Photo by Skip Rowland '83
As part of William & Mary’s commemoration of 100 years of coeducation and women’s athletics, a $2.4 million commitment has been made by several donors to establish a new home for the women’s field hockey team. The development of the Tribe Field Hockey Center is being supported through a fundraising initiative called the Century Project, which has set into motion efforts designed to enhance the experience for women athletes and the caliber of the university’s facilities.
Nearly 60 people were in attendance during a groundbreaking ceremony for the multi-use facility on Wednesday. The facility was made possible by the generosity of many alumni, parents and friends of the university, including the lead donors: Cathy Bessant P ’18, John Clay P ’18, Kelly Donahue P ’18, P ’21 and Chris Donahue P ’18, P ’21, Maryellen Farmer Feeley ’85, Ed Feeley M.B.A ’85, Tracy Leinbach ’81 and Millie West HON ’91, L.H.D ’17.
“For 100 years, William & Mary women have embraced academics and athletics with equal passion, and they have played a pivotal role in the history of the institution,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “Athletics will be integral to our bold pursuit of excellence in the coming years, and this new facility reflects the important role our women will play in that effort.”
Rendering by Darin DeBlasio with McKinney and Company
The Tribe Field Hockey Center, which is expected to be completed by summer 2019, will have a locker room, rooftop patio, meeting space and public restrooms. It will also feature video streaming capability that will provide live viewing of the games. The Women’s Lacrosse team will also benefit from access to the building during their fall practices and clinics at Busch Field.
"We have loved William & Mary for years,” said the Bessant/Clay family in a statement. “We are so proud to help create a legacy of greatness, and to honor the incredible leadership of Peel Hawthorne ’80 and Tess Ellis by creating a space that field hockey owns. Go Tribe!"
The groundbreaking comes on the heels of last month’s William & Mary Women’s Weekend, which served as the signature event in the yearlong commemoration of coeducation. The new facility is one of many symbols of this anniversary celebration and serves as a lasting tribute to those who influenced the first 100 years of women’s athletics, according to several donors of the project.
“William & Mary women have paved their own way in athletics. From the moment they entered the university, they formed sports teams and competed on numerous fields of play. Though forced to overcome gender boundaries daily, their athletic prowess stretched from Williamsburg to the national stage,” said Sue Hanna Gerdelman ’76, chair of the For the Bold campaign. “It is remarkable to see the evolution of the women’s athletics program from its beginning a century ago to today.”
Currently, there are 11 varsity women’s sports at William & Mary.
The university’s field hockey program has a long history beginning with Martha Barksdale (class of 1921) who played on and coached William & Mary teams in the first half of the 20th century. Barksdale was one of the first 24 women to attend the university in 1918. Over the years, women’s field hockey at William & Mary has been highly competitive, reaching national prominence in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in the 1970s and in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) in the 2000s.
“We are thrilled to honor a century of women at William & Mary with the groundbreaking of the Tribe Field Hockey Center, generously funded by donors to the Century Project,” said Athletics Director Samantha K. Huge. “This facility is a physical manifestation of the strength and excellence of Tribe women athletes through the years and I am proud that the Tribe Field Hockey Center will serve our student-athletes for generations to come while recognizing the enormous contributions of women to William & Mary."
The new facility, funded through many donors to the Century Project at Busch Field, helped make the dream of a quality multi-use building a reality for women athletes at William & Mary. Read more about the generous lead donors to this project.
Cathy Bessant and John Clay have served on the university’s Parent and Family Council. Their daughter, Meredith Clay '18, is a member of the Tribe Field Hockey team. Bessant is the chief operations and technology officer at Bank of America. Clay, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, worked as a Navy pilot for 20 years before retiring in 2001.
Kelly and Chris Donahue are the parents of Emmye ’18 and Ella Donahue ’21. Emmye worked with the Athletics Department’s marketing team while she was a student at William & Mary. Ella is a sophomore on the William & Mary Women’s Field Hockey team. Chris is a pathologist in the Richmond area. Kelly and Chris are both graduates of the University of Virginia.
Maryellen Farmer Feeley, who played field hockey while a student at William & Mary, is a trustee on the William & Mary Foundation and chairs the Athletics Sub-Committee. She is also a member of the W&M NYC Campaign Committee. Ed and Maryellen Feeley committed the final gift needed to fund the facility.
Tracy Leinbach had a Hall of Fame career for the Tribe as a member of the women’s golf team. She is also in the W&M Athletics Hall of Fame. After graduation, she had a successful business career that included serving as the chief financial officer and executive vice president of a Fortune 500 company, Ryder System, Inc. Leinbach also served on the William & Mary Foundation Board.
Millie West was the first director of women’s athletics before that department merged with the men’s program. For 50 years she worked for William & Mary Athletics as a tennis coach, administrator and fundraiser. In 2010 the tennis facility adjacent to Busch Field was named in her honor.