The largest donation from individual donors in USF’s history was recently awarded for a major renovation of War Memorial Gym. According to Athletic Director Scott Sidwell, the $15 million gift looks to transform the University’s athletic hub into a “stunning, modern center that showcases what USF athletes have contributed in competition and in their communities.”
The $15 million was given to the University by Silicon Valley philanthropists John and Susan Sobrato, who have been awarding program support to organizations throughout the Bay Area since 1996 through the Sobrato Family Foundation. The donations have been made possible thanks to the success of the family’s commercial development firm that built much of Silicon Valley, including the headquarters for technology giants Apple and Netflix.
The Sobratos have a long history of donating to Jesuit institutions, including a cumulative amount of $33 million to Mr. Sobrato’s alma mater Santa Clara University. But this will be their first donation directed toward a university athletic program.
With no previous connection to the University, Mr. and Mrs. Sobrato made the gift to USF because of their shared belief in the school’s Jesuit values. “We like to support Catholic education, whether it’s at the elementary, high school, or university level. We really believe in supporting those institutions and USF is right up there on the top of the list,” said John Sobrato.
Speaking on his decision to gift the athletic department with the funds necessary to renovate War Memorial Gym, Sobrato said, “When I toured the campus I was really impressed with the new buildings that have gone up on campus. Then I saw the gym. That was frankly the only building that cried out for help, […] I asked myself: Why don’t we modernize this building, bring in the natural light, and make it a much more inviting place not only for athletics but also for all campus events.”
A large part of USF’s community, however, seem to believe that the donation and the remodeling of the gymnasium comes at the expense of students, alumni, and faculty who have no connection to the athletic department.
In a Facebook post, senior marketing major, Timothy Chin expressed his displeasure with the decision to fund a renovation project that he believes will exclusively benefit the student athletes. Chin argues that since non-student athletes do not have access to the gymnasium outside of attending a game or a special activity, student athletes will experience greater benefits from the donation than other USF community members.
Chin goes on to provide an extensive list of many areas on campus that could benefit from the donation, which include: “additional buildings to accommodate student housing, additional scholarships to ease the burden of paying for higher education, […] increased wages for current professors, and additional investment in on-campus organizations that proactively advocate for social justice.”
The donation for the renovation of War Memorial Gym also comes on the heels of a $5 million gift to fund the new Benedetti Diamond for USF’s baseball team. University Board of Trustees member Tom Malloy and his wife Sharon donated $5 mil. in August. The Malloys held the title of largest gift by an individual donor in the school’s history, until they were eclipsed by the Sobrato’s donation
The Malloys’ donation helped jump start USF athletics’ capital campaign, Aim Higher, a fundraising campaign and renovation project created by USF that looks to upgrade all of USF’s athletic facilities since the department’s last major facility project was the construction of War Memorial Gym, built 57 years ago. USF community members should expect more announcements for renovation projects since the campaign is also targeting the redevelopment of Negoesco Stadium, home of USF’s men’s and women’s soccer teams, as well as the construction of an indoor practice facility adjacent to Memorial Gym for both men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Women’s golf team member and sophomore Kimberly Liu believes the facilities upgrade is long overdue, especially after having visited the athletic facilities of other schools. “It is embarrassing when teams come to play here because the facilities are just old and not up to par. If you go to other schools and see their facilities you just know that that is what an athletic center should look like, and now, thanks to the Sobrato’s, we’ll get that state of the art facility,” said Liu.
Liu also feels that alumni have also been expecting some change to the gym. “I was talking to an old couple who graduated from USF in 1969 and when they drove past [War Memorial Gym] they were surprised by how little it had changed,” said Liu.
She continued by saying that inside the gym conditions are not any better, and considering how many non-basketball players use it, the donation comes at critical time for the facility. “The golf team has workouts three times a week in there, we have study hall, our lockers are in there, we rehab there, and it adds up to about ten to fifteen hours a week. With so many teams using the gym as extensively as [the golf team] it makes sense to renovate it,” said Liu.
Alumni Patrick Visconti, ‘10, shares Liu’s sentiments and calls for his fellow USF community members to come to terms with the benefits the new gym will provide for the school. “Better athletic facilities equate to better recruiting, which equates to better teams, which equates to television money, which equates to everything we all want,” said Visconti.
Mr. Sobrato also hopes that the donation acts as a catalyst so that more money funnels into university programs, while adding that they are not done with making donations that benefit the city of San Francisco. “Our gift to USF is the first one of any significance in San Francisco. It’s not gonna be our last, and I think USF is just a great place to start, and we hope that our gift will encourage others.”
Photo courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn