Washington-Grizzly Champions Center: UM cuts ribbon on new athletic training facility

Herschel Walker speaks at the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center dedication. (GoGriz.com)

When Justin Green first came to the University of Montana as a running back in 2002, part of what drew him to Missoula was talk of new facilities.

“That was part of the recruiting trip, that there was going to be a new locker room and weight room,” said Green, who, 15 years later is now the running backs coach at his alma mater. “It’s definitely been a long time coming.”

Shann Schillinger – another former Griz and NFL veteran-turned coach – also remembers hearing rumblings about a new facility during his time on the field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

“It was always in talks, but we never saw a design,” said Schillinger. “I never actually believed it until I saw them put the shovel in the ground. Then I knew it was real.”

What has been a dream of hundreds, if not thousands, of Grizzly student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans over the decades is now a reality.

On a chilly Friday afternoon on Homecoming weekend, the ribbon was officially cut on the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center – a state-of-the-art training facility for all 15 of Montana’s varsity programs, new football locker room, and more – ushering in new championship standard for Grizzly Athletics.

What started with a grand vision and a $7 million lead gift from Kyle and Kevin Washington on behalf of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation in 2014 has become a reality.

“This is a wonderful moment for any Grizzly fan and the Missoula community. It’s been something we talked about growing up here, going to high school and college here,” said Kevin Washington.

“Hopefully what we’ve contributed here – the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center – will get this program back to truly a champion level. That’s our goal, and it starts here. Hopefully, the community will embrace it for a lot of years and come watch their kids come up here, grow here, and win.”

With the Washingtons’ lead gift, Montana director of athletics Kent Haslam and his staff set out to capture the imagination of Grizzly supporters and donors around the country and finally put dreams to paper, and shovels to dirt.

“Today we re-celebrate that amazing donation and the donations of many, many others that made the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center a reality,” Haslam said to a crowd of roughly 500 gathered for the ribbon cutting.

What has come to fruition after nearly two years of construction is nothing short of a game-changer for Grizzly Athletics, and a project Haslam called “the most significant investment in the University of Montana’s student-athletes in the history of this university,” with a nod to former Griz like Green and Shillinger who have heard about it for most of their adult lives.

“To say this is a program-changing day is an absolute understatement,” Haslam added. “What started as a concept, a vision of what could happen, a vision some thought just couldn’t be done, couldn’t fit in this space, couldn’t be done on budget, on time. … Well, guess what folks, we did it.”

The dream even inspired former Heisman Trophy winner and Washington family friend Herschel Walker, who was on hand in Missoula to help dedicate the building.

“I’m so proud of Kevin and Kyle,” said the two-time Pro Bowl running back. “I heard from a great man, a man by the name of Tom Landry, who said, when you take something out of society, put something back in.”

And for the second time in school history, the Washington family has put something big back into Grizzly Athletics, setting the stage for future generations of successful Griz teams.

The 51,000-square-foot building includes not only a new football locker room but facilities for all of Montana’s over 300 student-athletes to help them perform at their very best.

“I’m going to tell you the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center is one of the best centers I’ve seen in a lot of the many places I’ve been,” Walker added. “You’re going to have champions here, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

The Champions Center features five team meeting rooms for use by all of Montana’s program’s as well as a new football team meeting room dedicated to the 1995 National Championship team that will also be used to host recruits on game day.

The new Athletic Performance Center features 20 full four-post weight racks with 20 half-racks attached on the back side, allowing the entire football or track team or multiple groups of student-athletes to train simultaneously.

Upstairs is a 67-foot lane of turf for running and sprinting drills, with built-in speed ladders and an embedded Griz script logo, allowing for training, rehab, and cardio work to be done while the weight room is in use.

The football locker room is also one of the showpiece spaces in the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center, giving the Griz a much-needed update to the cramped living quarters they’ve been housed in for decades.

“You see the student-athletes just now walking through there and they’re just vibrating,” said Kyle Washington, after watching Griz athletes tour the facility.

Adjacent to the player’s locker room is a locker room specifically for former Griz who have gone on to the professional ranks to utilize when they return to Missoula to train in the offseason, and will also house Montana’s coaching staff.

What can you say to the family that kick-started such a tremendous giving effort, and the multitudes of other supporters who enthusiastically chipped in to make the facility come to life? For Haslam, the answer was simple.

“On behalf of the University of Montana Grizzly student-athletes and coaches, I say to Mr. and Mrs. Washington, to Kyle and Kevin and their families, to all the others whose names are listed on that donor board inside, thank you. Thank you very much.”

BUILDING SPECIFICATIONS

  • 51,000+ square foot Washington-Grizzly Champions Center
  • 19,400+ square foot Athletic Performance Center for all student-athletes
  • Jared and Maile Losing Nutrition/Refueling Station
  • 7,100+ square foot football locker room featuring 118 lockers
    • Produced by Longhorn Lockers of Venus, TX
  • The Markovich Family Professional Athlete and Coaches’ Locker Room
  • 2,000 square foot team room for football
    • Gift of $300,000 presented by the 1995 Grizzly National Championship Team
  • Five meeting rooms for use by all student-athletes named after
    • John Hoyt
    • Mike and Gloria Tilleman
    • Mick Delaney
    • The Tabish Family
  • Additional restrooms and concession stands along the southwest stadium concourse

CONSTRUCTION

  • Facility Masterplan by sportsPLAN Studio of Kansas City, MO
  • Architect of record is CTA Architects of Missoula, MT
  • Construction by Jackson Contractor Group, Inc. of Missoula, MT
  • Interior graphics package by superGraphics of Seattle, WA

FUNDING

  • 100 percent privately funded with a $7 million lead gift from Kevin and Kyle Washington on behalf of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation
  • No State or University funds used in construction of the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center
  • Project completed on time, and on budget