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Eric Peterson, Published March 24 2012

Nemzek upgrades illustrate recent financial jolt at MSUM

Moorhead - When Doug Peters stepped to the podium last Monday at Alex Nemzek Hall, a new Dragons athletics office façade was the backdrop.

The Minnesota State Moorhead athletic director stood in front of a backlit sculpted metal Dragons logo – which was created by an alumnus – to announce that the school had received $2.3 million for scholarships.

“In my time here, this could be one of the most successful months Dragon athletics has ever had due to a lot of work by a lot of people,” said Peters, who was hired in March 2007 and took over the athletic department later that summer.

The Dragons are in the midst of about $1.5 million upgrades in Alex Nemzek Hall, including the new athletic administration offices. Coupled with the $2.3 million scholarship money, MSUM is getting $3.8 million pumped into its athletics this spring.

“There’s just an entirely different feel around Dragon athletics right now because it’s actually things you can see,” Peters said. “As much as people want to trust in what you’re saying, they want to see the change.”

About $1 million of the Nemzek renovations are happening inside Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse. A new sound system, two new digital message boards and scoreboards, a new video board with a 144-square foot high definition display and eight scorer’s tables with high-definition displays are among the upgrades.

Peters said the plan is to unveil those upgrades to the public at the Dragon Fire Walk for Athletics at the end of April.

A new basketball floor and baskets are coming this summer.

“It’s something long overdue,” said MSUM head women’s basketball coach Karla Nelson, who has been part of the athletic department since 1994. “I want people to walk into our building and go, ‘Man, these people really think a lot about athletics.’ ”

Alex Nemzek hasn’t seen this extensive of an upgrade since the late 1990s when there were more than $7 million in improvements over a two-year span.

“It’s been a long time that we’ve gotten to put some fun stuff into the building that people can see that doesn’t have to do with ventilation and stuff like that,” said Nelson, the head women’s basketball coach for the Dragons since 2000.

Chad Walthall recently finished his second year as head men’s basketball coach for MSUM, leading the team to its first 20-win season since 1981-82. The Dragons also made the NCAA Division II men’s tournament his second year. Walthall has a 36-22 record in his two seasons.

Walthall was in the crowd at last Monday’s news conference where Sanford Health pledged $2 million to MSUM athletics spread over a 10-year span.

“More than anything, I think it sends a message that we are serious as a department,” Walthall said. “We’re a team. I was proud for our department and our university.”

MSUM offered $580,900 in scholarships for all its sports this school year. That’s the equivalent of 42 scholarships. The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference average for scholarships is in the mid-70s, Peters said.

The Dragons should be able to offer in the mid-50s for scholarships in 2012-13, according to Peters.

“It was a huge boost for our athletic department,” Peters said.

“What Sanford has done for us is created a bigger wave instead of small waves,” Nelson added. “When you get someone like Sanford who believes in being second to nobody talking about you … then I think that’s what you want to be – second to nobody.”

A main reason MSUM decided to spend a large portion of its upgrade money on the electronics in Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse was to help generate more revenue.

Peters said the digital video and message boards being installed have the potential to generate about $200,000 in advertising revenue per year.

Nelson thinks the new electronics can help attract student-athletes.

“It’s a great recruiting tool to walk in there and say, ‘Our school invested $1 million into this,’ ” said Nelson. “We are going to be able to do some fun things with it and student-athletes love that stuff.”

Nelson said the recent announcement has people in the community talking about the Dragons. When she went for her morning coffee this past week, she was getting asked about what is going on with MSUM athletics.

That said, Nelson, Peters and Walthall agree there is more to be done.

“You’ve just got to keep working,” Nelson said. “I think those are great gifts, but I think you have to want more and you have to work to go out and get more. To me, that’s just a start.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com