The University of Chicago News Office
October 1, 1998 Press Contact: Julia Morse
(773) 702-8359

University of Chicago to build $35 million athletics center

Gerald Ratner, a senior partner at the law firm of Gould & Ratner in Chicago and former varsity baseball player at the University of Chicago, will give $15 million to the University of Chicago to help build a new athletics center to supplement and replace facilities that include a swimming pool built in 1904.

In recognition of his gift, the University will name the new facility the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center.

“This gift will help realize a dream that we and many alumni have shared for years,” said University of Chicago President Hugo Sonnenschein. “That it comes at a time when we are giving new attention to the fullness of the student experience is especially gratifying. And it could not have come from a more appropriate friend and alumnus of the University. From his days as a student athlete, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College and Order of the Coif honors graduate of the Law School to his subsequent great success as a lawyer, Gerald Ratner personifies our ideal of the way education and athletics can lead to a life that is truly well-lived.”

“Competitive sports isn’t the primary reason for a new athletics center at Chicago,” Ratner said in announcing his gift. “We need recreation to complement our academic challenges. You are a better student if you have a release or diversion from academic pressures, and mine was athletics,” he added. “Chicago is not, like some colleges, a minor league training ground for professional athletes; it is a major league for future leaders.”

University of Chicago students and faculty are best known for their academic achievements, including no fewer than 69 Nobel prize-winners. But Chicago also boasts a tradition of athletics that includes intercollegiate firsts such as football’s “T” formation by legendary Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, the first Heisman Trophy winner (Jay Berwanger) and the century-old competitive women’s sports program, as well as a broad range of intramural and recreational sports.

Approximately 2,000 people use the University’s existing recreational/athletics facilities each day, and approximately 9,500 undergraduate and graduate students participate in 19 intercollegiate teams, 736 intramural teams and 40 sports clubs. The new Gerald Ratner Athletics Center will house a 50-meter, Olympic-regulation pool, practice gymnasiums, a 2500-seat gymnasium that also will be used for special events, a fitness center, workout rooms, dance classrooms, locker rooms and offices for athletics staff and physical education faculty. The center also will include a University of Chicago Hall of Fame for those who contributed to sports history at Chicago. Groundbreaking is planned for fall 1999; the athletics center is scheduled to open to the University community two years later.

“Our college years are few. Those years should be well-rounded,” said Ratner, who works out regularly. “Everyone on campus should be a a participant in sports or some form of physical activity or exercise. It enhances the academic life.

“Students should be participants, and not merely ‘fans’ who sit in stadiums and watch others perform.”

Thomas Weingartner, Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Physical Education & Athletics and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, said, “Chicago’s students expect to have a rich extracurricular life. Participating in recreational sports, or simply working out, is a part of that. And our varsity athletes want to take on both our academic and athletics challenges. We want excellence in both arenas. At Chicago we’re educating the whole person.”

“I attended one of the leading universities in the world,” said Ratner. “I know my contribution will be more effectively used here than anywhere else. It’s important for the University of Chicago to have excellent facilities. I hope my gift will encourage others to understand the difference their gifts can make.”

The addition of Ratner’s gift to previous gifts from alumni and friends allows construction planning to begin in earnest. The largest previous gift was promised by an anonymous donor, who contributed $5 million to fund construction of the center’s new swimming facility. In addition, the class of 1995 donated the center’s front doors as a lasting memorial to their years on campus.

Ratner knew he wanted to come to the University when he was a young boy, reading the sports news about Stagg’s Maroons and the “Monsters of the Midway” while he was behind the counter of his mother’s sundries shop in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood. When Ratner won a scholarship from Marshall High School to go to the University of Chicago, he had to enlist his older brother’s help to get his mother’s permission to play for Chicago’s varsity baseball team. “She warned me that if I tried to become a professional baseball player, I would not earn more than $300 per month––a good starting salary for professional baseball at that time––and even then, I’d only earn that for a few years,” said Ratner. “I couldn’t become a professional baseball player, but I’ll never forget the memories I have of playing college baseball for Chicago.” As a Chicago baseball player, Ratner was known as “Red;” today, friends call him “Gerry.”

While studying at University of Chicago Law School, Ratner balanced academic rigors with his continued love of sports. As quarterback of his intramural football team, he led them to three consecutive championships in the non-fraternity division.

Ratner has maintained a close relationship with the University since he graduated from the College (Ph.B. ‘35) and from the Law School (J.D. ‘37). In 1961, he established a student loan fund at the Graduate School of Business in memory of his brother, J.E. Ratner, a former faculty member and editor-in-chief of Better Homes & Gardens. Ratner’s law firm has represented the Henry Crown family since World War II and Ratner worked closely with Lester Crown on the mid-1970s renovation of the Field House, the University’s main athletic facility built in 1931, which was renamed the Henry Crown Field House.

The Gerald Ratner Athletics Center is part of the University’s master plan for campus improvements, which includes a new Biosciences Learning and Research Complex, new undergraduate dormitories, an extension of Regenstein Library to accommodate more books as well as technological advances, a new wing for the Laboratory School and expansion and improvement of the Oriental Institute Museum.

Related information:

  • Sports at the University of Chicago: A rich history
  • Chicago athletics in the ’90s: Championship momentum

    Last modified at 03:51 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

  • University of Chicago News Office
    5801 South Ellis Avenue - Room 200
    Chicago, Illinois 60637-1473
    (773) 702-8360
    Fax: (773) 702-8324
    Contact Us