Ramsey Center still going strong at 20
One of the best in the nation, the Ramsey Center takes physical activities to the max.
The energy remains the same 20 years later. The heartbeat, the pulse, it’s as strong as ever.
Step inside the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities and you feel it: the energy of bodies in motion, of the pursuit of faster, stronger and better. It permeates every corner of the 400,000-plus-square-foot East Campus facility, officially named the Bernard B. and Eugenia A. Ramsey Student Physical Activities Center.
The Ramsey Student Center has five gymnasia, three swimming pools, three multipurpose rooms, two strength and conditioning rooms, a climbing wall, 10 racquetball courts, two international squash courts, and 1/8-mile jogging track for informal drop-in recreation. The center also offers fitness classes to UGA community and has outdoor equipment rental room and an outdoor resource center.
A good percentage of the university visits the Ramsey Student Center each and every day — 4,808 on average a day. The center offers 109 fitness classes to the university community and the busiest time of day is between 5 and 6 p.m. Ramsey patrons are mostly students (88 percent) but it’s also a popular choice for faculty and staff (9 percent) and is also open to dependents and retired faculty and staff.
“We loved being in the middle of that energy; we could draw from that,” said former UGA gymnastics coach Suzanne Yoculan, whose team moved into the Ramsey Center when it opened in 1995 and trained there until 2007, when the Gym Dogs moved into their new facility, the Yoculan Gymnastics Center, named for their legendary coach, at Stegeman Coliseum.
“Classes would let out and all of a sudden there’d be 25 people looking in the window. ... We absolutely loved it over there.”
The Ramsey Center was a $40 million much-needed addition to the campus. For Georgia students it was a new place to work out, with a lot of unique bells and whistles, like a 44-foot climbing wall. In 1997, Sports Illustrated named it the best student recreational facility in the country. Twenty years in, it’s likely still among the best — in part because it sure doesn’t look 20.
There has been some work done in the past two decades, including over the summer when the Ramsey Center’s lobby was redone, but basically what you see when you walk in today is what you saw 20 years ago. The exception is turning the Gym Dogs’ former training facility into another large exercise room.
The Ramsey Center was a gorgeous sight for Georgia men’s and women’s swimming coach Jack Bauerle then, just as it is today.
“As a coach, it’s really exciting to go in there every day,” said Bauerle, who is heading into his 37th season as the women’s coach and 33rd coaching the men. “There is not a day where I don’t appreciate being in there — not a day. I was in Stegeman (Hall) from ’70 to ’95, so I did my time. This place is beautiful and I love it. It changed our program.”
Coaches Yoculan and Bauerle have much in common, starting with a long record of success. Yoculan led the Gym Dogs to 10 national titles during her 26 seasons (1984-2009) as coach, while Bauerle’s women’s squad has won six and remains one of the favorites to win the NCAAs each year. Georgia’s men’s squad has also developed into one of the better programs in the nation.
Both coaches also greatly appreciated being able to move into the Ramsey Center in 1995. Yoculan will tell you that the Gym Dogs’ training facilities in the old women’s physical education building, near Snelling Dining Commons, was “the worst facility in the country.” Bauerle will say the same about the pool at the old Stegeman Hall, which was located near the intersection of Baxter Street and South Lumpkin Street, where the Tate Center parking deck now stands.
“Ours was the worst-looking one that anyone would see on a recruiting trip,” Bauerle said, which is why he said he tried to avoid ever showing it to recruits. He showed off everything else that UGA had to offer, which was plenty, but where the swimmers spent so much of their time was left off the list of attractions.
Moving into Gabrielsen Natatorium was transformational for Georgia’s swimming program. It was (and is) gorgeous and it gave the swimmers the facilities and space they needed to train the way champions needed to train. And the results since moving to their new home speak for themselves.
“It’s a perfect pool for training and it’s a perfect pool for meets,” Bauerle said. “I must say, we did a heck of a good job designing it and it’s stood the test of time. It’s 20 years old and still looks great. That’s a testament to the people that take care of it.
“It just changed our kids’ moods when they walked in there. You walk in there and that place is uplifting; the color scheme is good and it’s easy for us, training-wise, to go back and forth from long course to short course. We can do it in five to six minutes.”
Yoculan’s Gym Dogs had already won three national titles before moving into the Ramsey Center. Moving to their top-notch facility didn’t put them on the path to championships, but it kept them there as more and more programs around the country became competitive. It also put the gymnastics program in a more visible location on campus, where people could see the gymnasts training.
“I don’t want to say that (moving to the Ramsey Center) affected our recruiting, because I don’t think that it did; our program was established and we were already getting the top athletes in the country,” Yoculan said. “But it certainly made training safer, because of the facility. But to me the biggest benefit was being involved with the university and being an integral part of the rest of the student body. Personally, I loved that.
“I think being in the Ramsey Center contributed tremendously to our growth, spectator- and fan-wise. It was during that period of time, after we moved, that we went to full capacity (during meets at Stegeman Coliseum),” she said.
Being in the Ramsey Center hasn’t led to national success for the volleyball program yet, but the Bulldogs’ facility remains a point of pride. Fifth-year coach Lizzy Stemke said it is among the best in the SEC.
“We’ve got a great facility,” she said. “We’ve got a real nice, tight feel, and we don’t have any conflicts with the basketball teams like other schools might have. On a game day, the chair-back seats on one side and the bleachers on the other, they come right up to the court. Our capacity is just over 2,000 and even if you get half that or three-fourths of that, it feels packed, with a really fun volleyball atmosphere.”
Vince Dooley was the director of athletics when the Ramsey Center was built. He said it was former UGA President Charles Knapp’s idea to build a student recreation facility and include state-of-the-art facilities for the swimming, gymnastics and volleyball programs.
The basketball courts at the Ramsey Center were also sometimes used by Georgia’s teams for practice, when the court at Stegeman Coliseum wasn’t available. That problem was solved in September 2007, when the Coliseum Training Facility was opened.
“It was night and day,” Dooley said of the facilities the programs had before the Ramsey Center and after. “It really put (the swimming program) over the hump of being really good, to elite. ... There’s no question that it elevated swimming and gymnastics to the highest level, to compete almost every year, which they did, for a national championship.”
–John Frierson, Athletic Association