Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center

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MEDFORD – The Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center at Tufts University opened in November 1999 and has been the site of many exciting athletic and university events in the years since.

Construction was completed in early November 1999 on the 66,000-square-foot complex. Tufts rolled out the red carpet November 5 for the official opening of the facility, which was one of the largest projects funded by the Tufts Tomorrow campaign. On December 11, 1999, the first track & field competition was held as the Tufts men's and women's indoor teams hosted 17 others from around the region.

To mark the occasion, the meet began with a special ceremony. Reverend Scotty McLennan, the Tufts chaplain at the time, christened the facility with comments and the singing group Jackson Jills performed, among other ceremonial events. Then the competitors took over and commemorated the facility's opening in their own way: with the grace, effort and emotion of athletic competition.

The highlight of the day for Tufts was the effort given by women's senior Cindy Manning. She finished the 5,000 Meter Run in 17:10.50 to automatically qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships in the event. Manning was nearly five seconds faster than Barb Swallow of Springfield College, the defending New England champion and #4 at nationals in the event last season.

"The new facility definitely motivated her," said Branwen Smith-King, the head women's track & field coach at the time. "She's very driven and she felt ready to go for it."

It was for students like Cindy Manning, who achieved a near-perfect grade point average as a biopsychology major as well, that the building was raised. Funding for the $9 million complex was completed in spring 1998, when Trustee Chairman Nathan Gantcher, his wife, Alice, and their three children, Joel, Michael and Kimberly, made the lead gift for the project. The Gantcher Center is the largest open indoor facility on campus, housing a 200-meter track and four tennis courts. The convocation center, with a seating capacity of 6,000, gives the university the ability to host high-profile events. The surface of the facility was redone in 2016.

Called a milestone in the history of athletics at Tufts, the Gantcher Center allows the university to host indoor track & field championship events. The university had been unable to do that for more than a decade because other institutions had better facilities. Tufts now matched its impressive Dussault Outdoor Track & Field complex at Ellis Oval with an equal indoor facility.

The three-year campaign to complete the project was spearheaded by the Board of Overseers for Athletics, chaired by Trustee John O'Neill, E50, and board members Varney Hintlian, A72, and Dan Kraft, A87, who pursued a range of funding support. Tufts Tomorrow campaign co-chairs Gantcher and fellow Trustee James A. Stern, A72, played critical roles in completing funding for the project.

The Gantcher facility was the first of many projects aimed at improving athletic facilities at Tufts, which has taken place during the past 20+ years.

On the evening of November 5, 1999, the university formally opened the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center with a black-tie dinner-dance. That night Tufts awarded Trustee Bernard M. Gordon, H92, the founder, chairman and CEO of Analogic Corp. in Peabody, Mass., the Presidential Medal, one of the highest awards the university bestows. Gordon had committed the largest gift in university history, $20 million, to enhance engineering education.

During the Gantcher Center opening, guests raised their glasses and toasted a four-ton, 12-foot tall ice elephant - a frozen replica of Jumbo, the Tufts mascot. Working for three days in a 26-degree box at the Brookline Ice and Coal Co., sculptor Eric Fontecchio carved the arctic pachyderm from 30 blocks of ice, eaching weighing 300 pounds.

"I am sure you agree that this Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center is a powerful symbol of Tufts in the 21st century," former President John DiBiaggio told nearly 850 guests at the black-tie, dinner-dance grand opening.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the Gantcher Center had been held exactly a year earlier on November 6, 1998 in the Cousens (now Carz) Cage, which was cleverly decorated as a construction site. Hundreds of members of the Tufts community convened, including student-athletes, for a celebration of the new facility. Several speakers also voiced their fondness for the Cousens Cage, which was the toast of the Boston area after it was built in 1932.

"The Boston Red Sox have practiced in this Cage," Gantcher told the gathering. "For years everyone was jealous of what we have here at Tufts, but times change. My family and I hope that this new building will be to athletics what the Mayer Student Center, the Aidekman Arts Center and Tisch Library were to other parts of the campus."

"This is as important as any building Tufts has built during my tenure," DiBiaggio said later. "Tufts is a first-rate academic institution and we need top-notch facilities to match that reputation. We are here to educate the whole person, body and mind."

Jumbo student-athletes Missy Meo, J99, Peter Loeb, A99, and Jenifer Shapiro, J99, expressed thanks from the entire body of student-athletes.

"I take pride in the fact that I'm one of 1,000 or so varsity athletes at Tufts who love what we do," Shapiro said. "Our experiences together are something we can't get in a classroom. We all work hard to get better every day, and this new facility gives us a better opportunity to do so."

The facility remains one of the most popular venues for indoor competition in New England, with the Jumbo men's and women's track & field teams hosting multiple events every winter including some regional championship meets. The building has also welcomed esteemed guests such as Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush as part of the The Issam M. Fares Lecture series at Tufts. Concerts and other university events such as the Tufts Baccalaureate Service are held at the facility.