The evolution of Skidmore's athletic facilities

Posted by Katie Peverada

Skidmore College has been around for about 100 years, over which the athletic facilities have undergone serious renovations. Still today, though, students have a tendency to criticize the condition and shape of the athletic facilities that the college has. All students take advantage of the aerobics room, weight room and intramural gym, while the basketball and volleyball teams compete in the main gymnasium and the swim teams use the six-lane pool for their meets. The tennis teams play on nine outdoor courts while soccer and lacrosse play on Wachenheim Field. Field hockey does its playing at Wagner Park, as does the softball team. All of these fields are on campus, but baseball and ice hockey play off campus, at Ingram Park and the Saratoga Springs Ice Rink, respectively. Additionally, the riding team goes off campus to the Van Lennep Riding Center.
But even though some teams have to go off campus and the winter months prove to be difficult as several teams try to schedule time at the gym for practice, all of Skidmore's teams and students are pretty lucky to have these facilities: there was a time when such things were an afterthought of the school.
Technically, the college's first gymnasium was the Young Women Industrial Club's clubhouse on Regent Street, which had a gymnasium and bowling alley. In 1904, physical education wasn't a major part of the curriculum or student life.
Skidmore's first athletic field is no more, as the school purchased it before moving to its present day location. In the spring of 1916, ten anonymous Saratoga Springs citizens donated $18,000 to the board of trustees for the purchase of an athletic field on Regent Street. The field, which students used for informal athletics, ensured that Skidmore owned the whole block (Union Avenue, Circular, Spring and Regent Streets).
Later that year, then-President Charles Keyes started the push for a gymnasium for the school, but not for the reasons one would think. It turns out that in order for Skidmore to meet the requirements of the state to confer baccalaureate degrees, they had to build a gymnasium (in addition to buildings like a library and a classroom building). Skidmore became an accredited college in 1922, but more importantly, by 1925, the new gymnasium and Cochran Pool were under construction.
Today's swimmers might be interested to know that back in the 1910s, students swam at the Saratoga Reservation pool on Phila Street for a small fee of 20 cents (about $4.64 in 2013 dollars).
Skidmore's riders didn't move to the Van Lennep Riding Center until 1970. In 1949, Skidmore acquired a part of the famed Yaddo artists' retreat property, and promptly built a riding stable in addition to several athletic fields. The property became known as Fifty Acres and served as the recreation center for about 10 years. In 1959, the chair of physical education, Margaret Paulding, pushed the trustees to build a bigger gymnasium space and a larger swimming pool.
By the early 1960s, the budding college was breaking ground on a new campus located on the Woodlawn estate (where the college is located today).
When Skidmore became co-ed in 1971, it struggled to attract male applicants due to the lack of sports facilities on campus. The gymnasium on Regent Street was deficient. Its basketball hoops were the women-regulated nine feet off the ground, much to the chagrin of the male students. Thus, in 1976 a temporary gymnasium was built and the push for a more vibrant athletic program began. This temporary gym, though, was not much better than the facility on Regent Street. It had an asphalt floor, making volleyball and basketball dangerous activities.
In 1982, a new sports center finally opened on campus. By 1994 it had to be expanded again, which resulted in the artificial-turf field, lighting, electronic scoreboard and press box that are there today. Training rooms, weight rooms and an aerobic room were also added in the 1994 expansion. In October of 2010, the facility was named the Williamson Sports Center in honor of trustee and longtime benefactor Susan Kettering Williamson '59.
Today, there are a lot of complaints about the shape of Skidmore's athletic facilities. But if Skidmore students and athletes look at the whole picture, they can't help but be grateful. The basketball teams have three courts, the softball team has a turf field and swimming has a six-lane pool -- all marked improvements over the facilities from the 1920s to the 1970s.

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