After sundown on Saturday, September 20, Oberlin Football will play illuminated by stadium lights at the new Austin E. Knowlton Athletics Complex, marking the first night football game in the college’s history.
The facility was made possible by an $8 million gift from the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation and named in honor of the late Ohio businessman who created the foundation through his estate to support colleges and universities throughout the Midwest.
The multipurpose field with synthetic turf and lights is named in honor of Richard “Dick” Bailey ’51, a long-time member and former treasurer of the John W. Heisman Club whose philanthropic contributions to the college have made a lasting impact on generations of Oberlin students. The complex includes a state-of-the-art press box, grandstands for home and visiting spectators, a support facility that will be home to all men’s and women’s outdoor sports, and a clubhouse and social suite open to the campus community.
Oberlin’s first all-weather, multi-sport facility allows participation among football, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and women’s field hockey teams, and in inclement weather, soccer. The complex also serves as an important community resource for Oberlin City Schools.
“This great facility was made possible by a very generous gift from the Knowlton Foundation, as well as strong support from Oberlin donors,” says President Marvin Krislov. “The Knowlton complex enhances the student-athlete experience here in profound ways. It is also a tremendous boost for the students, families, schools, and members of the Oberlin community.”
Austin E. “Dutch” Knowlton was the owner and chairman of the Knowlton Construction Company, a company his family started in Bellefontaine, Ohio. Through his leadership, Knowlton was responsible for more than 600 major construction projects throughout Ohio and the Midwest, including college and university buildings, hospitals, and libraries. An avid sportsman, he was an original founding partner of the Cincinnati Bengals, having remained the largest shareholder until his death. He was also a minority owner of the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s, and was instrumental in building Riverfront Stadium.
“Throughout his life, Mr. Knowlton attributed the breadth of his success in so many endeavors to the transformative effect of his college degree,” says Eric Lindberg, a trustee of the Knowlton Foundation. “He was an equal supporter of large and small colleges and universities across the Midwest, and he embraced and understood the more intimate educational experience of smaller liberal arts schools. He cared a great deal about trying to level the economic playing field for students of lesser means, and that’s why the foundation has given a large amount of funding to scholarships and grants as well as to modernizing infrastructure.”
The Knowlton Foundation and the college shared a vision of making athletics a more social experience. “When you look at the professional sports leagues, the core purpose and experience have morphed away from sitting in a cold, functional stadium,” says Lindberg. “The model for watching games has changed and broadened a great deal, and has transformed into a social event and hub that brings people together. Oberlin’s new facility is really cutting edge for Division III in creating great social spaces for the entire community in addition to providing modern facilities for your athletes.”
Facilities help tell the story of an institution and can illustrate what is important on campus, says Natalie Winkelfoos, Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education at Oberlin. “Our old stadium and facilities did not match the brilliance of the rest of the college, nor did they narrate the renewal of Oberlin Athletics that is being written by our student-athletes and coaching staff,” Winkelfoos says.
Oberlin is in direct competition with the nation’s top colleges and universities for the attention and commitments of top-flight scholar-athletes. Recruiting is an intensive undertaking, even at the Division III level, and Winkelfoos says the new complex will help attract the scholar-athletes who are searching for a school where they can get a world-class education while competing in intercollegiate athletics. “This new complex permits us to meet the quality and standards that prospective students will find in so many other locations on campus.”
The Knowlton complex replaces timeworn infrastructure that predates Title IX. The new synthetic field requires less maintenance and eliminates the need for water, chemical fertilizers, and fuel-powered aerating and seeding. The on-site locker rooms accommodate Oberlin’s growing rosters and provide adequate locker space that is now in close proximity to the field. Stadium lights open the door to host revenue-making events and to operate in hours that don’t conflict with academics.
Head Football Coach Jay Anderson says his goal is to infuse excitement for the game across campus and into the community. “Having one of the best facilities in our conference will help tremendously with player performance and recruiting prospective student-athletes,” he says. “We hope to gain the support of our entire student body and community on game day.”
Synthetic turf will completely change the way Oberlin Field Hockey recruits, trains, and plays, says Anna Baeth, Oberlin’s head field hockey coach. Turf has been used in the game internationally since 1972, “and is arguably the single most transformative component of our game,” she says. “Playing on turf speeds up the game of field hockey, makes play more consistent, and allows players skill sets to shine. Understandably then, we are all thrilled to have the new turf and hope to use it to continue to develop and grow our team.”
Baeth says the new surface also has the potential to grow the game of field hockey in northeastern Ohio by bringing in local youth to play in the off season.
A dedication ceremony for the facility will be held on the field at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, September 20, immediately before the scheduled football game against The College of Wooster.