Athletics department’s move from Diddle has its ups and downs

J. Michael Moore

It had to be done.

No one expected it to be easy, but there were the dirty facts.

Diddle Arena had a date with the wrecking ball, and the workers inside needed a new home.

Moving Western’s entire athletics department wasn’t something Athletics Director Wood Selig dreamed up for fun. But thus far, the department’s move to the old Bowling Green Junior High School has worked just fine.

Despite some minor headaches and inconveniences, Selig said the temporary workspace has been beneficial to the program.

The improvements to Diddle are on schedule. Selig said restrooms will be ready by Nov. 9, with concessions and other improvements close behind.

He said the basketball teams and other offices could move back soon after.

“It has been a ‘We’re all in this together’ mentality,” Selig said. “It has served to unify many areas of the department and pull us all together in ways that we have previously not been unified.”

They’ve been brought closer in a space much bigger than the cramped confines of Diddle Arena.

Selig’s new office lies in an area once occupied by an assistant principal. Boxes are scattered on the floor, and pictures struggle to fill the ample wall space. It’s more than double the size of the director’s space in Diddle and is bigger than any space he’ll have after the renovation.

It’s the same scene throughout the building – offices in large classrooms, departments and staffs grouped together in sprawling spaces.

Women’s basketball coach Mary Taylor Cowles shares a science lab with her entire staff. Desks line the perimeter, and a couch and TV occupy the center of the room.

Coaches and staffs who never had offices together now find themselves sharing the same abundant space.

That’s not the only advantage the old school building provides. There’s more spoiling the department, making life without Diddle acceptable.

For the first time ever, the athletics department has unlimited parking – something that is quickly becoming a luxury on Western’s campus.

Jim Cope, ticket manager at the Hilltopper ticket office, said he doesn’t believe the location has increased ticket sales, but knows that it’s much easier for customers to do their business in person while the offices are at the junior high school.

“Parking has been great,” Cope said, sitting at a desk tucked neatly behind a small dividing wall.

The ticket office takes up a standard classroom, with plenty of space for concept drawings and seating charts.

“When you do business on campus, you have the problem of having to find a spot,” Cope said.

Some former Diddle tenants remain on campus. Assistant athletics director Craig Biggs said trailers on Big Red Way in front of Diddle will continue to house members of the recreation department, the men’s basketball team and ROTC program.

Other than that, every office in Diddle was moved to the junior high in a massive move that lasted several weeks – one of the few drawbacks of the relocation.

Selig said many student-athletes helped move boxes and equipment during the final days of the spring semester. Others helped weed through an unforeseen clerical mess.

“When you move at the end of the year, there’s a lot of things that you weed out and throw away,” Selig said. “Now we’re down to more of the essential operational components of our program. So, we’re scaled down from a ‘junk’ perspective, and we have our necessities.”

Biggs said two garbage dumpsters used to hold trash from the cleaning out process had to be emptied “every couple of days.”

The weight room looks like it has been emptied out, but only because it has moved into a room almost three times the size of its previous home.

Dwane Hall, a strength coach in the athletics department, has his desk on a tiny stage, overlooking the junior high’s old cafeteria, now filled with free weights and other equipment.

Squares of red carpet spot the floor, protecting the olive green tile and covering ketchup stains from lunches past. The facility is big, but has one inherent problem – location.

Hall said he hasn’t had much trouble getting his athletes off the Hill for their daily workouts. The junior high is seven-tenths of a mile from the front steps of Downing University Center.

He’s concerned that some athletes will complain when their training season starts later this fall. Getting up at 6 a.m. is problem enough.

“We have kids that catch rides or borrow cars,” Hall said. “Some jog down here and will use that as their warm up, so they don’t have to spend as much time doing that when they get here.”

But other teams in the midst of their seasons have expressed more concerns about the increased travel time and distance. Some lament the loss of their home court.

The volleyball team practices at the junior high, which has a refinished court, but now plays its home matches on a cramped court in the Preston Health and Activities Center. That’s a fact that doesn’t thrill coach Travis Hudson, whose young team is trying to find an identity without a real place to call home.

“As a coach, you don’t go into the season saying, ‘Boy I hope we’re real young and have no place to play,'” Hudson said at the start of the season.

And women’s soccer coach Jason Neidell gets a little concerned when his players decide to jog or walk down to the weight room, hoping they don’t get over-worked in the middle of the season.

But most keep their eye on the ball, knowing the rewards that are coming from a new Diddle will far surpass the annoyances of the present.

“We’re going to benefit from it because we’re going to have a new weight room, and we’re going to have a beautiful auxiliary gym where we can schedule and play some indoor soccer, too,” Neidell said.

He’s not alone. Most everyone that has been relocated stands to benefit when construction is complete. Everything about the new arena will wear the new-and-improved tag, but it won’t be as spacious as their current home.

“(Diddle) is going to be a construction site throughout the year,” Selig said. “It’s going to be interesting for students and fans because every week they come in there they’ll notice something new has come on board.”

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]