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Pitt lands big donation

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By Ralph Paulk
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009

Pitt received a major donation Tuesday to help finance its $29-million Olympic sports complex, an on-campus facility for its baseball, softball and soccer programs.

John and Gertrude Petersen, major donors of the Petersen Event Center, made what university officials said is a "generous and substantial gift."

The facility, scheduled for completion in January 2011, is being built on the peak of Pitt's upper campus.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said the Petersens' donation will significantly enhance the university's ability to develop competitive programs to complement already successful football and men's basketball programs. The Panthers are ranked 20th in the latest Associated Press football poll. And the men's basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight last season.

"It's certainly such a significant part of the future of this our athletic programs," Pederson said. "Our facilities have been substandard by almost any measure, and as with the gift for the Petersen Center for basketball, the Petersens have helped put us on the road toward great opportunities in baseball, softball and men's and women's soccer.

"We are very grateful for that and excited about what the future holds. For us to have top-notch facilities gives us the opportunity to bid on Big East events and NCAA championships in various sports."

All of the fields at the new complex, with the exception of the softball infield, will have field turf. Pederson said that will enable those programs to play high-level games and prolong their seasons, particularly more home games.

"We can play (more) year-round than we have been previously. Particularly early spring, it's been tough to play baseball in this part of the country," Pederson said. "Now, we'll be fine. There will be almost endless opportunities to play bigger games on campus."

Also, Petersen said the new complex will position Pitt to continue to hire premier coaches and recruit some of the country's top athletes.

"Certainly, you want to compete no matter what the facilities may be," Pederson said. "But when it comes to attracting top-notch student-athletes and being able to give them the best facilities to train and giving them a competitive advantage at home, there's no question that the upgrade for our program is extremely significant.

"In all these sports, they're going to have facilities that are competitive with any school in the country, which helps with recruiting and performance. We have high expectations about what this can do for those particular sports."

John Petersen, a 1951 Pitt graduate and retired president and CEO of the Erie Insurance Group, said, "It is a great pleasure for Gertrude and me to again contribute to the university's success and future."

The Petersen Sports Complex will include a baseball stadium with hitting and pitching practice areas, synthetic grass, team dugouts and a press box. The softball stadium will have a skinned infield with an artificial grass outfield.

Mark Nordenberg, the university's chancellor, said the complex fulfills a longtime goal of having world-class practice facilities and competition sites.

Pederson said the project has been in the works for 10 years. He added that fundraising has accelerated for the project, which broke ground last fall.

"It's been a combination of a number of things, including the acquisition of the land and a fundraising component," said Pederson, who added that the university hopes to add a new track and field facility in the future. "It's hasn't been a simple project to put together. Now that it's coming to reality, it's really exciting."

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