The Mulerider baseball team has received a $500,000 grant from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Inc. based in Fayetteville.
The grant will be used to make improvements to the Southern Arkansas University baseball field, but plans have not yet been finalized. Some of the ideas being considered include a new score board, a new press box, a concession stand, public restrooms and possibly office space for coaches to meet with players and prospective recruits in private.
SAU Foundation Director Jeanie Bismark said she and Josh Kee, associate director of the foundation, received a letter Tuesday that the grant was accepted. The group applied for the grant in February.
On Wednesday morning, the pair, along with Mulerider Baseball Coach Allen Gum, SAU Athletic Director Jay Adcox and SAU President Dr. David Rankin, took part in a conference call thanking the foundation for the gift. They spoke to Debbie Walker, Executive Director of the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation.
“I just wanted to tell you what a huge difference these grants make in the baseball program,” Gum said. “So much of recruitment is driven by the quality of the facilities and we continue to attract better recruits each year with one of the nicest quality baseball fields in (NCAA) Division II baseball.”
The Walker Charitable Foundation first granted SAU a $160,000 matching grant in July 2005 which provided the lights at the baseball field.
Adcox described this year’s gift from the Walker Charitable Foundation as “tremendous” and said the benefits of a top notch baseball facility impact more than just the baseball team.
“This facility is a pride factor for the University and the whole community,” Adcox said.
Rankin said one of the goals for the University is to eventually to host the NCAA Division II South Central Regional Conference tournament which ended this past weekend. The Muleriders’ season ended at the semi-finals of the conference with a loss to Delta State.
The loss was the end of a phenomenal season by SAU (46-12) as they reached the 40-win plateau for the third consecutive year and reached the No. 1 ranking in the country in April for the first time in University history. Southern Arkansas’ 46 victories matches the highest season win total set by the 1987 NAIA World Series team that finished third in the nation.