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'Court-breaking' held for Welsh-Ryan Arena renovation

Northwestern celebrates start of a new era in Wildcats athletics

Welsh-Ryan Arena court-breaking
Pictured left to right: Steve and Sue Wilson, Jim Phillips, President Morton Schapiro, Shirley and Pat Ryan, Sara and Kip Kirkpatrick III and Bill Osborn at the Welsh-Ryan Arena court-breaking ceremony.
Welsh-Ryan Arena Interior
Welsh-Ryan Arena Interior
Trienens Performance Center
Trienens Performance Center
New basketball locker room inside Welsh-Ryan Arena
New basketball locker room inside Welsh-Ryan Arena

Pictured left to right: Steve and Sue Wilson, Jim Phillips, President Morton Schapiro, Shirley and Pat Ryan, Sara and Kip Kirkpatrick III and Bill Osborn at the Welsh-Ryan Arena court-breaking ceremony.

EVANSTON - Student-athletes, donors and other members of the Northwestern community gathered at center court in Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena on April 18 to witness the “court-breaking” ceremony. The moment marked the ceremonial start of a historic, $110 million renovation of the facility that serves Northwestern’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams. The enhancements will benefit student-athletes and Wildcats fans for generations to come.

“Throughout my years at Northwestern, the campus has been developing around me. Now, the place where I competed so many times is a part of that evolution,” said Jacob Berkowitz ’16, ’17 CERT, a senior member of the wrestling team, in his opening remarks for the ceremony. “More than that, these facilities are gathering places for the Wildcats community – places I look forward to returning to for years to come.”

The renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena is scheduled to be completed by fall 2018. The project also includes the Trienens Performance Center, a first-class practice facility that will enable basketball, volleyball and other Wildcats student-athletes to develop their skills year-round.

Trienens Performance CenterTrienens Performance Center

The extensive renovation is funded in part through lead gifts from loyal Northwestern benefactors and alumni: Trustee Patrick G. Ryan ’59, ’97 P, ’00 P, ’09 H and Shirley W. Ryan ’61, ’97 P, ’00 P; Trustee Howard J. Trienens ’45, ’49 JD; Trustee Stephen R. Wilson ’70, ’74 MBA, ’08 P and Susan K. Wilson ’70, ’08 P; and Trustee Harreld N. “Kip” Kirkpatrick III ’94, ’97 MBA and Sara Kirkpatrick.

Additional benefactors include Trustee Tim Sullivan and Sue Sullivan and alumnus Howard Witt ’63 and Marilyn Witt.

“Our benefactors on this project are tremendously dedicated, visionary supporters of Northwestern Athletics and many other areas of the University,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said. “We are so grateful for their partnership and look forward to making many new memories in Welsh-Ryan Arena.”

Even before the court-breaking ceremony, construction and demolition were well underway at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The wooden court, scoreboards and bleachers have given way to bulldozers and cement dust, providing quite a contrast from the last public event held in the arena March 12 – Selection Sunday – when members of Northwestern men’s basketball team learned they would be dancing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

Welsh-Ryan Arena, located inside McGaw Memorial Hall, first opened in 1953. This is the second extensive renovation of the arena since that date; it was updated in the early 1980s thanks in part to a gift from Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan. At that time, the arena was named in honor of the Ryans’ parents.

“Providing the funding for Welsh-Ryan Arena more than 30 years ago was one of our first major gifts to Northwestern,” said Pat Ryan, “so we’re very pleased to now provide the necessary support for Northwestern Athletics to continue on its upward trajectory.”

Shirley Ryan is pleased the updated venue will be more inclusive. “Welsh-Ryan Arena has been the site for many happy memories for our family,” she said, “but we also are aware of the challenges that the building can create for persons who are mobility impaired. This renovation will enable Welsh-Ryan to set a new standard for accessibility.”

The new, state-of-the-art Welsh-Ryan Arena will feature:

  • New seating throughout the arena, with chair-back seats replacing existing wood bleachers
  • Wider, more accessible concourses with improved lighting
  • Improved accessibility for the mobility-impaired, with five new elevators replacing the existing one
  • New and expanded restrooms as well as the addition of accessible family restrooms
  • New concession areas with twice as many point-of-sale stations for increased efficiency, along with new food and drink offerings
  • State-of-the-art lighting, audio and video capabilities in the arena
  • Premium seating areas and expansion of the N Club, which provides space for pre- and post-game events
  • Expansion of the building lobby
  • A new ticket office
  • New locker rooms for men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball

The renovation also includes the enhancement and expansion of the existing Trienens Hall, where several teams currently practice. The new Trienens Performance Center will include three practice courts for basketball, volleyball and other Wildcats programs as well as new strength and conditioning facilities, team meeting rooms, staff offices, locker rooms and an expanded performance and nutrition hub. The center is made possible thanks in large part to a gift from University Trustee and alumnus Howard Trienens.

“In the many years I’ve been involved with Northwestern, I have had the pleasure of seeing it constantly evolve to meet the needs of our University community,” Trienens said. “I’m pleased to be a part of this project that will allow our student-athletes to perform at an even higher level.”

New basketball locker room inside Welsh-Ryan ArenaNew basketball locker room inside Welsh-Ryan Arena

The renovation of the basketball arena and locker rooms and the addition of practice and training facilities mark the start of a new era for student-athletes and Wildcats fans.

“We are pleased to support the transformation of this hub of activity at Northwestern,” Steve Wilson said. “I believe our new home arena atmosphere will spur Wildcat teams toward achieving our ambitious goals.”

“We are eternally grateful to the Ryan, Wilson, Trienens, Kirkpatrick, Sullivan and Witt families, not only for their support of this transformational project, but for their unparalleled, decades-long commitment to the success of this institution and its students,” said Vice President for Athletics and Recreation Jim Phillips. “The new Welsh-Ryan Arena and Trienens Performance Center will be state-of-the-art competition and development homes for our Wildcats, allowing us to continue to deliver on our mission of providing a world-class experience for our student-athletes academically, socially and athletically.”

During the arena renovation, the men’s basketball team will host home games at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont; women’s basketball and volleyball will host home events at Evanston Township High School; and the location for home wrestling events is still to be determined.

At a dinner following the court-breaking ceremony, student-athletes expressed excitement for the renovation and thanked the loyal donors who made it possible.

“Seeing the passion people have for this University long after graduation is inspiring,” said Amber Jamison ’19, a member of the women’s basketball team. “And seeing the way people act on that dedication is remarkable.”

Welsh Ryan Arena interiorWelsh-Ryan Arena interior


About the benefactors:

  • Patrick G. Ryan is a 1959 Northwestern graduate. He received his undergraduate degree in business from what was then called the School of Business and now is named the Kellogg School of Management. He also received an honorary degree from the University in 2009 in appreciation for his 14 years of service as chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. In 2013, he was inducted into Northwestern’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Mr. Ryan is distinguished as one of Chicago’s most successful entrepreneurs and prominent civic leaders. His first business venture while a student involved selling scrapbooks to fellow students, which paid for his Northwestern education. Mr. Ryan founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation, the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage. At the time of his retirement, Aon had nearly $8 billion in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries. In 2010, Mr. Ryan founded Ryan Specialty Group, an international holding company which includes wholesale brokerage (now the third largest in the country) and highly specialized underwriting companies designed specifically for agents, brokers and insurers; Mr. Ryan currently serves as chairman and CEO. He is a recipient of the esteemed Horatio Alger Award and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Northwestern Alumni Medal, and a member and immediate past chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees.
  • Shirley Welsh Ryan is a 1961 Northwestern graduate. She received her undergraduate degree in English from what was then called the College of Arts and Sciences and is now named the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Mrs. Ryan founded and directs Northwestern’s graduate-level Learning for Life series and is a charter member of the Northwestern Women’s Board. She is Chairwoman of, which has integrated with the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab (the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago), and serves on the Governing Board of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, has been appointed by two U.S. presidents to the National Council on Disability, and serves on the executive committee or on the board of directors of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Mrs. Ryan has received several honorary degrees, including one from Notre Dame – where she was honored in 2015 for promoting full inclusion and accessibility for all people. Mr. and Mrs. Ryan serve as co-chairs for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, a $3.75 billion University-wide fundraising initiative designed to support Northwestern’s strategic ambitions. The Ryans treasure their three sons, Pat, Rob and Corbett, daughter-in-law, Lydia, and three grandchildren along with their extended families, many of whom have Northwestern degrees.
  • Howard J. Trienens received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern in 1945 and a J.D. in 1949. After graduating, he taught a course in criminal law at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and was clerk to Fred M. Vinson, former chief justice of the United States. Trienens is a partner of Sidley Austin LLP and former chair of Sidley’s executive committee. He practices corporate law and litigation in antitrust, regulatory and other matters. From 1980 to 1986, Trienens also served as vice president and general counsel for AT&T. Trienens has been a member of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees since 1967 and chaired the board from 1986 to 1995. He received an honorary law degree from Northwestern in 1995 and was awarded the Alumni Medal, the University’s highest alumni honor, the following year. In 2013, he was the first recipient of the Law School’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
  • Stephen R. Wilson received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern in 1970 and earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management in 1974. He applied the perspectives and skills acquired at Northwestern to building CF Industries Holdings, Inc. into a global leader in fertilizer manufacturing and distribution. He is the retired chairman and chief executive officer, serving 10 years as CEO. Wilson is now a Northwestern Trustee and serves on the Steering Committee for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.
  • Susan K. Wilson earned her undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern in 1970 and had an eight-year public relations career from which she retired to focus on raising her children, Elizabeth and Jeffrey. She served as a volunteer at the Evanston Public Library for many years and currently serves on the board of advisors of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern. Wilson also is a member of the Women’s Board of Northwestern and is on the Community Council of Y.O.U. (Youth & Opportunity United), a youth development agency in Evanston.
  • Harreld N. “Kip” Kirkpatrick III is a founding partner and co-chief executive officer of Vistria, LLC, a private investment firm focused on building market-leading companies in the health care, education and financial services industries. Prior to Vistria, Kirkpatrick founded two leading private equity firms. From 2011 to 2013, Kirkpatrick served as chief executive officer of United Shore Financial Services LLC, which is headquartered in Troy, Michigan. He currently serves on Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, the Northwestern University Leadership Circle’s Chicago Regional Board and the “We Will” Campaign’s Chicago Regional Campaign Committee. Kirkpatrick received a bachelor’s degree in history from Northwestern and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. He was a key contributor for the men’s basketball team during his time at Northwestern, and he and his wife, Sara Kirkpatrick, have been active supporters of the program.

Additional benefactors include University Trustee Tim Sullivan and Sue Sullivan, whose gift will be recognized in the naming of the men’s basketball head coach’s office. The Sullivans’ previous support includes gifts to endow the men’s basketball head coaching position and fund the 2008 locker room and coaches’ office project. In addition, in recognition of a new commitment from alumnus Howard Witt ’63 and Marilyn Witt, the media room in the new Welsh-Ryan Arena will be named in their honor. The Witts’ support of the 2008 initiative was previously recognized in the naming of the former men’s basketball locker room.

The gifts dedicated to the renovation project are part of the University-wide fundraising campaign, We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. Funds raised are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidify the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. More information on the Campaign is available at

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