Peyton Aldridge ’18 describes the days before the opening of the Harry L. Vance Athletic Center as “definitely interesting”—they were days of tight schedules and shared spaces.
The men’s basketball standout spent the last year playing in Italy and recently signed a new contract to play in Istanbul.
“Coach McKillop recruits guys he knows will get along well,” says Aldridge. “We even have ‘Song Fest’ where new players have to perform a song in front of everyone to break the ice. I sang ‘Cruise’ by Florida Georgia Line.”
Along with the fun comes countless hours of practice. But when the men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball programs were sharing Belk Arena and its two upper-level practice courts, scheduling became a complex logistical feat. Division I scholar-athletes juggled late practice times with the need for nutritional dinners and uninterrupted study time. The slick, inflexible practice courts elevated the risk of injury.
“Not only did the Vance Center create a ton of flexibility for our programs; it also was critical for recruitment,” says Aldridge. “I don’t think we get a Kellen Grady or a Luka Brajkovic without this level of facility. We are able to recruit big-time talent because we can compete with the other schools.”
Head Men’s Basketball Coach Bob McKillop agrees—the space has changed Davidson’s programs and outlook. He also sees the bigger picture.
“I see the looks on the faces of our alumni,” says McKillop. “The guys who played for Lefty Driesell and Terry Holland … there’s such a sense of pride for them and for our entire community.”
McKillop remembers when Belk Arena first opened in 1989 and the pride the Davidson community felt toward the new facility.
“It’s as if we bought a beautiful suit 30 years ago, and now we’ve bought the beautiful shirt and tie to go with it,” he says. “Little Davidson in Davidson, North Carolina—I feel so fortunate to have been part of the transition.”
Women’s basketball and volleyball, two programs that competed for resources in the past, have seen an immediate benefit.
“Vance allows us to attract and train some of the brightest scholar-athletes from across the country,” says Head Volleyball Coach Chris Willis. “It has been a game changer for our program. On a pragmatic level, it allows basketball and volleyball programs to train at the same time. On a macro level, it sends a message that Davidson is serious about these programs.”
For women’s basketball, the difference is measured in steady progress and shattered records.
“It is hard to imagine that the consistent access to practice facilities that Vance provides hasn’t played a major role in our program breaking a school record in three-pointers made in a season, just two years after ranking second from last place nationally,” says Head Women’s Basketball Coach Gayle Fulks. “This facility provides an optimal player development platform and prevents major conflicts with opportunities for nutrition and sleep.”
Director of Athletics Chris Clunie ’06 encourages the athletics programs to be bold. Now, coaches are thinking about ways to “do more with more.”
“Vance is a very visible and dramatic statement that Davidson is committed to excellence in every way,” says McKillop. “We’re not missing a beat. When we made the move to the Atlantic 10 Conference, it was a bold move to go on the national stage. This facility was also a bold move. It makes recruits and their families say ‘Wow.’”
McKillop points out that every player who has been involved in Davidson’s programs should be thanked for their investment and their sacrifices.
“They had nighttime practices on the upper courts in Belk Arena,” he says. “They walked back to their dorms at 9:30 p.m. and grabbed a sandwich on the way because they hadn’t eaten dinner and it was too late to get a good meal. They are the reasons we have been able to move forward and get to this place.”
The Harry L. Vance Athletic Center was made possible by a leadership gift from Samuel and Ann Vance Ginn in honor of Ann’s father, Harry L. Vance, Davidson class of 1926. Special thanks to all of the alumni, families and friends who pledged support to make this center possible.