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Tigers celebrate new facility

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Four-year-old Alexis Bickle was enamored by her great grandparents' photo hanging on a wall just outside the doors of Fort Hays State University's Bickle-Schmidt Indoor Training Facility.

A whole lot of other people were just as interested to get a peek at the 50,400-square-foot building that only 14 months ago was nothing more than an open green space south of Lewis Field Stadium.

"She sure was fascinated by your picture out front," Alexis' mom, Amanda Bickle, told her grandmother, Chris Bickle.

A photo of Don and Chris Bickle on a bronze plaque, along with a similar one of Bob and Pat Schmidt, are displayed in a prominent place in the facility because those two local couples were major donors in the $4.2 million project. Each couple donated $1 million to launch the project.

Among those filling the end zone chairs and others standing all the way out to the 20-yard line were Tiger coaches and athletes -- past and present -- Fort Hays alumni, cheerleaders and staff and administrators, as well as the building's architects. There were even several politicians in the crowd, along with local businessmen and numerous community members.

"This is taking a huge step forward in our recruiting and facility development and the vision of athletics moving into the future," FHSU Athletic Director Curtis Hammeke said at the ceremony.

The facility features a 65-yard artificial turf practice field, batting cages, a 70-yard, three-lane synthetic track with jump pits, as well as a 5,000-square-foot weight room and a large team meeting room.

Several plaques hang around the building in honor of donors who contributed to certain areas of the facility, such as the lobby, weight room, batting cages, etc. But none are as large as the two hanging in the main lobby.

"There are no two finer individuals and no two finer families in their support for Fort Hays State University than Don and Chris and Pat and Bob," said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who makes his home in Hays.

The Bickles and Schmidts also were major donors for the Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex, completed on the west edge of Hays two years ago.

"I told him if we put my name first on (the sports complex), then we needed to put his first on this," Don Bickle said.

Following the ceremony, Schmidt and Bickle got to throw touchdown passes to seniors Tanner Hageman and Andre Schmidt.

Those in attendance had the opportunity to tour the weight room and grab some refreshments in the meeting room before several interested onlookers made their way outside to watch football practice nder the direction of head coach Chris Brown while peering over the limestone walls of Lewis Field Stadium.

Earlier during the ceremony, Brown talked about the benefits of not just the indoor training facility but others on campus, which include several new buildings and -- close to his heart -- a new turf field in the stadium that was completed earlier this month.

"If you were a recruit (looking) at Fort Hays State University," he said, "how could you not want to come here?"