Hendrix amps image with new complex.
Hendrix College, the "nerd school" in Conway existing in the shadows of the larger, flashier, more marketed University of Central Arkansas, has undergone an extreme athletic makeover.
Hendrix has just opened a state-of-the-art, $24 million Wellness and Athletic Center to replace the old Grove Gymnasium used for almost half a century.
Walk into the new facility's lobby, with its wood paneling and columns and archways leading to an aquatics center, and you might think you're on the way to a high table.
"People say it looks more like an academic building," said Danny Powell, Hendrix's director of athletics. "It is an academic building."
The center houses a large room for exercise classes, a kinesiology laboratory with all kinds of equipment to tell the humbling truth about an individual's physical state, and separate gymnasiums for competition and recreation. The center also boasts a spacious weight room and fitness center, where an exerciser could watch a digital TV on a treadmill and see activity at most of the other athletic venues from the glass-enclosed back wall. The exercise gym is surrounded by a walking track. The modern aquatics center (too elaborate to be labeled just a pool) is glass-enclosed with a retractable roof.
In the lobby is a large and elaborate climbing wall popular with a new generation of students. "If you build one of these facilities nowadays, you almost have to have a wall," said Cliff Garrison, the school's longtime coach and athletic director who headed the fundraising effort for the building.
The WAC, as it is known, is only the most outward indication of what is arguably the most proactive overall athletic philosophy in the state. The college is a pioneer as far as bringing new sports to Arkansas.
Hendrix's field hockey team, the first of its kind of the varsity NCAA level in the state, began play this fall. In the spring, Hendrix will field the state's first lacrosse teams.
Hendrix competes in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (Ivy League-style classic liberal arts colleges such as Rhodes, Trinity, Centre and Sewanee) of NCAA Division III, which doesn't allow scholarships for athletics. These colleges recruit with facilities and opportunities.
"Lacrosse, for example, is big in a lot of the high schools in Texas where we recruit," Powell said. "We got to thinking why do athletes in Texas have to fly to schools on the East Coast to play lacrosse if we can offer it in an adjacent state?"
With the same rationale, Hendrix officials are examining how the school can field a varsity football team for the first time in half a century. Hendrix's new lacrosse/field hockey field, with a modern track around it, can be used for football with a few stands brought in, offering another sport attractive to areas, particularly in football-crazy Texas, where Hendrix recruits.
Athletics in Division III are not designed to make money. No admission is charged for any athletic event. It's the experience.
"The facility and what we do represents our institutional values," said Hendrix President Dr. J. Timothy Cloyd, who took a hands-on role in the development and construction of the WAC. "It's the development of mind, body and spirit. It's the classic Greek concept that you make yourself better by competition and struggle."
With the multipurpose building and the wide range of sports offerings, Cloyd is trying to join the intellectual and the athletic at the hip.
Thirty-seven percent of Hendrix students participate in some form of varsity competition, compared with less than 2 percent at most Division I institutions. Hendrix athletes average 1310 on the SAT and 30 on the ACT, compared with 1290 and 28 for the rest of the student body. The WAC is getting 80 percent use from the student body.
"It's an exercise melting pot," said Karl Lenser, director of the WAC.
Ryan Wible is a standout varsity basketball player. He's into biochemistry majoring in molecular biology. He's done research concerning the synthesis of organic matter.
David McCollum is sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway.