Wittenberg still looking forward to sharing ‘The Steemer’ with community

New facility has already hosted local high schools

Wittenberg director of athletics Gary Williams is looking forward to sharing his school’s new athletics facility with the rest of the community again when the coronavirus pandemic is over.

Apparently, the feeling is mutual.

“We actually had someone call recently to schedule something for Mother’s Day next year,” he said.

READ MORE: Wittenberg unveils $50 million facility

A 135,000-square-foot complex with an artificial turf field, six-lane indoor track and state-of-the-art strength and conditioning center opened last fall after years of planning, and the university did not waste time showing it off or putting it to good use.

Aside from being the home of Tigers athletics teams, “The Steemer” as the building is known (an homage to a large donation made by Stanley Steemer CEO Wes Bates and his wife, Ann) is an asset teams from around Clark County and beyond are allowed to utilize when needed.

Springfield High School took advantage last fall, using the indoor field to get out of the November cold on the Wildcats’ run to the football state semifinals.

“It’s a great place to get some good work done when the weather is bad out,” SHS coach Maurice Douglass said.

He also noted his daughter, Shiloh, used the facility to prepare for the indoor state track meet, where she placed fifth in the shot put.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to use it again this season,” he added.

Wittenberg University held a grand opening ceremony and open house for its new Health, Wellness & Athletic Complex called "The Steemer" Friday evening. The new $40 million facility features an indoor athletic field, running track and strength training center. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Wittenberg University held a grand opening ceremony and open house for its new Health, Wellness & Athletic Complex called "The Steemer" Friday evening. The new $40 million facility features an indoor athletic field, running track and strength training center. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

The Wittenberg Tiger waits on the athletic field in The Steemer for the other officials to join him for a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday evening. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
The Wittenberg Tiger waits on the athletic field in The Steemer for the other officials to join him for a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday evening. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

According to Williams, the facility can be both a recruiting tool for Wittenberg and a way to bring the school closer to the city it calls home.

“In the six years I’ve been here, we have worked so hard to bring Springfield back here and to bring us back to Springfield,” Williams said. “It’s often said that in different circles the success of Springfield will rise and fall upon Wittenberg, and the success of Wittenberg will rise and fall on the city of Springfield.

Visitors look over the new lockers in one of the locker rooms in Wittenberg's new Health, Wellness and Athletics facility. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Visitors look over the new lockers in one of the locker rooms in Wittenberg's new Health, Wellness and Athletics facility. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

“So it is a symbiotic relationship, and I think for years, maybe a decade ago or so there was this like separation between the two entities and this coming back together has been really critical.”

The reunion process was brought to a halt in March, though, when the coronavirus paused not just sports but much of everyday life.

While that was frustrating for athletes who saw their winter seasons cut short and spring seasons wiped out, Williams thinks the long-term effect could be an acceleration of the school and the area getting closer.

PHOTOS: Check out the new facility

“I think we’re seeing that, especially given what COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) has done, people in this community, people aren’t as excited to travel out and do as many things so despite being in a COVID state we’re getting teams that want to practice here and use the facilities when the time is right,” Williams said.

“I think there’s a lot of people that this has excited the relationship of Wittenberg, excited them about having this in Springfield. I think they’re excited to see the positives that the physical structure is doing for the emotional positive well being that it can bring not only to our campus but also to Springfield.”

Wittenberg University held a grand opening ceremony and open house for its new Health, Wellness & Athletic Complex called "The Steemer" Friday evening. The new $40 million facility features an indoor athletic field, running track and strength training center. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Wittenberg University held a grand opening ceremony and open house for its new Health, Wellness & Athletic Complex called "The Steemer" Friday evening. The new $40 million facility features an indoor athletic field, running track and strength training center. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Wittenberg University held a grand opening ceremony and open house for its new Health, Wellness & Athletic Complex called "The Steemer" Friday evening. The new $40 million facility features an indoor athletic field, running track and strength training center. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Wittenberg University held a grand opening ceremony and open house for its new Health, Wellness & Athletic Complex called "The Steemer" Friday evening. The new $40 million facility features an indoor athletic field, running track and strength training center. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Mike Dellapina, a Springfield native and Wittenberg alumnus who is now director of athletics at SHS, is happy both for the community and his alma mater that such a facility has been added.

“Everybody is so impressed with that facility, and they have been so welcoming to us whenever we have been in a position to get the chance to use it,” Dellapina said. “We’re extremely grateful that they have been such great hosts to us.

“It’s a positive thing for everybody in this city and hopefully, it ends up in the long run being a great thing to attract more students to Wittenberg.”