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Northwestern to build new softball stadium

Lead gift from Kip and Sara Kirkpatrick will help launch the project to transform softball, student-athlete facilities
softball stadium
The project will create spaces for student-athletes, increase the stadium’s seating capacity and elevate the fan experience.

Northwestern University’s Big Ten Champion softball program has received a $5 million gift from Northwestern Trustee and former student-athlete Harreld N. “Kip” Kirkpatrick III ’94, ’97 MBA and his wife, Sara Kirkpatrick. The gift will support the construction of a new softball stadium, which will be named Kip and Sara Kirkpatrick Stadium.

“We are deeply grateful for Kip and Sara’s incredible dedication and generosity to many areas across the University,” Northwestern President Michael Schill said. “One of Northwestern’s stated priorities is to enhance the student-athlete experience. With this new gift, the Kirkpatricks are making a significant impact on Northwestern softball for years to come and helping ensure that the team’s facilities match the distinction of the overall program.”

The project will create spaces for student-athletes, increase the stadium’s seating capacity and elevate the fan experience. Construction is expected to begin in 2025, with completion anticipated by spring 2026. The softball team will continue playing home games on the current field during construction.

“Through their philanthropy, Kip and Sara Kirkpatrick are not only supporting our softball student-athletes in their continued success but also helping advance women’s collegiate athletics on a grander scale,” said Dr. Derrick Gragg, the Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation.

The Kirkpatricks’ gift kicked off a fundraising drive to support additional aspects of the new stadium. Several spaces are available for naming. Learn more about opportunities to support this project.

“The transformation of our stadium will have a tremendous impact, creating an environment for our student-athletes and fans that will complement the championship play of our program,” Head Coach Kate Drohan said. "As a former student-athlete at Northwestern, Kip understands the amazing life lessons learned on our campus, especially through sports. This gift is a commitment to the standard of excellence here at Northwestern, ensuring that our student-athletes can train and compete in a state-of-the-art facility.

“On behalf of the entire Northwestern softball family — especially our alumni and current and future student-athletes — we sincerely thank Kip and Sara Kirkpatrick for their belief in our program.”

The design will feature a team clubhouse with a players’ lounge and new locker rooms. In the new layout, softball student-athlete support areas — for training, team development, practice and competition — will be centrally located and easier for the student-athletes to access.

Kirkpatrick Stadium also will include:

  • New dugouts and a clubhouse connected to the home dugout
  • New seating bowl and concourse with chairback seating
  • New restrooms
  • Expansive press box for full TV and radio coverage
  • New entrance with courtyard space for tailgating and special events
  • Improved ADA accessibility

“It is an honor to be able to give back to the University that gave me so much,” Kip Kirkpatrick said. “We have truly enjoyed watching Wildcats softball achieve such great success on a national stage, like their appearances in the Women’s College Softball World Series, and reaching historic milestones under the direction of Coach Drohan and her team.”

“We look forward to seeing these outstanding women showcase their talent in a stadium that reflects their skill, hard work and dedication,” Sara Kirkpatrick said. “This project is an investment for today and for future generations of Wildcats softball superstars.”

“These student-athletes deserve an upgraded home that allows the women’s softball program to stand out among Big Ten collegiate programs,” Kip Kirkpatrick said. “Sara and I invite fellow Wildcats supporters to join us in helping to realize this vision.”

The playing field within the stadium will retain the name Sharon J. Drysdale Field, which was named in honor of the legendary Northwestern softball coach upon her retirement in 2001.

About the Kirkpatricks

Kip Kirkpatrick received a bachelor’s degree in history from Northwestern in 1994 and a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in 1997. He was a three-year starting forward for the Wildcats men’s basketball team and played in the 1994 National Invitation Tournament (NIT). In his senior year, he was nominated for the GTE Academic All-American team.

In 2013, Kip Kirkpatrick co-founded The Vistria Group, a middle market private equity firm that invests in health care, knowledge and learning solutions, financial services and real estate, with offices in Chicago, Dallas and New York. He serves as co-CEO of the firm, which focuses its investments in areas that produce positive societal change.

Kip Kirkpatrick is an active volunteer leader for Northwestern. He joined the University’s Board of Trustees in 2008 and currently serves on the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors and the Kellogg School of Management Global Advisory Board. He also chairs the Kellogg Private Equity Advisory Council. He previously served on the Northwestern University Leadership Circle’s Chicago Regional Board, the Chicago Regional Committee for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern and the Northwestern Alumni Association Board of Directors. He is a life member of the N Club and helped lead his 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th Class Reunion committees.

Sara Kirkpatrick is a former Chicago Public Schools teacher and has spent time serving on several boards related to early childhood education. She is an active member in her community, serving as an athletic booster and a member of the New Trier Parents’ Association in Illinois. She also is a member of Northwestern University’s Women’s Board.

The Kirkpatricks have contributed generously toward the renovation of Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena and have supported numerous academic and outreach programs at the University, including at Kellogg, the Bienen School of Music and Weinberg College. They are platinum members of NU Loyal, the giving society recognizing consistent annual giving to Northwestern.

About Northwestern softball

Now in its 49th season, Northwestern softball is led by Head Coach Kate Drohan and her twin sister, Caryl Drohan, who are currently in their 23rd season at the helm. The Drohans took over for legendary Head Coach Sharon Drysdale, who led the Wildcats for the 23 seasons prior and took the program to unprecedented heights.

The Wildcats have appeared in 21 NCAA Tournaments, including eight in the past nine seasons, and made six appearances in the Women’s College World Series, headlined by a national runner-up finish in 2006 during which Kate Drohan and her staff were named National Coaching Staff of the Year. Northwestern’s six Women’s College World Series appearances since 1984 are the second-most among Big Ten programs.

Drysdale took over the softball program in 1979 and led the Wildcats to their first-ever Big Ten championship in 1982. Soon after, she led the Wildcats to three consecutive appearances in the Women’s College World Series, from 1984 to 1986. Drysdale captured five Big Ten titles at Northwestern and was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year three times — in 1984, 1987 and 1995. She was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association in 1994 and retired from her post in 2001.

Kate Drohan has led Northwestern softball since 2002 and is the program’s all-time wins leader with more than 750 wins. Northwestern has advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals seven times under the Drohans and has made three trips to the Women's College World Series — in 2006, 2007 and, most recently, in 2022. Kate Drohan has been named the Big Ten Coach of the Year five times in her career, including three of the past four seasons, which ranks second-most in Big Ten history. The Wildcats have won four Big Ten regular season championships under Drohan, including two consecutive titles in 2022 and 2023.

Northwestern has earned 23 All-American honors among 12 different players in the program’s history. The Wildcats have also seen 172 All-Big Ten honorees and 254 Academic All-Big Ten recipients. The program has posted a perfect 100 percent graduation success rate in each of the last four years.

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