Fifty-two years after serving as captain for the first men's soccer team at Davis & Elkins College, Gary Horvath hoisted a shovel Friday morning and helped usher in a new era for the school's athletics program.
Horvath, a 1962 graduate who now resides at Wintergreen Resort in Virginia, was one of several people who took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for D&E's new $600,000 synthetic turf field.
The state-of-the-art facility will not only be for the soccer teams, but also for the school's newly announced men's and women's lacrosse program.
"In 1961, the entire team had one dirty brown ball," Horvath said, recalling his time on the men's soccer team, which had a winning season its first year despite muddy field conditions and limited equipment and uniforms.
The team has celebrated many successes since then - including a pair of National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics men's national championships.
President G.T. "Buck" Smith welcomed Horvath and many others during Friday's ceremony, explaining how proud he is of everyone who has helped with the project.
"The students come first at D&E, and we owe it to our men and women to have the best possible facilities," he said.
Fundraising efforts to cover the new field's costs had netted about $397,500 as of Friday morning, Smith added, and he is confident the project's funding will be covered before it's finished.
"We are among a handful - a handful - of colleges in this country who no longer owe the banks a penny ...," he said. "This will keep our tradition going - that by the time it's completed, we'll have it funded."
He said the project is scheduled to be finished by July, so the teams can use it by August when school resumes after summer break.
The current field is "nothing but clay and rock," Smith said, causing water to pool on the surface and making it difficult for teams to practice.
"You've got to have the best possible conditions that you can have," he said, later adding, "We're going with the premium turf ... the very top-of-the-line, because we're not in the business of cutting corners."
Soccer players and coaches spoke during Friday's ceremony, thanking Smith, President-elect Michael Mihalyo, the Board of Trustees and others for helping create a field they will be able to use for home games - which they haven't been able to do for the past two years.
"I, for one, am very happy. It's a great step," said Wyatt Hill, a rising junior from Aylsham, England, who also said the field will give players "a special edge."
Head women's soccer coach Raul Ovalle said the new facility will mean so much to the students and the college.
"I am positive that this will only continue to strengthen our program," Ovalle said. "I am proud to be a Senator on this day."