Shenandoah announces opening night for new athletics and events center

Shenandoah University will host its inaugural basketball games in the James R. Wilkins, Jr. Athletics & Events Center at the end of the month, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Bridget Lyons announced Thursday.

Beginning with a men’s and women’s doubleheader on Jan. 31, SU’s basketball teams will host a total of seven games in the 77,000-square-foot facility to finish out the regular season. The AEC replaces Shingleton Gymnasium, which was built in 1969, as the home for Hornets basketball.

First-year Hornets men’s basketball coach Adam Walsh wrote in an email Thursday afternoon that “I’m not sure that words can describe what this new building will mean for our players and our community.”

“Our players have been patiently waiting on this experience and we are excited to get this large senior class in there for the end of the season,” Walsh wrote. “Having our own spaces cannot be underscored when it comes to recruiting and retention. We hope that this facility serves as a great front porch to many in the community for engagement with our amazing campus!”

SU women’s head basketball coach Melissa Smeltzer-Kraft said her team has been using the new facility for practice since Jan. 11, and the school’s indoor track and field programs also moved into the AEC last week. The men’s basketball team, which has played seven of its last nine games on the road, will move into the new facility full time following a home game against Bridgewater next Wednesday.

“It has been absolutely amazing for all members of our program (players, coaches, trainers) to have our own state-of-the-art locker room, endless court space, etc,” Smeltzer-Kraft wrote in an email. “You can see and feel the excitement amongst our student athletes.”

Another men’s/women’s basketball doubleheader is scheduled for Feb. 10, during which both programs will celebrate senior day. The school will conduct a ceremony between the 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. contests that day to dedicate the playing court in the memory of former SU athletic director/head men’s basketball coach Dave Dutton and his wife, Kathy.

Dutton, who coached the Hornets from 1988-2000, led the men’s basketball team to the NCAA Tournament three times, while Kathy Dutton founded the university’s former dance team, the “Sensations.”

As AD, Dutton presided over a department that entered the Dixie Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (now the USA South), added six sports (men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s lacrosse and women’s soccer) and oversaw the construction of Shentel Stadium and Aikens Athletic Center.

Both Duttons passed away in 2001, Kathy after a one-year battle with cancer and Dave from a heart attack one month after Kathy’s death, according to a news release from the school.

“Having grown up watching Dave’s team in Shingleton, I know exactly what Dave and Kathy meant to Shenandoah and the community,” said Walsh, a Winchester native. “The community ties to basketball at Shenandoah all go back to Dave and his many efforts to build the program here. This building wouldn’t be a reality without Dave and Kathy Dutton’s impact on those they touched in their lives and the part they played in Shenandoah history. I am proud to carry the torch as one of Dave’s successors in my current position and I hope to live up to his character as a leader of this program.”

Shenandoah will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 and encourages all former student athletes who played for Dave Dutton, all former members of the “Sensations” and all Wilkins Athletics & Events Center donors to attend the ceremony, the release said. The university also will hold a reception for attendees of the ribbon-cutting ceremony and court dedication that same day from 12:45 p.m. until the 2 p.m. men’s game.

Shenandoah University plans to make the 200-meter indoor track available for public use on a limited basis in the near future, according to the release.

Admission is free to all of the above events and includes all regular-season men’s and women’s basketball games through Feb. 14.

“We are so excited to be hosting our first games on January 31,”  Lyons is quoted as saying in the release. “This facility is amazing, and we can’t wait to show it off to our fans here in the northern Shenandoah Valley.”