A Legacy to Remember

05/23/19

On Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 8:00 a.m., my wife, Beth, and daughters Spencer (age 7), Sophie (age 5) and Olivia (age 1) waited anxiously in the Pepsi Lot of the LJVM Coliseum. Spencer rested on my shoulders and Ron Wellman was standing in front of me as the countdown for the demolition of the old Groves Stadium press box began. KAAAABOOOOM! The explosion was louder than any of us expected, and at that point, the old press box—a relic of the past and symbol of mediocrity—was instantly demolished. As it came crumbling down, there was a sense of anxiety among our staff that there was no turning back, but we were all excited about what the future would hold.

Five years prior, Ron convened a planning group, hired an architect and commenced the process of transforming Groves Stadium, all with two primary goals in mind. As a long time Midwesterner, he wanted to create the Wrigley Field of college football and, ultimately, win an ACC Championship. Over the course of the next four years, we visited a variety of collegiate and professional stadiums, gathering information on best practices, talking to people about what they liked (and didn’t like), and dreaming of what the future would look like. We developed plans and then we just had to wait for the right moment.

With a $48 million financial plan in place with BB&T as a critical naming rights partner, along with significant quiet phase funding, we were granted authority to launch the public plan and showcase our vision. We unveiled the plans to a packed Snead Club Room with a scaled model and a presentation. To say the crowd was awestruck is an understatement. The presentation shared the vision that successful football could transform our University by showcasing Wake Forest on the national television stage, increasing exposure, and leading to millions of dollars of economic impact for Winston-Salem, all while providing a rallying spirit for the entire community.

While revealing our plans, we also publicly stated that our goal was to win an ACC Championship. At the time, with Wake Forest picked to finish last in our division, this sounded like a stretch to some, but with Ron’s incredible leadership and vision, we set out to achieve this goal. On August 1, 2006 we launched our efforts and had 60 days to get at least 75% of the premium seating sold. We quickly accomplished that goal and altered our plans to accommodate the increased demand. Jim Grobe and his staff certainly did their part by going on to win the ACC Championship that year. Wake Forest football was forever changed after that and, now, BB&T Field is one of the finest college football stadiums in the country.

Four years later in 2010, we set out to address our athletic facilities on campus and, again, Ron put forth a bold proposal, highlighted by a $70 million sports performance center as a signature opportunity through the Wake Will campaign. Our on-campus facilities were certainly behind those of our competitors, and we needed a transformative plan to address the situation. After visiting several campuses, with the leadership of Ben Sutton, we settled on a direction and began the process of fundraising. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to secure a multitude of transformative gifts.

Fast forward to a Tuesday morning in the fall of 2016, when we were in a facilities planning meeting, preparing for an upcoming Board of Trustees meeting. Mit Shah had just committed $5 million to name the Shah Basketball Complex, Ben Sutton had committed $10 million to name the Sutton Sports Performance Center, and Bob McCreary had previously committed $12.5 million to name McCreary Field House.

Despite the incredible support from over 1,000 generous Deacon Club members—and with $62 million in hand—we were still approximately $8 million short. One month prior, however, at the Wake Forest versus Indiana football game, Ron and I provided an additional $15 million opportunity to Bob McCreary to finish off the Sutton Sports Performance Center and we were awaiting his response.

But with the Board of Trustees meeting quickly approaching, we were still short on the funding, construction deadlines were looming, and the anxiety of our staff was certainly present in that room. Similar to Chip Vaughn’s blocked field goal versus Duke in 2006, we needed a miracle. Suddenly, a text message interrupted our meeting and I looked at my phone and said, “Ron, this is a message from Bob.” He replied, stating, “Well, read it.” Upon opening the text message, it indicated that Bob was increasing his commitment by $15 million.

We all jumped out of our seats jubilantly, high-fiving and hugging one another. At that point, I remember looking over to our chief financial officer, Randy Casstevens, each realizing the magnitude of what just transpired. Our transformative vision would now be a reality on the Reynolda Campus, creating our own Wake Forest Athletics Mount Rushmore of sorts. Upon completion, the Miller Center, Shah Basketball Complex, Sutton Sports Performance Center and McCreary Field House will all be connected, creating an unbelievable, state-of-the-art complex, and completing Ron’s legacy of a facilities transformation.

The $70 million Sports Performance Complex will open this summer and touch the lives of every single Wake Forest student-athlete. My daughter, who perched on my shoulders for the demolition of the old Groves Stadium press box on that Sunday back in 2007, is now 19 years old, finishing her freshman year as a Demon Deacon track & field student-athlete, and will be one of the first to experience this transformative facility.

While facilities have certainly been the hallmark of Ron’s accomplishments at Wake Forest, if I had to sum up Ron’s philosophy, it would be best described through our mission of Developing Champions. At a recent coaches’ dinner honoring Ron, after each coach glowingly praised him as being a coaches’ athletic director, he gave a heartfelt toast. Filled with emotion, he implored the following to the coaches. “Winning is important; really, really important.” Holding back tears, he continued, “But as coaches, the lessons you provide, the values you instill and the character you develop in the young men and women you coach are truly invaluable. Please don’t ever take that for granted.”

(Please note: This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of Gold Rush.)