University receives $3M donation to build new athletic facility

The donation comes from Jack and Denise Cassell, longtime donors to the University

University receives $3M donation to build new athletic facility

Jack Cassell at the Board of Trustees meeting in March 2019

American University received a $3 million donation to build a new athletics facility, University President Sylvia Burwell announced in an email to the community on Tuesday morning.

“We’re lacking compared to a lot of our Patriot League contemporary institutions, so we need this to help with recruitment, retention and competitive excellence,” Director of Athletics and Recreation Billy Walker told The Eagle. “These three areas are going to be overriding everything as we’re looking with an eye towards whatever funds we need.”

While retention can include ensuring that student-athletes don’t look to transfer out of American, Walker said, retention also includes keeping the student body satisfied, as the University desires from Burwell’s five-year strategic plan

“A lot of the time, students will say what we don't have – because we don't really have – great facilities for recreation and fitness, so that's all part of retention,” Walker said.

The location for this building is unknown, as the structure’s architects are currently conducting feasibility studies to determine the best place for the new facility. Features of the new building are also unclear. 

The Center for Athletic Performance will provide a practice space for AU’s Division I teams, as well as club and intramural sports. The volleyball and wrestling teams may use the new building for competition, while AU’s basketball teams will continue to compete in Bender Arena, Walker said. 

The building requires extra fundraising for an undisclosed amount. “That’s going to be on [athletics] to do,” Walker said. “This isn't a University-funded project, so we’ll be working on fundraising for it.”

Walker also said that this facility will allow the University to save money in terms of practice space; volleyball and basketball practices often get moved because of events in Bender Arena, which forces AU’s teams to practice at nearby high schools with which the University has contracts. 

“That's not good for student athletes, and it costs us money in that we’re paying to rent space in another school when we already have our own facility,” Walker said.

The wrestling room and strength and conditioning rooms will be removed from Jacobs Fitness Center and relocated to the Center for Athletic Performance, which will allow space to open up for recreation and fitness facilities in Bender Arena.

The Center for Athletic Performance can abbreviate to “CAP,” which Walker said is a play on AU’s location – within the nation’s capital. 

“I believe strongly in the trajectory of American University, and through this gift, my family and I want to ensure students who come to AU have the same exceptional experience that we have had,” Jack Cassell said in the press release.

Jack Cassell graduated from the School of Communication in 1977. He formerly served as chairman of the Board of Trustees, and he currently sits as a Board member. His family name has been prominent at the University for decades, as the name “Cassell” appears on multiple buildings, a hall of fame and Bender Arena’s court. 

The University unveiled Cassell Hall in 2013, after the Cassell family gifted $3 million to the University. The Cassell Fitness Center was named for his brother and fellow AU alumnus Stafford H. Cassell Jr.

Their father, Stafford H. “Pop” Cassell Sr., graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1936. He served as a coach for basketball and football, as well as athletic director and vice president. In January 2003, the University dedicated the competition floor to the memory of Stafford Cassell Sr. The Hall of Fame, constructed in 1969 inside Bender Arena, is also dedicated to him, according to AU Athletics

This story has been updated. Dilpreet Raju assisted in reporting this story. 

kcataudella@theeagleonline.com 

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