Invoking his standard “I’m a really lucky guy” mantra, Bobby Valentine presided over the grand opening of the $21.8 million sports facility at Sacred Heart University named after him before an appreciative crowd on Aug. 26.
The 3-story, 57,400-square foot Bobby Valentine Health & Recreation Center, behind the north end zone of 3,334-seat multi-purpose stadium Campus Field, includes an indoor track, a 5,000-square-foot bowling center featuring LED widescreen monitors, and an 18-bike spin center.
In addition, it features a 45-foot climbing wall and a two-story, 7,000-square-foot fitness center for cardiovascular workouts, free and cable weights, circuit training and CrossFit opportunities. The third floor also houses a juice bar.
Designed by the Glastonbury architectural firm The S/L/A/M Collaborative and built by Consigli Construction Co. – which, SHU President John Petillo noted, is also in the midst of building three new dorms across the street – the Center was finished on budget and on time.
Valentine, who in addition to being the Fairfield school’s executive director of athletics since 2013 operates Bobby V’s Restaurant & Sports Bar in his native Stamford, noted that the facility’s balcony is being named after his mother, Grace, “who will look over the students” as she did for him.
The former Major League Baseball player and manager said that, for all his accomplishments, “this fabulous facility” will be the primary reflection of his legacy, “the major exclamation point on my caring, my giving and my work.”
“He’s like living swag” for SHU, Petillo said, noting that Valentine consistently endeavors to mention the school whenever he can.
“Six years ago it was suggested that I should meet with this ‘Bobby Valentine’,” Petillo recalled, indicating that he was unfamiliar with the man who had recently left his employment as manager of the Boston Red Sox. (Valentine joked that his firing from that post at the end of the 2012 season was yet more proof of how lucky he has been.)
While some SHU supporters told the school’s president that Valentine would never accept the position of athletic director – or, if he did, that he “won’t stay long” – Petillo said that instead the 69-year-old has been far more than a figurehead, working regularly with the university’s athletes as well as other students.
“Presence is a very key point with me,” Petillo said.
“When he asked me to be A.D., I couldn’t even spell ‘A.D.’,” Valentine joked. “But I learned.”
Sophomore Daphne Schiffman of the SHU Women’s Club Volleyball squad said she was especially pleased that, with the new rec center, Sacred Heart’s various club teams will finally have the wherewithal to host home games – something that was difficult at the 22-year-old William H. Pitt Center.
That three-level, 141,000-square-foot complex features a four-court layout and seats over 2,000 people for basketball; the school’s 32 NCAA Division I teams will now have sole use of the Pitt Center.
Dean of Students Larry Wielk recalled that when the Pitt Center opened, SHU had 5,300 undergraduates, as compared with an overall present population of about 9,000, and hosted two club sports programs as opposed to 33 today. The corresponding “exponential growth” of interest in sports and recreation more or less mandated construction of a new, state-of-art facility, he said.
“That building was going to be just fine” for meeting such needs, Senior Vice President for Athletics and Student Affairs Jim Barquinero said of the Pitt Center. “Well, it wasn’t just fine. It was cheek-to-jowl.”
Barquinero credited Valentine with being one of the prime catalysts behind the new center. “It’s perfect,” he declared.
Joining Valentine and the aforementioned SHU administrators for the ribbon-cutting was State Sen. Tony Hwang, whose 28th District includes parts of Fairfield, Easton, Newtown, Weston and Westport.