A New Stadium for Lacrosse
by Virginia Weir
Over the last ten years, Fairfield’s men’s lacrosse team has emerged as a national force to be reckoned with. This past April, for instance, the Stags were ranked as high as #13 and found themselves facing the Denver Pioneers, the nation’s number-one ranked team. In an overtime thriller, Fairfield won with a score by senior Sam Snow. It was the first time Fairfield had ever beaten the best team in the nation.
“That win was really a milestone for Fairfield lacrosse, and we’re looking for more,” said Athletics Director Gene Doris. “The attention we’re getting from lacrosse is really raising the profile of the University.”
There has long been the understanding that Fairfield needed a facility that would support national championship ambitions. Now, thanks to a generous leadership gift from former University Trustee Larry Rafferty ’64 and his wife Barbara, their daughter Kathleen Rafferty Hay ’03, and son Michael Rafferty, that facility will become a reality. As soon as fundraising efforts are complete, Alumni Field is set to be renovated into a large-scale stadium where Fairfield’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams will permanently make their home: Rafferty Stadium.
“The new stadium will be good for lacrosse, but more importantly it will help bring a lot of visibility to Fairfield and raise our institutional profile,” said Rafferty. “The whole Rafferty family is thrilled to be a part of it.”
Invented by North American Indians, the game of lacrosse is considered by many to be America’s first sport. The game is fast and fun – a combination of basketball, soccer, and hockey, requiring a high level of agility and athleticism.
Today, lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing sports, popular among both men and women. The first Division I NCAA championship for men’s lacrosse was established in 1971, and in 1982 for women. In 2012, there were 671 college teams at the NCAA level, and more than 500 college club programs.
Like the sport itself, Fairfield’s lacrosse programs have been growing in national stature since the University established a Division I presence in 1993 for the men and 1997 for women.
“Momentum has been building around lacrosse at Fairfield, and it’s so great to see the teams doing well, and alumni and fans coming together to support them,” said University Trustee Brian Hull ’80, P’13, a driving force behind the new stadium and an active member of the Friends of Lacrosse group. “And a wonderful thing about having a top-flight facility is that it will bring attention to us not just for athletics, but for Fairfield’s many other offerings – the great education here, the unique location, and the sense of an exciting future. We’re all really grateful to the Raffertys.”
Alumni Field has served the University’s needs well, but it was not designed with the current level of competition in mind.
“Right now, spectator seating and amenities are severely lacking,, and fans have to literally walk across the edge of the field,” stated Associate Vice President for Facilities David Frassinelli. “For Division I play, the current stadium is simply inadequate.”
Doris concurred. “I have been amazed at the lacrosse facilities built in the last five years. To remain competitive at the level of our peers, the new stadium is significant,” he said. “The Walsh Athletic Center is the hub of our athletics activity, and having a beautiful new stadium right next door will help our recruiting efforts for all sports.”
Planning a new venue from the ground up has provided Facilities Management with an opportunity to address a number of issues, including lighting and sound, according to Frassinelli. Advancements in technology will result in better quality lighting and sound in Rafferty Stadium with less impact on the neighborhoods surrounding the campus. The existing six light poles will be replaced with four taller poles that will point down on the field, rather than across the field, achieving the NCAA’s recommended lighting levels without the light spillage associated with the old technology. Eliminating night sky illumination, or the “halo,” is an important element of green design that will be achieved with the new installation. Sound technology has also progressed to be better focused and minimize ambient noise.
Neighbors were engaged early on in the planning. Frassinelli even took several for a visit to another field in New Rochelle to show them how the specialized lighting worked.
Seating capacity of 3,500 will remain the same, but bleachers will span both sides of the field, relieving “pinch points” and allowing space to walk freely around the perimeter of the field. The majority of the seating will be shifted to the west side. The entire field will be shifted slightly east and south, and construction will take advantage of existing elevated grades on the east side. The playing surface will be a high quality artificial turf complemented by the state-of-the-art lighting and video scoreboard. Adequate bathrooms, concessions, and visiting team locker rooms will be constructed in the concourse area, and an attractive press box, complete with two VIP suites and center-field camera locations for television broadcasting, will sit at the top of the main grandstands.
While primarily a lacrosse stadium, other teams will continue to use the field, including Fairfield Prep football, soccer, and lacrosse, and other University club and intramural teams.
“The new stadium will have much better functionality,” noted Frassinelli, “When fans come to Rafferty Stadium, there will be a definite sense of arrival.”
Ready to roll
The estimated cost of the stadium is approximately $9 million. With the Rafferty family gift and other pledges from alumni and parents, approximately two-thirds of that amount has now been committed with fundraising efforts continuing to raise the rest. The project is fully approved by the Town of Fairfield and the construction documents are almost complete. The University’s goals are to start construction next spring and complete Rafferty Stadium by the start of the 2015 lacrosse season.
“We’ll now be able to host conference championships and state high school championships,” Doris said. “There’s no question that Rafferty Stadium will bring Fairfield greater exposure and recognition nationally. It really is a strategic investment in our University.”
A new stadium, talented student-athletes, great coaching, and top-ranked opponents — all in a popular, fast-growing sport. In the world of lacrosse, Fairfield is poised to be a perennial contender on the national scene.
Visit www.fairfield.edu/newstadium to view an animated illustration of the new stadium.
National Championship Ambitions
by John Torsiello
Fairfield University Athletics Director Gene Doris, the ultimate goal for the men’s lacrosse team is simple but lofty: to win an NCAA Championship.
“That is attainable,” he said. “I believe the men’s lacrosse program is on track to be in the top 10 annually.”
Recent facts back Doris up. Two years ago, under the guidance of head coach Andy Copelan – now in his fifth year at the post – the Stags were ranked as high as 13th in the nation, and finished the season ranked 17th with wins over Ohio State, Air Force, and Denver.
Last year, Fairfield finished 8-7 with impressive victories over the Naval Academy, Michigan, Hobart, Air Force, and Denver, reaching the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) tournament semifinals. Under Copelan, the Stags have enjoyed a 35-24 mark and have shown they can compete with the best Division I lacrosse programs in the nation.
Fairfield has become a very attractive choice for the best high school players in the nation. Recruits for 2013-14 hail from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, California, and Washington State.
This year’s Stags will have a good mix of strong upperclassmen who will lead the newcomers. “We have a strong senior class that has matured appropriately during their time on campus and ultimately we will go as far as they take us,” he said.
The Stags will also be moving to a new conference in 2015, moving from ECAC to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), which has been a premier lacrosse league since its inception.
“The landscape of lacrosse has dramatically changed in the past 10 years,” Doris explained. “Very few all-sport conferences sponsored the sport, and so the only conferences that existed were single-sport conferences like the ECAC, which was a pioneer. As the sport has grown, all-sport conferences began to sponsor lacrosse. As a result, the ECAC, arguably the best conference over the past three years, could not sustain itself. We are fortunate, because of our recent success, that the Colonial Athletic Association welcomed us.”
Drexel, Hofstra, St. Joseph’s, and Towson universities are in the CAA, as well as the universities of Delaware and Massachusetts.
Copelan is thrilled about the switch to the CAA. “This is a great move for Fairfield lacrosse. Conference affiliation makes a statement about your program without having to say a word. As we were evaluating things, we wanted to be cognizant about how our strength of schedule RPI (Rating Percentage Index) would be affected; we wanted a chance to compete for the conference championship; and we wanted our recruitment to be aided by the affiliation.”
Rafferty Stadium, the new home for lacrosse, which will be built in 2014, will enhance the University’s ability to recruit the highest level of player and schedule top-quality non-conference opponents, Doris said.
Copelan was enthusiastic about the impact the new stadium will have on the program.
“Rafferty Stadium will be at the very core of our future,” he said. “The school’s willingness to undertake this project is a clear statement about where they see the lacrosse programs fitting into the overall fabric of Fairfield University. We want to make sure we are doing our part to help Fairfield’s overall growth.”