From start to finish with the help of some proud and dedicated alumni, the Baker University athletic department renovated some key areas on campus with a face-lift to its George F. Collins Jr. Sports and Convention Center and received some much needed equipment inside its George Shore weight room.
With vision from alums and current Baker athletics administrators, Director of Athletics Theresa Yetmar, and Assistant Director of Athletics – Operations Andrew Patch and contributions from former football player Jake Miller and current Fraternity and Sorority Life Coordinator Jen Letner, the Baker athletics department begins the 2013 year with a new look and a new product for its athletes and fans.
"We began discussions in the spring of last year about how we could improve the aesthetics in our gym," Yetmar said. "Our goal was to create a space that was very impactful for our teams and fans. We felt it was important to brand the space in a way that gave us an additional home court advantage. I'm very pleased with the final product and believe we have accomplished our goals."
Miller played football for the Wildcats from 2007 to 2011 and was a member of the 2008 NAIA FCS Playoff team as an offensive lineman. He is currently a graduate assistant in the strength and conditioning department at Rice University in Houston.
When head strength and conditioning coach Jared Kaaiohelo needed to remove 10 Olympic platforms and 10 Olympic bars from the Rice weight room, Miller knew exactly where those pieces of equipment would go to good use.
"The first place I thought to take them was Baker," Miller said. "I called coach Miguel Regalado (Baker offensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coach) and told him we have this equipment here that I would like to donate to Baker and he said, 'Absolutely, let's do this.'"
Miller then called his father, Bob Miller, who lives in Jake's hometown of Gardner, Kan., and asked if he flew his dad out, if he could drive the trailer full of equipment from Houston to Baldwin City and back.
His dad agreed and Jake flew him to Houston in early December. Jake and his father rounded up a few freshmen from the Rice football team and loaded a trailer up with all of the equipment. Bob made the drive 758 miles north up to Kansas and met up with Coach Regalado, graduate assistant coach Matt Brock and some Wildcat football players to unload all the equipment.
"I had a lot of friends send me pictures of the equipment in the Shore weight room and it gave me a lot of Baker pride," said Miller. "It makes me want to do more things like that. Baker is always the first place I will help out.
"I remember walking in that weight room and it was a little dated and not up to the caliber it should have been for college athletics. Coach Regalado has come in and made the weight room look much more respectable."
Patch, who played football with Miller, was not surprised by the alum's foresight and generosity.
"Jake Miller is a class act," said Patch. "He is a guy that was a great teammate on the football field and really values the importance of strength and conditioning and knows that it was an area of need here at Baker. He was in a position to help and has left a big footprint here on campus with that gift."
The 10 platforms had the Rice athletics logo on them. Patch and Letner came together to form a design to give it the Baker look it needed.
Letner graduated with an art degree in 1993 from Baker and volunteered her time to give the platforms a new look with some fresh paint. Letner and Patch came up with the idea of sanding off the old Rice logo and painting on the Baker 'BU' logo.
They also wanted to add the Baker Wildcat head on the two jammer presses also located in the weight room.
Supervisor of General Maintenance and Special Projects Jay VonBargen sanded off the Rice logo and then Patch and Letner found an old projector and duct taped a transparency of the logo to the projector and turned the projector 90 degrees, so it shot directly down onto the platform.
They then duct taped the projector in that position and Jen traced the image on the 10 platforms and two jammer presses.
But that was just the beginning of Letner's involvement in the makeover that Baker went through during the holiday break.
The walls inside the Collins Center surrounding the hardwood have been an off white and light gray color since the building was completed in 1985. Athletic officials had been planning a new look for quite some time.
"Our walls inside Collins were a canvas, we wanted to create something that would make an impact and was fiscally responsible," said Patch. "Painting was the obvious choice. I went inside the gym and took photos of the walls and made mock-ups of different looks in Photoshop.
"We implemented the Wildcat and put together many other mock-ups. Then I showed those plans to basketball coaches, our AD and our University President Dr. Pat Long. From that feedback we chose the one that we felt looked best."
After designing the new look and receiving approval, Patch reached out to Baker's Director of Physical Plant Jeremy Portlock, who then made a call to VonBargen and Baker alum and former Baker football player Brian Boyle to see if his sister in-law Jen Letner may be interested in painting the new look.
Letner agreed and met with Yetmar and Patch and pinned down a four-day stretch in which Letner and VonBargen would complete the project. They only had four days to complete this project because of the return of the men's and women's basketball teams from the holiday break and their practice and game schedules.
The drawing and painting of the Wildcat was quite the family affair. Jen Letner's sister, Jill Boyle, graduated from Baker in 1997 with an art degree and she painted the Wildcat logo along the east wall of the Collins Center back in 2000.
Twelve years later Jen overcame her fear of heights to paint the Wildcat logo high along the west wall of Collins.
"So many people had worked hard on this project and I knew I only had four days to complete the painting," said Letner. "I didn't have enough time to be nervous up there and it really helped me get over my fear of heights."
Letner fought through her uneasiness and painted an impressive large mural of the Wildcat logo, but she gives a lot of credit to VonBargen as well.
"Jay did all of the prep work and painted all of the blue and orange stripes on each wall," said Letner. "He spent way more time on this project than I did."
"I'm very grateful to alums Andrew Patch and Jen Letner, and university painter Jay VonBargen for lending their talent to this project," said Yetmar. "They all dedicated time during the holiday break to complete the work before our student-athletes returned to campus. It was truly a team effort."
Letner also had quite a few visitors while up on the scaffolding painting away during those four days.
"I had so many students come by and thank me as I was painting and they were so appreciative," she said. "I think we have some of the most polite students around, very grateful."
The transformation that began with a generous donation and a team effort to modernize the Collins Gym all had one commonality; the entire effort was accomplished by Wildcats. A group of proud alumni that wanted nothing more than to give back to its alma mater and help take its school to the next level.
"Every time I go in the gym now its hard to believe that we had those bare white walls for so long, it looks so good right now and has that wow factor that I can't believe we didn't do this a long time ago," said Patch. "It's awesome that we have made this improvement and makes a difference every time someone walks in the gym."
"The reason I donated this is because I left Baker feeling that all my teachers and coaches did everything they could for me to succeed," said Miller. "I graduated having no regrets and I am really glad I was able to give back to my school."
"As an alum I take great pride in putting our best foot forward as a university," said Yetmar. "The improvements have been well received and have led us to begin to evaluate other athletic spaces on campus."