CHAMPAIGN — The Demirjian family of Decatur is delivering one of the largest gifts in University of Illinois athletics history in order to provide a new facility for women’s soccer and men’s and women’s track and field.
News of the $7 million gift was communicated to student-athletes Wednesday, some of whom were moved to tears.
“I’m so excited,” said freshman distance runner Rebecca Craddock of Brunswick, Ohio, who was with a group of track and field athletes who met with the Demirjian family Wednesday. “When it’s completed I’ll be a senior so I’ll get to use it. It’s so cool.”
The project, called Demirjian Park, which will be executed in phases and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2021.
Kara Demirjian-Huss and Richard Demirjian spoke on behalf of the family, which in 2004 also provided the lead gift for construction of the J. Gerald Demirjian Indoor Golf Practice Facility that benefits men’s and women’s golf teams. Family members making the donation are Richard and Anne Demirjian, Kara Demirjian-Huss and Mark Huss, Simone Demirjian and J. Gerald Demirjian.
The two facilities that bear the Demirjian name will be located directly across the street from each other on St. Mary’s Road.
Richard Demirjian, who is serving on the committee driving the athletic department’s quest to raise $300 million for facilities, scholarships and other “enhancements,” said the chance to directly impact sports that include 25 percent of the university’s student-athletes was a major factor.
“We believe in (Athletics Director) Josh Whitman’s vision, recognize the opportunity and realize that the time is now to make a difference,” Richard Demirjian said.
Kara Demirjian-Huss said she was also drawn by the chance to impact economic development in the area by providing a facility that can draw major events to the university. Whitman said the creation of the facility will allow Illinois to host the Big Ten Conference outdoor track and field championships in 2021.
Kara Demirjian-Huss said they’ve already talked about bringing events beyond the typical college track and soccer competitions, including the potential for luring exhibition pro soccer events or major high school events.
Until the announcement of Demirjian Park, track and field and soccer have not had a single home. Instead, they have shared facilities and lacked a central area. That will change with this facility.
Whitman described state-of-the-art amenities that will include locker rooms, video and meeting rooms, lounge and study spaces, sports medicine and nutrition facilities and coaches’ offices.
Demirjian Park will reshape the fan experience. An innovative design will feature dual grandstands – one block of seats facing east for soccer, the other facing west for track and field. Included will be permanent restrooms, concessions, LED lighting, a new video board and sound system, new parking, concourses and entry plazas.
Total cost of the project will be $14 million, Whitman said.
Janet Rayfield, head women’s soccer coach, said the facility will have an instant impact.
“Demirjian Park is a game-changer,” Rayfield said. “It will undoubtedly affect recruiting. It will enable us to host nationally prominent events. It creates a home that sells our story.”
Dave Kendziera, a six-time All-American and the 2017 Big Ten Conference Athlete of the Year, is a hurdler from Mount Prospect. He shared in the excitement but said he has just one regret.
“I’m a senior,” he said. “I’ll be gone when it’s finished. But I’m going to ask coach if I can come back and sneak out onto the track one more time. It’s going to be incredible.”