by Rob Moseley
A kickoff dinner Saturday night for Oregon's Women in Flight program, designed to raise awareness and funding to support UO female athletics, was punctuated by the announcement of a major gift toward construction of a new softball facility.
In remarks capping the dinner at Matthew Knight Arena, director of athletics Rob Mullens announced the donation of $10 million by Robert Sanders to construction of a facility to replace Howe Field. The new facility be named in honor of Sanders' late wife, O. Jane Sanders; Jane, UO class of 1950, was a cheerleader, and Robert, class of '49, played fullback on the football team.
"What we will build is a world-class Jane Sanders Softball Stadium," Mullens said.
Howe Field, located on campus, was originally built in 1936 for the UO baseball program, and was converted into a softball facility in 1987. While it has undergone renovations over the last 20 years to add new dugouts, a scoreboard and better lighting, it had begun to lag behind Oregon's other facilities, and other softball facilities around the country.
That's in contrast to the direction of the softball program itself, which achieved a No. 1 ranking nationally this spring, won its second straight Pac-12 title and advanced to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. The Ducks won two WCWS games for the first time ever, and set a school record with 56 victories.
"I would like to thank Mr. Sanders and his late wife, Jane, for their tremendous donation to our softball program," said UO coach Mike White, who was on the road recruiting Saturday. "This has just made a great year in Oregon softball even better. I'm so happy for our current and future student-athletes to soon have a new facility that will reflect their hard work and dedication to building Oregon softball into the program it is today."
Sitting in the crowd for the banquet, UO pitcher Karissa Hovinga was moved to tears by Mullens' announcement.
"He said he had a big announcement, but I didn't think it would be that," Hovinga said. "It's going to be huge. We're going to get better recruits and just keep getting better than we already are, so it's just huge for the program. I'm so happy for coach White and for the players coming in."
Construction of the new facility will begin "in the not-too-distant future" according to the official announcement by the athletic department. Among the biggest steps in the interim is identifying a site.
Mullens' announcement capped a banquet attended by about 275 donors, coaches and student-athletes from UO women's programs, and athletic department administration. The Women in Flight program was first announced in February, and was launched thanks to a gift from Dave and Nancy Petrone.
"Hopefully this opens up a lot of avenues for people to (support women's athletics)," Dave Petrone said Saturday night. "… We'd like to see a platform for women's sports. We'd like to see what resources can do to enrich the experience of student-athletes here."
The evening also included an auction and membership drive that raised nearly $110,000 for Women in Flight. It all made for a wildly successful launch night to a program UO administration says already has become a model for women's athletics across the country.
"I know it's going to make a huge impact on my experience as a Duck, and it will help every other student-athlete who just happens to be a girl like me who comes here," said Brittany Mann of the track and field program.