By Denise Dick
Youngstown State University senior Melanie Prelec practiced throwing the javelin Monday inside the Watson and Tressel Training Site on campus.
Before the $11.4 million facility, dubbed WATTS, opened at the beginning of the fall semester, javelin throwers had to either throw outside or practice with something other than a metal javelin.
“We weren’t allowed to throw them in the gym because they’re metal, so we practiced with softballs or a plastic javelin, but it wasn’t the same,” the Slippery Rock, Pa., native said.
Besides presenting a danger to others inside the gymnasium, the metal poles would bend when they hit the floor.
“This is a lot better,” Prelec said of throwing the javelins on the artificial turf of the practice football field.
Tim Stuart, manager of facilities and programs for YSU athletics, said the 125,000- square-foot center is used for strength and conditioning, classes and athletic practices throughout the day. The plan is to offer open hours daily for students, faculty and staff.
Also planned is open training nights when area high school teams will be able to use WATTs rather than traveling to Kent State University to use that indoor training center.
Some $7.5 million of the project cost was borrowed from the 2009 sale of bonds, with $2 million of that to be reimbursed when the rest of the private funding is secured. YSU received $4 million in private gift pledges for the center, and $1.2 million of that remains outstanding.
A 300-meter track loops around the WATTS field with eight lanes on the straightaway and six lanes all around. It’s made of the same surface used during the Olympic games in Beijing.
“It’s the Cadillac of track surfaces,” Stuart said.
Brian Gorby, head track and field coach, said the track is both durable and offers rebound for runners.
WATTS will allow YSU to host the Horizon Championships on campus rather than hosting it at Kent, he said after finishing his mid-day workout. Ten teams are expected at the Dec. 2 event. The center also will be the site of a high school invitational Jan. 15.
But it’s also a great recruiting tool for the team, Gorby said.
Freshman Dan Skiba from Mineral Ridge, a state champion in long jump, decided to attend YSU, in part, because of the new facility, the coach said.
Gorby, whose office was next to former YSU football coach Jim Tressel’s, said the two used to talk about what an asset in indoor training center would be to the university. It’s nice to see that the center has become a reality, he said.
“I appreciate what he’s [Tressel] done as well as the community, the Cafaros and DeBartolos,” he said.
Tressel, his wife, Ellen, and her parents, Frank and Norma Watson, for whom WATTS is named, donated a combined $1 million to launch the training site fundraising. The Cafaro Foundation donated $1 million to the project, and the track and lobby is named in honor of the Cafaro family.
The family of Candy and Edward DeBartolo Jr. contributed $750,000 to assist with construction costs of the facility, and the field was named for that family.
The center also includes a 1,800-square-foot chipping-and-putting green, four batting cages and a full-size field that an be used for football, baseball, softball or soccer.
Stuart pointed out that several different teams can use the center at the same time. Unlike indoor facilities at other universities, WATTS uses radiant heat coming from the floor. That avoids air pockets caused by heaters suspended from the ceiling such as in some other centers.
While Gorby ran around the track and Prelec and her team mates tossed javelins and shotputs at one end of the field, baseball pitching coach Ed Marko and junior baseball player Robert Switka of Boardman tossed the ball back and forth at the other end.
“It’s a big difference,” Switka said, comparing practicing this year to last year, when the team traveled to a facility in Struthers for indoor workouts. “We have a lot more room.”