The Field House that Taffner built

 

Approximately one year after construction began, St. John’s officially opened the Taffner Field House last Friday. Members of the Board of Trustees, as well as University president, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., were on hand for the opening.

The field house is named in honor of Eleanor Taffner, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, and husband Donald Taffner, an alumnus. The Taffners have long been supporters of the University and, more specifically, its athletic programs.

“We are delighted to honor Eleanor and Don and their family in this special and lasting way,” Harrington said. “We thank them for their continued support of our students and for their unwavering commitment to our mission of service to those in need.”

The $16 million, 43,000 square foot facility houses four basketball courts, two for the teams and two for students. A movable wall located in the center of the floor can be used to separate the students’ courts from the teams’.

While the bulk of the facility is geared towards the basketball teams, part of the purpose of the facility is to create a new space for all students. In the past, students had difficulty finding a space to play recreational basketball. The courts in Carnesecca Arena were most often used for either team practices or for games. Now, with the addition of the Taffner facility, students will always have a place to play.

The Taffner facility also houses a training room equipped with custom made weight training machinery specifically for the athletes, professional locker rooms for both the men’s and women’s teams, and office space for the coaches and other administrative personnel. There is also a small locker room for students who use the front courts.

It is the hope of the University that the addition of the Taffner Field House will exponentially enhance the basketball program. The program, which has suffered many setbacks in the past few years, now has the opportunity to revitalize itself. Practice facilities in Carnesecca Arena were out of date and did not allow the teams to be as competitive as they needed to be in the Big East conference. Not only will the new facilities help the teams be more competitive on the court, but they will also make the University more competitive.

“What we have been trying to sell [to the recruits] over the past year is the vision [of the facility],” said men’s basketball coach Norm Roberts. “The dream has become a reality. The facility is a lot better than what I had envisioned it to be.”

Women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico agrees, stating: “This new facility has really, really been a plus for us just in the recent week, probably the last three weeks. We have had some top recruits up that are being heavily recruited by other Big East programs and bringing them in this new facility has really opened their eyes to saying St. John’s is making a huge commitment both academically and athletically to their programs and to their men’s and women’s basketball programs specifically, I think that it has helped us tremendously.”

Student athletes are typically impressed by state-of-the-art facilities. When trying to recruit, St. John’s was unable to compete with other schools that had more to offer.

“I think it’s been a challenge for us to get the facilities up to speed with where we want to be. That has been apparent for a number of years and I think the University has identified that and has obviously taken significant steps to get us where we need to be,” Athletic Director Chris Monasch said.

The ability to bring in recruits and train them more efficiently will be beneficial for the teams, and the University, in the long run. Recently, the Big East was expanded, requiring the teams to be much more competitive.

In order for St. John’s to participate in the conference, the basketball teams needed a new, competitive edge. The facilities housed in the Taffner Field House provide for this.

“The Taffner Field House is a first-class facility that will help us compete in the newly expanded Big East,” Roberts said. “The facility ranks with the best in the conference and is a great place to call our own. The field house will be instrumental in helping our program take its next steps toward success.”

Success is important for the basketball program, and specifically the men’s team which suffered, in the past two years, a highly publicized sex scandal and a self-imposed ban from post-season play for one year.

“The institution has risen, so will the athletic programs including the women’s and the men’s basketball teams,” Harrington said.

The University is nearing the end of a major capital campaign which is currently aimed at enriching the athletic programs at St. John’s.

The next project in the campaign is the enhancement of Carnesecca Arena. Although the Arena will not be expanded, plans are in the works to make the facility more crowd-friendly.

“Significant dollars will be put in to fixing [the arena] up,” Harrington said. “The seating is a problem, we know that. The overall appearance is a problem as you can see we have identified problems over the recent years, facilities-wise, university wide and other things. We identify the problems; we formulate a strategy and fix them. And obviously Carnesecca Arena is at the top of our list of things we need to do.”

While new and improved facilities are being provided for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the coaches still believe the athletes must earn the right to use them.

In the same way that the athletes must earn their places on the teams, so must the teams earn their place in the athletics program.

“There are a lot of guys, a lot of sweat and tears and hard work that went on in Carnesecca Arena,” Roberts said. “So I let my guys know that they haven’t done anything to deserve this. There are a lot of guys that have done a lot of work here who deserve what our guys have right now. We have to respect what we have and do the best we can.”

“I think the young ladies have to prove they deserve [the use of the new facility],” Barnes Arico added. “They have to take care of it and have to represent the University in a first class manner.”