ANDERSON – The people of Anderson know about loss. They’ve felt it with the departure of about 19 percent of their population since 1970. They’ve felt it with the closure of General Motors factories and the loss of about 30,000 jobs.
And they felt it in 1999, when the Colts moved their training camp from Anderson University, where it had been held for 15 years, to Terre Haute’s Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
Their leaving didn’t feel very good, said Sena Landey, Anderson University’s vice president for finance and treasurer. It was like being jilted.
But the Colts will be back in Anderson on Aug. 1, a reunion that could embolden the spirits of the school and a city trying to reinvent its image.
We’re trying to really make it an exciting time for those that visit training camp, but also for people in our community, said Michael Collette, the school’s vice president of marketing. A couple of our goals have been to not only advance this institution, but also to create a positive image for the city of Anderson. It’s really fun.
Collette pointed out the negative perceptions often associated with his city.
We don’t have the best reputation in the state, he said, noting a recent HBO documentary called Dirty Driving, about racing at Anderson Speedway that depicted the city as depressed and unsophisticated.
And then there was Anderson’s appearance on the MTV show 16 and Pregnant, a slap to a town that prides itself on Christian values.
The community now looks to the university to be the leader for economic development in the region, Collette said. Having, as a community, gone through some pretty tough times, it has provided a sense of excitement getting (the Colts back), and it’s a rallying point.
Cheryl Shank, director of conference and performance events at Anderson University, said training camp could draw up to 35,000 fans through 18 days, whereas Rose-Hulman averaged 25,000.
While accommodating fans is a huge undertaking, it’s the ability to service the needs of an NFL team – one that which went to the Super Bowl last season – that drew the Colts back to Anderson.
Training camp is such a pivotal time for any club as you try to put the finishing touches on your team, coach Jim Caldwell said. It is a time of building, bonding and honing, and we know the university and the city leaders will provide us with the best possible atmosphere to succeed.
During the Colts’ first tenure in Anderson, camps lasted five to six weeks but were less regimented. Now players are working until 11 p.m. almost every day. They need indoor and outdoor fields, state-of-the-art training equipment, audio/video gear and tight security.
The Colts’ interest in returning to Anderson was contingent upon improving the facilities, and they were made – to the tune of $55 million.
One of the things we’ve recognized is that besides from being the professional football team we watch each week, they are an effective and efficient business organization, and when they look at training camp, it’s through that business lens, Collette said. Which campus has the best facilities that meet our needs? That comes first. After that, can we find a campus that is central to where our fan base is?
The Kardatzke Wellness Center, complete with classrooms, gymnasiums, elliptical equipment and a natatorium, is the centerpiece of the improvements. Anderson has 3 1/2 football fields, including one at Macholtz Stadium with synthetic turf.
The improvements have made it an ideal site for us, Colts president Bill Polian said.
The Colts and Anderson University have a contract for only this year, but Landey believes they will come to a longer agreement if and when the NFL’s owners come to a new collective bargaining agreement with the players.
We weren’t the same school (in 1999), but they weren’t the same team, Landey said. It always feels a little bit like rejection, but they needed different facilities, and so they needed to go where their camp could be successful. But from that time to this time, we’ve made $55 million worth of improvements, and we’re now a different place.
For a school with enrollment of 2,700, raising that much was a long, difficult process, but one about more than appeasing the Colts.
We did not make the changes we made in order to attract the Colts. We made the changes to improve the facilities for our students, Landey said.
The Colts are aware that their return to Anderson could play a part in the revival of the city.
We hope we can make a positive contribution to the Anderson community, Polian said. And it’s very important to (owner) Jim Irsay and everyone associated with our team to have as many of our fans, particularly youngsters, for them to have the opportunity to see the team in person.
And Anderson University wants them to see what it and city have to offer.