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February 09. 2014 4:22PM

Virginia Theo-Steelman, David Steelman and Nick Vailas: Why we alumni support UNH's new football stadium proposal

We are all proud alumni of public higher education in New Hampshire, and we are eager to express our support for the expansion of the UNH football stadium in Durham. We now sit as football fans in the current stadium, which was built in 1923.

The last time the University of New Hampshire directed significant funding to athletic and recreation facilities was the early 1990s — 20 years ago — when the Whittemore Center was built and the old Snively Arena renovated for fitness space. In that same period, UNH spent more than $340 million on new and refurbished academic buildings on the Durham campus. As the largest university in the state, UNH's primary mission must always be to provide academic and research opportunities for all students, and it serves the state well in this regard. It is one of only nine land, sea and space institutions in the nation. It ranks high in terms of Fulbright fellowships awarded, as one of the best entrepreneurial colleges in the nation, as a top national university in terms of competitive admissions standards, and as one of the highest rated schools in the country for its efforts in sustainability.

Although academics are the highest priority of the state's flagship pubic university, it is also important that other important priories be considered. The entire campus experience — where you eat, where you sleep, where you study and learn, where you exercise and join clubs, and where you celebrate pride and spirit — is what makes UNH a special place. That should include a modern athletic complex suited to the size and rising visibility of UNH.

We are thrilled to know that an overhaul of the current stadium will soon be underway. Our nationally ranked football team deserves to play in a facility that is worthy of its accomplishments. Our Wildcats won three playoff games (Lafayette, Maine, Southeastern Louisiana) for the first time ever this year, and they hold the national record for consecutive post-season playoff berths. The team was ranked in the Top 25 for 140 consecutive weeks (longest in nation) and its final ranking of No. 5 in 2013 ties the highest in school history (2005).

A new athletic complex is about more than a winning football team. It's about improving recruitment, student satisfaction, and greater visibility for UNH and the region. It's about building spirit and pride in New Hampshire's flagship public university. It's about the state's economy — a stadium that can host more state, regional and national competitions that will bring more people who spend more money in Durham, the Seacoast, and the entire state. It's about engaging alumni, parents, and other community supporters in the life and purposes of the university.

Each of us went on to earn graduate degrees at other universities (Northeastern, Boston University, and Michigan) in other states. Yet we're all proud supporters of the University of New Hampshire and we're putting our financial and fan support behind this project. We're confident the $5 million fundraising goal will soon be met and we're proud to be part of it. As we like to say, every day is a great day to be a UNH Wildcat!

Virginia Theo-Steelman, UNH '62 and '69G, currently serves on the UNH Manchester advisory board, and formerly served on the University System of NH Board of Trustees. David Steelman, UNH '67 and '70G, is a retired lawyer and former vice president of the National Center for State Courts. Nick Vailas is a 1976 Plymouth State University alumnus and president of Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center.


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