This article is part of a series for the 1st ever Deacs Day of Giving, a 24-hour fundraising event being held today, May 22nd, 2018. On this impactful day, the Deacon Club is aiming to raise money to fund investments in recruiting, training, and educational resources for Wake Forest athletics and its student-athletes.
Coming into the last week, I knew I wanted to write an article about the incredible growth of Wake Forest’s athletic facilities at some point. In honor of the 1st ever “Deacs Day of Giving,” it only felt right to have at least one piece focused on just how far we’ve come in donations for athletics in recent years and the overall profound impact they’ve had on Wake Forest sports.
To be honest with you, I didn’t even know where to start. Without simply re-publishing news releases and quoting generous donation amounts, how do I get across my excitement for everything that’s going on with the unprecedented investment in our beloved programs?
And yet as I sat on my couch last night watching hundreds of fans deafeningly scream “WAKE!”....“FOREST!” through my full-volumed earbuds in an NCAA Semifinal, a few things hit me 1) This moment has never happened before in school history and 2) None of this is possible without an unwavering commitment to having top-tier facilities.
SERAPHIM DOES IT! The Deacs are headed to the national championship! pic.twitter.com/iNHjDDdDC1— Wake Men's Tennis (@WakeMTennis) May 22, 2018
There was also a 3rd thought that came across my mind: Who could have predicted any of this back in 2011 when the Wake Forest Tennis Complex first opened? The recent investments in the facility have not just turned the Winston-Salem Open into one of the most up-and-coming tournaments in tennis, but also provided Wake the opportunity to host the NCAA Championships in Men’s and Women’s Tennis for the first time in school history this spring.
While hosting any NCAA Championship is an honor and boost for local fan engagement, the most tangible benefit could come later today as our #1 Men’s Tennis team has a chance to win a National Title on its home courts without ever having to leave campus in the tournament. How many times has a school had the opportunity to win an NCAA Championship entirely on its own turf? I don’t have an Elias Sports Bureau data point handy, but my scientific guess is “Not a lot.”
It’s an opportunity only possible because fans, alumni, and the school alike have chosen to commit to our student-athletes and create an environment that is one of the best in the entire nation for a sport. The 2011 Wake Forest Men’s Tennis Team went 14-12 (5-6 in the ACC) and didn’t make it out of the 2nd round in either postseason tournament. Now, just 7 years after the beautiful facility was completed, the Deacs are one win away from their 1st NCAA Title in program history and 4th Major Trophy of the season (ACC Reg, ACC Tourny, and National ITA Indoors). That’s not a coincidence.
While the tennis facility upgrades are evidently top of mind right now, let’s not forget about the recent additions to Spry Stadium and the soccer practice facilities either; Significant field renovations that allowed Wake Forest to host the 1st ever US Soccer Spring Festival just last month.
Today's the day! We'll see everybody at our U.S. Soccer Spring Festival this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/QcqI95CUXU— Wake Men's Soccer (@WakeMSoccer) April 21, 2018
The event, which included Wake Men’s Soccer and five other elite programs from across the nation, had been a topic of discussion over the last couple of years between U.S Soccer and those of influence in the college game. When they finally decided to pull the trigger on the signature event, it made more than enough sense to have it at one of the best venues in all of college soccer and right in the middle of our beautiful campus. Extra ticket sales? Check. New recruiting advantage? Check. Additional program prestige? Check. Invest early in your facilities, and it will all pay off in dividends later on.
"Wake Forest is hands down the best place for college soccer in America, in terms of the culture, the facilities we have, the coaches... and the support we get from the fans and the whole university." https://t.co/JNtjQf1B13— Wake Men's Soccer (@WakeMSoccer) January 10, 2018
But there’s more. The Wake Forest Football upgrades in recent years have been well-publicized on social media by the players, staff, and team. In a sport where there is a never-ending arms race for the newest and most luxurious facilities, oftentimes schools with the biggest budgets (and alumni bases) will have as big of a competitive advantage on the recruiting trail for what they can offer off the field as much as on the field.
Yet Wake Forest has an “off the field” advantage of its own: A Top 30 education and a diverse set of career paths available to all players who come in and commit themselves to working hard inside the classroom.
At the end of the day, the difference between the two advantages is clear: You can close that facilities gap a whole lot quicker than the academic one, and in turn, can be a much more viable option for top recruits looking for the best of both worlds.
And those new investments must be leading to an increased number of recruits intrigued by Wake Forest’s facilities right? To try and verify this theory, I searched into Twitter the amount of times recruits mentioned WFU’s facilities positively as a part of their tweets during/after a visit to campus. One would think that after the recent upgrades, a few more kids would be mentioning the facilities as a highlight of their trip and not just the campus and academics. One would be right.
Wake Forest's facilities upgrades give program 'shot in the arm' - ACC Blog- ESPN https://t.co/8P4jZxXVPS— Barry Faircloth (@BarryFaircloth) March 11, 2016
There’s been as many tweets from recruits mentioning Wake Football’s facilities in the last 60 days as there were from all of 2013-2015. 2019 DB prospect Zach Ranson specifically called out the new facilities shortly after receiving an offer last month. He committed just days later. In an interview with Les Johns this past January, 2018 commit DB Marquis Alston said he was “blown away with the facilities” prior to signing his National Letter of Intent.
Whether it’s the new practice fields or nutritional areas for health/development, these facilities let recruits know that not only is the school willing to invest in football, but that they don’t have to sacrifice having high quality facilities for a high quality education in the ACC. You can get both at Wake Forest, and that’s something that could never have been said before. If the combined academic, facilities, and “program-on-the-rise” pitch can get a player or two in the door that wouldn’t have considered Wake previously, the “momentum breeds momentum” recruiting trend will be right around the corner.
All of that and I haven’t even mentioned yet the new Shah Basketball Complex going into place to ensure Wake Forest Basketball has state-of-the-art practice, nutritional, and locker room areas. Or the renovations to David F. Couch Ballpark that have created an elite player development facility and an asset on the recruiting trail for Coach Walter. Investments in athletics help in acquiring top talent, developing that talent’s potential, and resetting the expectation that a school’s size does not necessarily correlate with a school’s potential to be a leader in the world of college athletics.
While being cognizant of the school’s limitations, the Wake Forest fanbase knows that this University can and should be able to compete on a national level in athletics. The school itself has the passion, the platform, and the academics to be a premier destination for student-athletes as they choose where to spend their four years.
There are certainly ways to achieve the level of athletic prestige we’ve always wanted without increased investments in world-class facilities.
But if we can get there a little faster, all while hosting a few memorable events in the process right in our own backyard, well then I think we can all agree that’s an initiative we should get behind.
As mentioned earlier, this article is in honor of the 1st ever Deacs Day of Giving, where the Deacon Club is hoping to raise funds for impactful investments in Wake Forest athletics and our student-athletes. See below for a video on today’s events and click here to check out the official Deacs Day of Giving site.