225: Pitt athletic facilities improved thanks to ‘Quest for Excellence’

When recruiting athletes to play collegiately at a Division I school such as Pitt, the quality of the athletic facilities are paramount in landing talented student-athletes.

And Pitt has had numerous athletic facilities over the years — both state-of-the-art and out-of-date.

In recent years, the University’s “Quest for Excellence” — an initiative developed by the athletic department to enhance the quality of facilities — has resulted in improved playing environments for almost all Pitt sports, allowing for coaches to recruit higher-caliber players and experience greater team success than in recent years.

Here’s a rundown of the evolution of Pitt’s on- and off-campus athletic facilities:

Pitt Stadium (Opened — Sept. 1, 1925; Closed — Nov. 13, 1999)

At a time in 1924 when the Pitt football program enjoyed great success, more fans wanted to watch the Panthers than Forbes Field could allow.

So the University made the decision to build an on-campus stadium to fix the seating problem.

Finished at a cost of about $2 million, Pitt Stadium, previously located where the Petersen Events Center currently stands, became the home of numerous athletic teams, including Pitt football, both soccer teams, track and field and even the Pittsburgh Steelers for a short time.

At a full capacity of about 60,000, Pitt students, alumni and other fans were able to fill the stadium for the Panthers as they pursued conference and national championships.

Located underneath one of the gates of Pitt Stadium, Pitt Pavilion was home to the Panthers basketball program from 1925 to 1951.

As the stadium aged, Pitt made the decision to move the football program’s home games to the new Heinz Field and demolish Pitt Stadium in favor of a new basketball arena and a dormitory.

At the last game at Pitt Stadium in November 1999, more than 60,000 attended as the Panthers upset Notre Dame, 37-27, prompting mass celebrations as fans rushed the field with nine seconds left in the game.

“The game is not over. The game is not over,” Pitt Stadium’s public announcer famously yelled.

The students and fans didn’t care. They wanted take a part of Pitt Stadium home with them, including pieces of the field, seats and even parts of the bathrooms.

A few weeks later, nothing was left of Pitt Stadium after it was demolished in December 1999.

Fitzgerald Field House (Opened — Dec. 15, 1951)

Named after former Chancellor Rufus H. Fitzgerald, the Field House is the current home of Pitt gymnastics, wrestling, volleyball and indoor track and field.

In terms of amenities, the on-campus building houses a spacious athletic training and weight-lifting facility, impressive new locker rooms just added in the most recent renovation and a new wrestling facility. The wrestling team now enjoys a matted practice room, new cardio equipment and a video and recruitment room for coaches and athletes.

“Our facilities at the Fitz are some of the best in the country,” wrestling head coach Rande Stottlemyer said. “The Olympic sports weight room has every possible piece of equipment that we could ever use. Our wrestling is heads and tails above where it was [before it was renovated].”

“It really is one of the top wrestling rooms in the country,” he added.

The Fitzgerald Field House also housed the Pitt basketball program for more than 50 years (1951 to 2002), and some of the most memorable moments in the building’s history took place with the Panthers’ hoops squad in action, such as Jerome Lane’s famous backboard-shattering dunk in 1988.

Heinz Field (Opened — Aug. 18, 2001)

Heinz Field has been the home of the Panthers’ football program since the 2001 season.

The athletes enjoy their very own 5,000 square-foot locker room, while PantherVision, the Great Hall and all the other great features that Heinz Field offers keep fans comfortable in the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite the off-campus stadium on Pittsburgh’s North Side having its critics, 65,000 fans are able to enjoy the beautiful views of the Pittsburgh skyline and Mt. Washington from Heinz Field.

And there are no signs that Pitt football will want to leave the stadium for an on-campus site anytime soon, especially since the Steelers also work with the Panthers at the incredible UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side, where Pitt football practices.

Petersen Events Center (Opened — April 27, 2002)

Commonly viewed as the gem of a beautiful upper campus, the Petersen Events Center currently houses the Pitt men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Constructed on the former site of Pitt Stadium at a cost of more than $100 million, the Pete is smaller than some other Big East basketball arenas, but what the building lacks in seating capacity, it makes up for in comfort, volume and atmosphere.

Seating 12,508 spectators, the Petersen Events Center, which takes its name from philanthropists John and Gertrude Petersen — who donated $10 million for the building’s construction — offers one of the best gameday experiences in college basketball.

With more than 2,000 club-level seats and a courtside area for one of the country’s largest and loudest student sections — the Oakland Zoo — the state-of-the-art building has helped build the Pitt basketball program into what it is today.

But the Petersen Events Center doesn’t just accommodate athletes and fans.

The Baierl Recreation Center, a 40,000 square-foot recreation space including state-of-the-art aerobics facilities, racquetball courts and a free-weight area, sits inside the building, and there are also several restaurants and a seating area for studying and eating that students frequently utilize.

Petersen Sports Complex (Opened — March 16, 2011)

With the addition of the Petersen Sports Complex in 2011 — at a cost of roughly $30 million, some of which was donated by John and Gertrude Petersen — Pitt has now solidified itself as a premier athletic program in all phases.

As part of a project that has been in the works since the demolition of Pitt Stadium, Charles L. Cost Field (baseball), Ambrose Urbanic Field (soccer) and Vartabedian Field (softball) all serve as new state-of-the-art homes to their respective teams.

All three fields feature a form of synthetic or artificial grass that allows for the teams to play year-round, and artificial lighting has also made evening games possible for the past two years.

“The Petersen Sports Complex is a great step for our program,” said Danielle Benner, a redshirt junior on the Pitt women’s soccer team. “Playing where we did before — Founders Field — was like playing at a neutral site. It was 45 minutes away, so we really didn’t have home games. It just never felt like our own.”

“The new facility is something that’s ours, something special, something to play for,” she added. “We have a great view of downtown, and it kind of reminds you that you are playing for more than yourself.”

To accompany the current facilities, a new track-and-field complex will be built on the current Trees Field site.

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