Generous donation launches ‘Laker for Life’ campaign

Marco Cicchino, Staff writer

At a news conference on Feb. 5 in Ryan Hall’s Waterford Room, the Mercyhurst Athletics department, in conjunction with President Michael T. Victor and Mercyhurst Prep, launched the “Laker for Life” campaign.

This campaign is a fundraising initiative with the ultimate goal of a combined $9.5 million towards renovation to the campus’s two athletic fields and the Mercyhurst Ice Center, spearheaded by the largest alumni donation in school history.

“The launch of the ‘Laker for Life’ campaign signifies a new direction and vision for Mercyhurst Athletics,” Mercyhurst Athletic Director Brad Davis told “Because of the generous donations of the Vorsheck and Saxon families and the commitment to athletics from President Victor, Mercyhurst will transform its athletic programs and significantly enhance the student-athlete experience. We look forward to beginning our facility improvements this summer.”

Spearheading the campaign is Betsy Hirt Vorsheck, a 1973 graduate of Mercyhurst Prep and a 1977 graduate of what was then Mercyhurst College, and her husband William. They donated $4 million for the project, the largest single donation to the school in its 91-year history.

School trustee John Saxon, ’89, has added an additional $1 million and will act as the campaign chair, with both families garnering naming rights to the renovated facilities via their donations going specifically to this cause.

A timeline has yet to be announced but will take form over the next two months, according to Davis.

The current outline for the campaign is spelled out in three specific areas, the first of the two main prongs being a renovation to what will now be termed the Vorsheck Athletic Complex, the area currently including Tullio Field and the Mercyhurst soccer field.

A third turf ground is slated for construction to the south of these fields, on the hill between the university and the motherhouse on East Grandview Boulevard, and is projected for use by both the softball and soccer programs along with the university’s lacrosse and field hockey teams.

The field succeeds Potreth Field at East 41st Street and Sunset Boulevard as the home venue for the university’s softball program and will allow both Mercyhurst University and Mercyhurst Prep to host on-campus softball tournaments for the first time. The current plan is also for the three other programs to both play and practice there, using it as an alternative game day site for Tullio Field — which will be renamed for Saxon — when construction begins in May.

The existing Tullio Field will see renovations of its own, including an immediate addition of LED lighting that will allow for both extended practice times and hosting a night football game for the first time since Aug. 26.

According to Davis, the current lights are inadequate by NCAA standards, allowing teams to practice at night but not host intercollegiate contests. Later renovations include a re-sodding of the artificial playing surface, just the third in its 22-year history and first since switching to FieldTurf in 2009.

Meanwhile, the existing soccer field will be resod and relit latter in the campaign, with renovations possible for seating, the backstop and bullpens.

The Ice Center will also be renovated. The donation will pay for replacing the rubber floor, installing ice-manufacturing and cooling systems, and adding a new system of dashers and end-boards.
Further Ice Center renovations are still in their planning phase, according to the campaign’s homepage, but are slated to include renovations to the VIP area and press box, the related addition of luxury suites, the expansion of the reserved space for the ice resurfacing machines and addition of a second machine, potential seating changes with chairback seats to replace the existing metal bleachers and a new aesthetic appearance with new paint and graphics.

The locker rooms will continue to see upgrades, with permanent spaces for softball and women’s soccer also coming this summer after the Division I facilities were completed two years ago.
No official mention has been made of which project will take priority.

A third project involves renovations to the Mercyhurst Athletic Center, initially opened in 1977 but without renovations for a prolonged amount of time, according to the campaign homepage.
The Athletic Center will see an expansion of its floor, while the main facility will see a removal of its stage and renovations to the seating and scoreboards. According to the homepage, the playing surface is “nearing the end of its usable life and will be replaced in the next several years.”

The area reserved for rowing is also included in these plans, including renovations to their training facilities and upgrades for their winter training tanks.

According to the Laker for Life homepage, the partnership with Mercyhurst Prep allows for “greater access and additional square footage making a greater impact for our student-athletes.”
Many student-athletes have spoken highly of the changes, saying they will provide a safer environment for both practice and competition, an ideal that may trump the additional reasoning for the campaign.

“Mercyhurst seeks to build upon this tradition of innovation by creating a plan that redefines the student-athlete experience in a historic way,” according to the Laker for Life homepage.