of the generosity of an alumni couple who made an anonymous $15.2 million gift, the largest gift ever to Virginia Tech Athletics. Both are natives of Virginia, and they, along with several other donors who made contributions to the project, did so mostly out of a desire to do something to benefit all of Virginia Tech’s approximately 550 student-athletes.
The center includes a full-service kitchen that allows for the preparation of meals for student-athletes and a large dining space for them that features panoramic views of Lane Stadium and the Beamer-Lawson Practice Facility. A balcony on the outer edge of the center overlooks the Steve Johnson Practice Fields.
“Facilities are a part – it’s not the only part, but it’s a big part – of recruiting,” head football coach Justin Fuente said. “It shows a commitment to servicing the student-athlete in terms of making sure all their needs are met through their athletic development, their academic development, their social development and their spiritual development. I think this is another huge step for Virginia Tech demonstrating the commitment to the young people and their families who decide to attend Virginia Tech and participate in intercollegiate activities.
“Between school, study hall, training, practice or lifting and meals, to have a facility like this that’s located right in the middle of all of those things I think only enhances the efficiency of their day.” Fuente said. Obviously, for our program, development is a huge part of what we’re trying to do, and what you ingest in your body, what you feed your body is a huge part of our players and their development.”
“We ask our wrestlers to be 100% committed to the process of being great in all the areas of their lives,” said head VT wrestling coach Tony Robie. “How they fuel their bodies for practice and competition is a huge part of that process.
“The new Student-Athlete Performance Center will make that more efficient and effective,” Robie said. “The state-of-the-art facility is absolutely spectacular and located just steps from the wrestling room. This will be a game changer for all the student-athletes at Virginia Tech.”
The center also allows for donor hospitality events before games, particularly basketball games. A large hallway leads directly from the center to the concourse of Cassell Coliseum.
In addition, Tech’s coaches expect to use the center for recruiting events, team gatherings and other student-athlete development events.
“We see the new performance center as a transformational facility for our program,” said VT softball coach Pete D’Amour said. “It will give us a chance to provide our players with optimal nutrition, as well as being a state-of-the-art gathering place for all student-athletes at Virginia Tech. I speak for our softball program when I say we’re extremely excited to put the new performance center to use”
Though multi-functional, the center will be used primarily for nutrition purposes, an area in which Virginia Tech Athletics has invested heavily over the past decade. Officials within the athletics department spend more than $3 million annually on food for student-athletes, citing the need for proper nutrition, fueling, and hydration to receive better performances in the playing venues.
The center also provides a place for the nutrition staff to hold educational sessions, and the athletics department officials continue to add staffing in the area of nutrition. In 2003, they hired a nutritionist, becoming one of the first schools in the nation to do so, and the staff today consists of six registered dieticians: three full-time positions, two graduate assistants, one consultant and a group of approximately 20 students.
“The Student Athlete Performance Center will allow us to provide nutritious meals to all of our student-athletes, something that has not been done before,” said Director of Sports Nutrition Aly Onyon said. “It will be a space for them to eat balanced, performance friendly foods in a convenient location, while being able to interact with other Virginia Tech student-athletes. This dining facility will be one of the best in the ACC and in the country. We are so thankful and excited for the opportunity to serve our student-athletes in this new space.”
The center already has opened with both basketball teams using it for pregame meals. Athletics department officials plan to open the center for use by all student-athletes and have it operational in the spring semester.