The two, new athletic fields built at Augustana College in the past five years have made a great difference for our students and the community. St. Ambrose University desires the opportunity to do the same by building a first-class athletic complex near campus.

In 2011, Augustana opened Thorson-Lucken Field, an artificially-turfed and well-lit soccer/lacrosse field with a grandstand across the street from a residential neighborhood. Like St. Ambrose University, we worked with our neighbors to address concerns about parking and lighting. Then, in 2013, we opened the Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex, a $10 million project upgrading our football field and track.

Both projects have had a tremendously positive impact on Augustana. We’ve recruited nearly 100 students to play men’s and women’s lacrosse. The number of football recruits coming to Augustana is up considerably with the completion of the new football stadium. Football game days draw not only our own students, but also hundreds of community members. For many in our community, there is nothing better than a football game on a crisp fall day – particularly at colleges that put the word “student” first in the term “student-athlete.” Fans enjoy knowing that those playing football today likely will graduate within four years and become tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, teachers, and community leaders.

Augustana and St. Ambrose enjoy approximately the same size undergraduate enrollment of 2,500-2,750 students. We sponsor the same number of varsity sports, and strong athletic programs are critical to the continued success of both institutions. About one-third of Augustana first-year students intend to play varsity or club sports. Many would not enroll at Augustana if we did not sponsor their sport. And without competitive facilities on or adjacent to campus, it is impossible to attract high-quality student-athletes. Excellent facilities help retain student-athletes for their full four years until graduation.

I know many of our student-athletes and can attest that Vince Lombardi was right when he said, “Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and respect for authority.” Preparation for the “game of life” is not limited to football. Each varsity sport gives students the grit, determination, and leadership that America needs in a new generation of leaders.

Strong facilities for football and men’s athletics are particularly important. Many have observed that too few young men are going to college. Since the late 1970s, more women than men enroll in college. Nationally, men account for only 43 percent of the college-going population – roughly the same proportion attends Augustana and St. Ambrose. Robust football and men’s track programs, in particular, are critical to maintaining male enrollment and helping ensure young men earn college degrees. High-quality athletics facilities also bring more geographic and multicultural diversity to campus, promoting the greater perspective and balance so important to our students’ learning outcomes.

The Quad-Cities is becoming a college town, enrolling more than 30,000 full- and part-time students. Several thousand people also are employed full- or part-time at our colleges and universities. Quad-Citians enjoy a rich diversity of higher-education opportunities – two independent colleges (each with 130-year-plus histories in our community), two successful community colleges, a newly expanding branch of a regional public university, and specialty colleges of nursing and chiropractic. Together, we make it easy to be a life-long learner in the Quad Cities.

Our colleges and universities contribute to a culturally rich, innovation-centered community. Let’s embrace our colleges by allowing them to maintain their competitive edge, their enrollment of high-quality students and their ability to help these students grow in mind, spirit and body. And let’s recognize that quality athletic fields – adjacent or near to campus – are one of the most important keys to doing so.

Steve Bahls

Rock Island

Steve Bahls is in his eleventh year as President of Augustana College.