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Feb. 13, 2003

CHARLOTTESVILLE – The University of Virginia’s venerable old Memorial Gymnasium will receive a thorough facelift, courtesy of a gift of more than $1.5 million from an anonymous donor. The gift will push U.Va’s wrestling facilities into the upper echelon in the country and will give the Cavalier women’s volleyball program a major boost.

The gift provides $845,500 for extensive improvements to 79-year-old “Mem Gym,” which was home to the U.Va. basketball program for 42 seasons before University Hall opened in 1965. After renovations, the building – now used extensively by the University’s intramural programs – will also serve as the home arena for the Cavaliers’ wrestling and women’s volleyball teams.

Another $496,000 will upgrade the wrestling program’s practice facilities at Onesty Hall. “They will be the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference, by far,” said wrestling coach Lenny Bernstein. “I would venture to say they will be in the top 10 or 15 practice facilities in the country.”

The wrestling program will also receive $100,000 to benefit its operating budget and $75,000 in scholarship support.

“In this era of economic uncertainty, it is great that there are friends of the University and the athletics program who support the goal of institutional excellence,” said Craig Littlepage, director of athletics. “This gift not only benefits the wrestling and volleyball programs, it also supports facility improvements that impact the University community as well. We are grateful for such great generosity.”

Dirk Katstra, executive director of the Virginia Athletics Foundation, which is charged with raising funds to support all 25 of U.Va.’s varsity sports, said the gift is a model. “It touches each area of fund raising – scholarships, capital and facility improvements, and operational needs. We hope that this gift will be a springboard for others like it.”

The planned renovations to Mem Gym include improved lighting and sound systems, a new scoreboard, new bleachers, new windows, resurfacing and remarking of the floor (the gym’s original floor was replaced in 1992), an improved air-flow system, a new divider curtain and a fresh coat of paint. Renovations are also planned for the general-use men’s and women’s locker rooms and for the gym’s lobby and other common spaces.

Melissa Aldrich Shelton, women’s volleyball coach at U.Va., said she’s excited about the prospect of recreating the boisterous home-court advantage that Cavalier basketball teams enjoyed when Mem Gym was one of the most raucous arenas in the South.

“I’ve always loved that building,” Shelton said. “I’m so happy someone came along to restore it to what it was.”

Shelton’s team has practiced or played at three different venues in recent years: Mem Gym, U-Hall and the North Grounds Recreation Center. It will now be completely housed at Mem Gym.

“It gives us a home,” Shelton said. “It gives the girls a sense that they belong somewhere.”

Likewise, Bernstein said he’s “been smiling from ear-to-ear for the last month. The gift covers everything we’ve been asking for. I never thought we would get it all at once.”

Besides the changes at Mem Gym, the wrestling program will benefit from extensive improvements to Onesty Hall, located alongside University Hall. They include renovating and refitting the wrestling room, renovating the locker room and shower area, creating a new coaches’ locker room and purchasing $45,000 worth of new equipment.

“It’s always been a good space,” Bernstein said. “It’s a matter now of using it more efficiently and effectively.”

Work at both buildings is expected to begin in the spring and could be completed by fall.

In addition, the volleyball program is seeking approximately $80,000 in private support to improve and expand its locker room space at Mem Gym.

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