Jack O, sports journalist

On Saturday, April 30, the Recreational Eagle Center (REC) held a celebration for 100 years of recreational sports here at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The celebration included many activities that highlighted the variety of things to do at REC. This included indoor climbing, e-sports, garden games and traditional sports. There were also guided tours of the REC and the rest of the campus.

The celebration ended with “100 Years of Play” held at the Cleary Alumni & Friends Center. There were refreshments and food as well as a speech by Jody Redman. Redman is a former recreational sports graduate assistant and a nationally recognized expert in strategic planning and leadership development.

“It was a great way to bring our students, staff and alumni back and meet different people. Alumni brought their kids and enjoyed all the activities we offered,” the athletic director said. recreational, Jeff Keenan.

The REC also sold old intramural jerseys with proceeds going to the Recreation Foundation Fund. This fund helps pay for students who may not have the opportunity to participate in recreational activities.

Recreational sports began in 1922 when physical education teacher Emma Lou Wilder founded the Women’s Athletic Association to introduce intramurals to UWL. Wilder also helped UWL introduce a recreational major to its roster of programs offered.

In 1928 the Men’s Intramural Athletic Association was founded by Ferdinand Lipovels and the aim was to have “athletics for all”.

In the 1945–46 academic year, the recreation major was officially offered and the physical education graduate program also began.

In 1964 there was the opening of Mitchell Hall here at UWL, but it was not until 1972, due to an addition to the building, that Mitchell Hall had an indoor track, meeting rooms classroom and labs available to students.

In 1977, the intramural programs for women and men merged.
20 years later, the REC building you see on campus opens. The $10.2 million project lasted one year. This building had the option of having four basketball courts, six volleyball courts, a four-lane running track, and a weight room.

A year later, the second phase of the REC building opened, which introduced the rock climbing wall and racquetball courts.

In 2003, the Recreation Department underwent a change from the College of Health, Physical Education, and Teacher Education to Student Development and Academic Services. This department included intramurals, group fitness classes, outdoor connection, sports clubs, a climbing wall and the REC.

In 2018, the REC expanded to include a brand new fitness center that tripled the size of the previous one. Above the new fitness center, the REC has added a multi-activity field.

In 2022, the REC introduced Esports with the opening of EZONE. Esports add to the many diverse activities a student can do at REC.
“It’s a century of working toward our vision of a thriving community enjoying active, healthy lives,” said Keenan. “Whatever the activity, recreational sports have a way of engaging you and getting you active.”

Keenan has worked in recreational sports programs at other universities, but has not seen recreational sports as community centered as at UWL. “Students and administrators value recreation and understand its benefits,” Keenan said.

The 100 year celebration was an opportunity to showcase the history of the recreational sports program, its growth and how it has served the UWL community.

“We will continue to evolve to meet student expectations of what they want to play,” Keenan said. An event like this not only shows where the REC and its program were, but where it is going.