PITTSBURGH — When Heather Lyke first unveiled her vision for Victory Heights, Pitt’s aggressive new plan for athletics facilities construction on the upper portion of its Oakland campus, there were some skeptics that it would ever come to fruition.
After all, Pitt has not been historically interested in taking care of the sports that Lyke sought to elevate.
Gymnastics, volleyball and wrestling share the Fitzgerald Field House that was built in 1951. Another half dozen teams train or have offices there. The track team hasn’t had a home since the demolition of Pitt Stadium in 1999. Neither has the marching band.
Outside of football, which plays and practices in facilities shared with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the basketball teams, which have relative comfort at Petersen Events Center, the rest of Pitt’s varsity athletic teams have been dealing with significant facilities disadvantages for quite some time.
The problem wasn’t created by Lyke. It wasn’t created by either of her immediate predecessors, either. The problem was created through years and years of neglect for any Pitt program not named football or basketball.
So when Lyke made Victory Heights her signature initiative, there was some pretty significant skepticism that she’d be able to pull it off, even from within her own ranks.
Head wrestling coach Keith Gavin, who won a national championship as a wrestler at Pitt in 2008, had heard the promises before.
“I was a student athlete here,” Gavin said. “I’ve heard quite a bit about what they’re going to do to the Field House. To be here now, and this is actually happening is pretty crazy for me.”
Volleyball coach Dan Fisher worked at Pacific, San Francisco, Hawaii and Concordia before coming to Pitt. So he’s heard his fair share of athletic director facilities plans.
“Heather came in and she told me right away that she was going to build me a new facility,” Fisher said. “I’ve been around a few athletic directors over the course of my coaching career and I will admit I was a naysayer. I was like, ‘OK, sure.’
“But about a year into me getting to know Heather, I was like, ‘She might pull this off.’ I just want to say well done, Heather and thanks again for all the support.”
Track and field coach Alonzo Webb arrived at Pitt in 2002 and inherited a track and field program that had just lost its on-campus home in 1999 with the demolition of Pitt stadium.
Eighteen years later and five athletic directors later, it still doesn’t have one. Webb had begun to lose hope.
“I was told by numerous athletes directors, ‘We’re promising you a facility,’” Webb said. “Of course, I used to tell our recruits we were going to get a facility. It didn’t take place, so I stopped saying it. I had to control what I could control. Now with Heather, it’s actually happening.
“It’s one of the greatest things that when you tell somebody something now, it’s going to happen.”
This is Victory Heights.
A series of state-of-the-art athletics projects that will provide @PittTweet student-athletes with national-caliber competition, training and sports performance and medicine facilities.
— Pitt Athletics (@Pitt_ATHLETICS) January 14, 2020