When a Wichita State coach talks with a recruit and the family, housing is normally one of the primary topics.
After years of avoiding or down-playing WSU’s living conditions, coaches can’t wait to show off Shocker Hall to their next outfielder, point guard or hurdler.
The new $60 million dorm, with 780 beds, towers over Cessna Stadium and houses 42 female freshmen athletes and 39 male. It is already changing behavior in the athletic department, with coaches planning to take recruits to lunch in the dining hall and athletes eating meals on campus. After less than week of watching students buzzing around the new dorm, everybody says it changes the atmosphere on campus. The sophomores who missed living there by one year are jealous.
“It was much-needed, for a long time,” women’s basketball coach Jody Adams said. “It’s amazing. Cutting edge. The high ceilings and how you feel when you walk in — you feel like you’re in a hotel.”
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Many of the freshmen athletes saw the construction when they visited and heard about the dorm as coaches made their recruiting pitches. Shocker Hall lived up to its billing when they arrived last week. WSU freshmen who don’t live in what the school defines as greater Sedgwick County are required to live on campus and several athletes who live nearby chose to stay in the dorm. Most WSU athletes live off-campus after their freshman year.
“It really feels like you’re living in almost a five-star hotel,” said baseball player Gunnar Troutwine, from Fairway. “The food there is great. The rooms are awesome. The beds are comfortable. It’s pretty cool how the athletes are spaced out and we’re not all in one block of rooms. It’s good to meet some new people.”
Shocker Hall is close to Koch Arena, handy for weights, injury treatments and study hall, and within walking distance of most classes. It is quite a contrast with Fairmount Towers, built in 1964, and located across the intersection of 21st and Hillside from campus. While not every coach saw Fairmount as a recruiting negative, everybody agrees Shocker Hall is a significant upgrade. Some coaches didn’t bother to show recruits the dorms in previous years.
“You can’t compare the two,” said Gretchen Torline, director of athletic academic services, and housing coordinator for the department. “Parents don’t want to drop their kid off in some not-nice, run-down place. When the kids were over there, they felt like they were off campus. A lot of them would drive up on campus. You want the dorm to be a central part of the campus.”
Shocker Hall is definitely that.
Baseball player Josh DeBacker, from Lee’s Summit, Mo., prioritized housing right after the coaches and baseball facilities. He watched the progress of Shocker Hall on the Internet.
“It was great to know we were going to be the first ones into these dorms,” he said. “The location is prime, being able to get anywhere on campus with 10 or 15 minutes. At some of the bigger universities, you’re stuck with dorms on the outside of campus and taking forever to get to campus.”
The dorm connects to the renovated Rhatigan Student Center with a walkway and the foot traffic gives WSU a buzz it lacked in the minds of many. Students are walking and riding bikes and scooters to campus, instead of flocking to parking lots and walking away from campus. Anything that makes WSU look more like a traditional college with life on campus is a plus for coaches.
“It gives us that big-school feel,” WSU softball assistant coach Samantha Sheeley said. “I think it’s really going to help a lot of our recruits who want to be at a big school, but also want to be close at home or have a small-town feel at the same time, those factors really play in to what we’re going to sell.”
There are five room styles in Shocker Hall, all with Wi-Fi connections, cable boxes in each bedroom and laundry rooms and kitchens on each floor. The 400-seat dining hall offers pizza, a deli station, Mexican, Oriental, a salad bar and more. The Groundhouse offers Starbucks and stays open until 2 a.m.
“You can tell they weren’t cutting corners,” volleyball coach Chris Lamb said. “They wanted it to be spacious and nice. They thought about the people staying in there when they built that, you can tell. It looks like a Cadillac from here.”
Shocker Hall is more expensive than Fairmount, a factor that could hurt programs that recruit walk-ons, such as track and field, baseball or volleyball. Prices at Shocker Hall range from $3,407 per semester for a four-bedroom to $4,028 for a private room and bath. At Fairmount, a single is $2,845.
“The cost of college is on every mom and dad’s mind,” Lamb said. “It will be a deal-breaker in some cases, but you’re probably looking at that you’re going to win more than you lose because of the upgrade.”
On Monday morning, volleyball sophomores Katie Reilly and MaryAshton Floyd, both of whom live off campus, ate scrambled eggs in the Shocker Hall dining hall after an early workout.
“They’re delicious and real,” Reilly said.
New NCAA legislation allows WSU to provide more meals for athletes — scholarship and walk-ons — and those who live off-campus are given 160 meals to use until May. Now athletes with a 6 a.m. workout can stop by Shocker Hall (or Fairmount) for breakfast on the way to class, instead of skipping a meal or grabbing fast food. Coaches hope the availability of food leads to better eating habits.
“This dining area is going to be magnificent,” track and field coach Steve Rainbolt said. “Wherever you go, dorm food is ridiculed as being sub-standard. I took a tour through the dining facility and it appears they have taken every step to make sure this is a first-class, upscale dining facility.”