Q&A with Dr. Randy O’Rear, President of University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, on Crusader Stadium

Crusader Stadium at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor will open on September 21. In anticipation of the opening, we spoke with Dr. Randy O’Rear, President of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, about the stadium, design process, and what it will mean for the campus and community.

POPULOUS: Could you talk a little bit about the design and construction process? Who was involved on campus?

DR. O’REAR: At University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, it started with conversations with Elizabeth and Drayton McLane, Jr., two great friends of our university, about our desire to roll out a new campus master plan. In the draft phase of this campus master plan, we included a football stadium. Drayton, who had worked with Earl Santee, one of the leading sports architects in the world, volunteered to introduce us to him and the folks at Populous. That’s where it began, and just a month or two later Drayton McLane, Jr., Drayton McLane III, and I sat down at lunch with Earl, toured the campus, selected a site, and soon thereafter hired the Populous design team.

POPULOUS: One of the stadium’s best attributes is that it combines student life and athletics with the student union building on the east side of the stadium. Why was this important to UMHB?

DR. O’REAR: As we developed our campus master plan, it was evident that we needed an on-campus football stadium. We compete in NCAA Division III athletics.  Schools in this division usually have small stadiums with a limited number of seats on the visitors’ side, or sometimes none at all.  Many of the stadiums were not built with a concern about aesthetics. We came up with a vision of having the student union serve as the backdrop for the visitors’ side, to better connect it to other aspects of campus life and to make our stadium appear larger and more complete.  We saw this as an opportunity for us to do something that could become the true center of our campus.  We could have never imagined that Earl would have turned our vision into what he did!

POPULOUS: You emphasize that UMHB students get an “experience of a lifetime.” How will the opening of Crusader stadium impact that experience for your student body?

DR. O’REAR: I have never seen the students or the community as excited as they are right now.  It’s so much more than a stadium for us–with the connection to student life and the student union, the video board, the amenities, we have a venue we can now use in ways we haven’t even imagined yet. It will be able to host graduation ceremonies, movies and other large events that will bring our student body together. The opportunities we have to be creative with student life programming and to open the facility to students all day every day is incredible. It will become a place for students to exercise, socialize with friends, sit in the upper deck and study and reflect on their experiences at UMHB. The stadium and student union building are really transformational for us as a university.

POPULOUS: How will this impact recruiting?

DR. O’REAR: It’s already affected recruiting in a magnificent way. UMHB has had a record enrollment for 5 years in a row now, and this year we’ve had largest percentage of growth – 205 more students than last year. It’s clear that Crusader Stadium has already made an impact on enrollment, and we believe it will continue to in the future as we recruit both students and athletes and bring them on campus. When they see the design and all the stadium and student union have to offer, we think it will help us to grow in a really great way.

POPULOUS: The impact on student life and recruiting is obviously important. How did you also consider how to reach out to the community with the addition of the stadium?

DR. O’REAR: As you know, football in Texas is a very big thing.  We knew if we designed something unique and distinctive and offered players and fans a great experience, our chances to host high school football playoff games would be enhanced greatly. It provides an opportunity to bring individuals who have never been to our campus to experience all the university has to offer.

POPULOUS: What do you think opening day will be like?

DR. O’REAR: I’m most looking forward to seeing our students have a great time and see the pride they have in their university. They are proud they are at UMHB. It’s a milestone for Mary Hardin-Baylor, and we have such great friends–the McLane family; our trustees, who have displayed such great vision; our partners at Populous and all the others involved–that helped us bring a stadium like this to UMHB. Saturday’s opening will be the culmination of all of those things coming together, and it will be a gratifying experience to be there, to watch everyone’s joy and to see thousands of Mary Hardin-Baylor fans. This is, in some ways, a conclusion of a long journey from what began as a dream, and now we’re here, actually cutting the ribbon and opening the stadium. It will be a banner day for the university.

POPULOUS: You have one of the most successful NCAA Division III football teams in the nation at UMHB. How will the stadium aid in publicizing the university’s successes?

DR. O’REAR: The word continues to spread about the quality of our academic and athletic programs. Many times the athletic programs are the first time prospective students hear about the school.  In some ways, athletics can serve as the front door to the school due to their high visibility in the press, particularly when you have a football program that has been as successful as ours. We just started our 16th season, and our record is 148-34. It’s remarkable what our football coaches and student athletes have done. They deserve this visibility and this facility. We want to win national championships, and our football program has a great opportunity to continue to compete and do so, which will bring continued visibility to the university.

Read more about Crusader Stadium here and hear from the architects in this video.

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