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Maryland Unveils New Cole Field House That Combines Athletics And Medicine

August 4, 2017
As the University of Maryland unveiled the first phase of the Cole Field House Performance Center at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 2, the initial implication was obvious. The football team's long-discussed, full-size indoor practice field, its fresh turf glistening on the same grounds that housed back-to-back Final Four men's basketball teams more than a decade ago, was ready for fall camp. 

"We actually filmed the guys the first time we walked them in the building, and the looks on their faces just said it all," Terps head football coach DJ Durkin said. "Guys were just eyes wide open because our team, really, for the most part had not been in here at all. I think [for] a lot of our veteran guys it was really special because they've been here, been in the program, and to see this all kind of get to this point, obviously, they take ownership in that. It was really special for them."

Less obvious was how the Cole Field House project would eventually transform the relationship between athletics and sports medicine at the university. Plans were announced last fall by the University of Maryland-College Park and University of Maryland-Baltimore for the Center for Sports Medicine, Health and Human Performance, a joint project by the two schools that'll open as part of the new Cole Field House complex in 2019. 

The Center at Cole will include a clinical orthopedic treatment center that'll treat an array of injuries suffered by patients across the area; a research center that'll focus on biomechanics, neuroscience and nutrition, among other things; and an imaging facility for MRIs and the like. A significant focus of the Center will be to research and treat concussions, which directly impact the university's athletes -- especially in football.

The state of Maryland has already given the two schools $3 million to fund pilot projects.

"We're going to have to figure out how to either prevent concussions or manage concussions if football's going to have a future in this country," said Andrew Pollack, the chair of the department of orthopedics at UMB, during the ceremony.

Betsy Quinlan, a biology professor at Maryland who is the scientific co-director of the Center, is enthusiastic about the potential and uniqueness of the Center, saying after the ceremony that their plans are "absolutely unprecedented" because they'll bring "the focus on neuroscience and traumatic brain injury, the orthopedic clinic and the athletics all together under one roof."

The top complaint among people who suffer from a brain injury, according to Quinlan, is trouble sleeping, which compounds the other struggles people experience while dealing with such an injury. Treating sleep disruption will be one of Quinlan's highest priorities to improve the lives of people with head injuries. She's also focused on studying the brains of healthy people across all age groups to discover a "baseline on which we layer the effects of the brain injury."

Some of the beneficiaries of the Center's work will be the football players who train in the same facility.

"Having the players be involved in the work is going to allow us to track them and track their brain health from pre-injury or injury to treatment," Quinlan said. "Being able to work with the same patient -- especially a willing participant -- is really beneficial. That's one of the great benefits of being in this environment."

It's hardly just for football, though. "We really aspire to be the place you go to with a head injury," Quinlan said. "P.G. County, this is where you come."

More than two-thirds of Maryland's fundraising goal for the new Cole complex has been met, University president Wallace Loh said during the ceremony. The total cost of the project is $155 million. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank donated $25 million toward the project, with the state donating $40 million.

"This is the largest fundraising project in the history of this university," said Loh, who noted there were "140 major donors" to thank for the progress.

Other parts of the Cole complex that are to come include two new outdoor football fields -- the team currently has three practice fields adjacent to the Maryland baseball team's ballpark in the middle of campus. There'll also be a weight room on one end of the indoor practice facility. 

"Eventually, this is going to be our home for everything, so it'll be locker room, weight room, training room, all of our meeting rooms, dining hall. From A to Z, top to bottom, it's all going to be here," Durkin said. "Our locker room will actually be a floor below us here. It's going to connect to an underground tunnel to the stadium. The tunnel and all that with the locker room, it's a show-stopper when you see it."

MORE NOTES ON NEW COLE: Durkin said he walked into Cole before the ceremony Aug. 2 with former Terps men's basketball coach Gary Williams, who Durkin saw getting out of his car. "This was Gary's home for a long time. I know my memories -- a lot of them -- are him on that sideline, up and down and coaching the team," Durkin said. … Williams said the new complex will help all the teams on campus with regards to treating injuries. "In terms of recovery, which is so important with your team -- if you get somebody injured, the quicker you get them back the better you're going to be," he said. "That's for all the teams. This really takes a step forward in that area."

Photo Credit: Luke Jackson/PressBox