By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations; featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services
NATCHITOCHES – The first day of December brought what, in some ways, may stand as the first day in a new era of Northwestern State athletics.
On an unseasonably warm Friday on the Northwestern State football practice field, 15 dignitaries turned over a pile of dirt, symbolizing the groundbreaking for the multi-million dollar David and Sherry Morgan Health Performance Center.
The annex that will be located in the Donald G. Kelly Athletic Complex will include a new 11,600 square foot weight room with space for more than 100 student-athletes, a 25-foot artificial turf pad, a new nutrition center, a student-athlete lounge and offices for the strength and conditioning staff. A second phase of the construction project will convert the current weight room into a high-tech rehabilitation center along with other sports medicine upgrades. The third phase will be the renovation of the current Eugene Christmas athletic training room.
The roughly hour-long ceremony brought to life a project that worked its way through the legislative and fundraising process, much like a football team making its way steadily downfield rather than by virtue of one or two big plays.
“It’s like (State Senator) Louie Bernard said during the program, ‘Sometimes good things take a little bit longer than you think to come to fruition,’” former Director of Athletics Greg Burke said. “This project started before COVID. That meeting with David Morgan in (former NSU President) Dr. (Chris) Maggio’s office was Homecoming of 2019. Then COVID really put the brakes on things for over a year. We got it going again. Thanks to a lot of people from the donors to the legislators to the people on campus, I knew it was going to happen. From the first time (current NSU Director of Athletics) Kevin (Bostian) and I talked, it was a discussion point. There was no doubt it was going to get to the finish line. It was a matter of timing more than anything else.”
The timing of Friday’s ceremony came two days after Northwestern State introduced its new football coach, Blaine McCorkle, who attended the ceremony.
During his introductory news conference Wednesday, McCorkle spoke of meeting with Bostian and how Bostian had a “vision for everything” within the walls of the NSU fieldhouse. Friday’s groundbreaking brought some of those closer to reality.
“There are a lot of times you got into a new place and they tell you what they’re going to do,” McCorkle said. “There’s nothing better when you show up on the first day and they’re putting shovels in the ground. That’s pretty exciting to see, and it gives me hope and encouragement that I made the right choice coming here. It’s not just a vision and a reality, and we saw that today.”
Added Northwestern State President Dr. Marcus Jones: “The renovation and expansion of the athletic complex is a major milestone for NSU Athletics. Not only is it a symbol of progress and pride, but it is also an investment in our coaches, staff, student-athletes and future Demons. For NSU to remain competitive, we must continue to recruit the highest-caliber of student-athlete. Modern recruiting standards are based on the expectations of prospective student-athletes, and the quality of facilities is a major factor in the decision-making process of every student-athlete. Being able to showcase a state-of-the-art facility, such as the one that will be built here, will give NSU an advantage over our peers and help us to attract a high-caliber recruit.”
A significant portion of what lies ahead for NSU Athletics as it relates to the center is rooted in what happened on the campus more than half a century ago. David Morgan walked into a business class – “Late,” Sherry Morgan added – and met his wife.
“There were some young ladies there from the business school who were going to take our letters,” David Morgan said. “We were supposed to read a problem in the business book and dictate a letter to the girls from the secretarial pool who came over to class. I walked in, and I surveyed the group. I saw this beautiful, blonde-headed young lady with a Tri Sigma jersey on. I said, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen here before. I’m going to go it by her.’ That began a 50-year relationship and marriage. We just celebrated 50 years of marriage – to the same person, which I think is important.”
When the Morgans announced their $1.5 million lead gift in April 2022, David Morgan called attending Northwestern State a “game-changer” for both he and his wife.
The same could be said for what the Morgans’ donation did to move the project forward.
“The support this project – and Northwestern State University as a whole – received from David and Sherry Morgan cannot be understated nor can it be underappreciated,” Bostian said. “The David and Sherry Morgan Health Performance Center will benefit current and future student-athletes in much the same way David’s and Sherry’s experiences as Northwestern State benefited them. The work put in by our university administration and our legislative representatives at the local and statewide levels is symbolically recognized here today, but the impact it will have will be seen physically on the fields or on the courts where our student-athletes will compete.”
That impact will be felt outside the walls of the university as well.
“We believe the strength of the university is the strength of our medical center,” said Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Kirk Soileau. “As the community grows, we grow as an organization. On behalf of Natchitoches Regional Medical Center, our associates, our medical staff and our board, congratulations on this amazing project. Thank you to the Morgans for putting this together and helping this all come together.”
Bernard echoed the Morgans’ sentiments in his remarks.
“There is something about the college experience,” he said. “There is something about going to a university and what it leaves with you. It drips with nostalgia when you come back to your university and you can be proud of it. We’re always going to be proud of Northwestern. There’s not a university, a business, an industry in America that hasn’t had tough times. Tough times don’t last. Tough people do. All of these things you see happening today are positive things for Northwestern, and I challenge all of you to stay strong, stay positive. Be more than involved with Northwestern – be committed to Northwestern.”