A standing-room-only crowd gathered on Thursday (Sept. 5) afternoon, as Ashland University's athletic department started the 2019-20 year with the dedication of the new Rinehart Room and the Mary C. Miller Student-Athlete Enrichment Center in AU's Physical Education Center.
"The thought always was, 'Boy, if you could put a loge in here, if you could do something that looks down on that court, wow, what a thing you would have,'" said Al King, Ashland Director of Athletics. "That was in 1993 when I first came here. Finally, we got there, thanks to the money that's come through to do it. It's what you see here today.
"There weren't many like the Rinehart family. There's not many like the Miller family. They've supported a small Division II school in the Midwest, helped us be the best that we can possibly be. Didn't have to do it, have been doing it for a lot of years, and are still doing it."
Said Ashland University President Dr. Carlos Campo, "People care about people. It's because there's something grounded here. This 'Accent on the Individual' goes back to a deep belief that we were created for a purpose. It's what the Rineharts believed. It's what the Millers believe. It's what the people in this room believe.
"It's what makes Ashland, Ashland."
The creation of the Rinehart Room and the Mary C. Miller Student-Athlete Enrichment Center was supported by a gift from the Jan Rinehart Estate as well as gifts from AU alumnus Rob Ward, Class of 1987, and AU alumna Mindy Rinehart Ward, Class of 1989 and 1993; AU alumnus Sherrill Hudson, Class of 1965; and AU alumnus and longtime staff member Stan Miller, Class of 1970 and 1977.
"The best thing about Ashland, and the best thing I love selling as a coach," said Ashland men's basketball head coach John Ellenwood, "is just the family connection that you have here. Ashland just does an unbelievable job of building the family. This room is going to bring more people into the Ashland family. It already has."
Ellenwood relayed the story of one of his freshman players, C.J. Karsatos, whose mother, Susan, a former Eagle swimmer, passed away in May from breast cancer.
"He visited the day after his mother's funeral," Ellenwood said. "I brought him up here, and I showed him around. I said, 'C.J., your mom used to swim right there.' Then he came in here, and I said, 'You can honor her if you play right here.' And he looked over the basketball floor. Looking down at that floor is a big thing.
"It's fun to see the family's growing. And every kid that comes in here from now on, at least from a recruiting standpoint, has the potential to add to the Ashland family."
The Rinehart Room will be used on game days for pre-game and post-game activities for volleyball, wrestling and men's and women's basketball contests, in addition to press conferences, department meetings, recruiting visits, alumni and community engagement events, and special events/retreats by area businesses.
Said Melissa Rinehart Hoffman, "Dad loved competition because he knew it builds character, it deepens faith, and he knew that it encouraged the love of teammates in the sense of working for something greater than yourself. And he really saw that in athletics, as well as his Christian faith.
"After dad died, AU athletics really became a central focus for mom. People in the AU athletics family became her family. During that magical (women's basketball) national-championship run, she never missed a game, even if it meant watching it on her iPad. And during that magical season, Robyn Fralick, the head coach, made time in her busy schedule for mom. Mom told me once, that more than any self-help book, any grief counselor, aside from her Bible and her faith, Robyn Fralick helped her work through her grief."
The Mary C. Miller Student-Athlete Enrichment Center houses the office of Elizabeth Freund, Ashland's Director of Academic Support Services, as well as a study lounge for Eagle student-athletes. The room also will be utilized by Ashland's Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
"We're in our second week now, and I've met with over 65 students," said Freund. "The students are coming in, they're using their resources."
"Now, next door, what you have is Elizabeth Freund has her office over there, so students can come and see her, and you have a new study lounge," King noted. "This creates a whole new avenue for us."
Said Miller, the Enrichment Center's namesake, "The Rineharts and the Millers, we've known each other a long time, and we do have that same philosophy for Ashland University. We thank Ashland University for giving us the opportunity to help the student-athletes, and to make this really for the student-athletes – that academics is important, that athletics is important."