Twas mere weeks before Christmas, and all through UCSB’s house, not a basketball fan was stirring, not even a mouse … although some construction workers were scurrying around.
The university has continued to upgrade the Thunderdome even while the COVID-19 pandemic has forced it to ban spectators from its basketball games. A practice court is now being built on the mezzanine level of the student section, with retractable chairback seating to be added after its completion.
The $3 million in improvements add to several other projects which have already been completed. UCSB has raised $6 million altogether to remodel the Thunderdome.
“We’ve benefitted from some very gracious donors who have become our great friends and tremendous supporters of our program,” UCSB men’s basketball coach Joe Pasternack said.
Gaucho benefactors have included Jeff and Judy Henley, Mike Stewart, and Jay and Marsha Glazer.
Upgrades already completed at UCSB’s 6,000-seat, basketball and volleyball arena include chairback seating in the reserved section, a media room, renovated locker rooms, and a 50 foot-by-15 foot, 4K ultra-high definition video board.
“It’s one of the biggest and best video boards in the West,” Pasternack said. “We’re taking our facility, the Thunderdome, to another level. When you’re recruiting, having updated facilities is huge.
“You can’t build a first-class program without incredible boosters and supporters, and during our first three seasons here we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have made such terrific friends.”
The Thunderdome is also home to many student activities, concerts and community events. Donors have also helped upgrade the weight room in the Intercollegiate Athletics building.
“These latest gifts really help every student, not just the basketball players,” Pasternack said.
He noted that Mike Stewart, donor for the video board, started rooting for the Gauchos when he was a UCSB student.
“He became a huge fan while watching Jerry Pimm coach those great teams, and having him as a friend and a supporter has been so huge for us,” Pasternack said. “Jay and Marsha Glazer live here and both their daughter and son-in-law attended UCSB. They’ve become such great friends and supporters, too, in getting the practice court built.
“I’ve been fortunate to get to know Jeff and Judy Henley, too. They’ve donated the chairbacks to make the facility a much better place for the fans. We’re going to eventually have chairbacks throughout the entire Thunderdome.
“It takes an entire community to make the Gauchos Santa Barbara’s team, and these three families along with many others in the community have really helped us build our program.”
He said athletic director John McCutcheon took great interest in improving the facility when he hired him as coach in 2017.
UCSB also broke ground last month on a new $5.25 million tennis stadium, thanks to the donation of John and Jody Arnhold.
Lights, meanwhile, were installed at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium last year to enable the Gaucho baseball team to play night games. A consortium of donors including The Gretler Foundation, The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation, and Julie and Paul Candau gifted Athletics with $1.3 million for the project.
The Gretler Foundation has also supported the Thunderdome and Arnhold Tennis Center projects.
“Donor support particularly in this turbulent time is extremely important to maintain the momentum that has been created over the past few years,” McCutcheon said. “As an example, the stability that is provided by the Stewart Family Fund for Basketball has been immeasurable and we are extremely grateful to Mike Stewart, Jeff and Judy Henley, and Jay and Marsha Glazer for their vision and commitments.
“All of these facilities will have a huge impact on our student-athletes experience. With enhanced facilities, we will be able to recruit a high caliber of student-athlete, have a high level of opponents competing at UC Santa Barbara and deliver an improved fan and community experience at our home events.”