Chronicles of Crystal Britches

UA to Sportify Greek Theater

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — University of Arkansas trustees have approved expanding the use of the Chi Omega Greek Theater into an all-weather sports complex suitable for croquet, badminton and squash, the last using a glass-walled court on an elevator in the stage floor.

Greek Theater at the University of Arkansas. Credit Wikimedia Commons
Greek Theater at the University of Arkansas.
Credit, Wikimedia Commons

The proposal, bandied about by the nonprofit Razorback Foundation for nearly the entire 81 years the amphitheater has been in existence, was brought at the Jan. 27 meeting in Little Rock by longtime Trustee Crystal Britches, the Fayetteville philanthropist.

Although he invariably has supported Britches in all her projects, fellow Trustee and former U.S. Sen. David Pryor abstained on this project, estimated to take three semesters for construction and cost $16 million, a tenth of the expansion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, plans for which also were tentatively approved, both on the Fayetteville flagship campus. A final vote on the stadium is to come.

The Fayetteville football stadium project will add 3,000 to 3,200 seats at its now open north end. Home games rarely approach sell-out status for its current 72,000 seats.

Britches in her motion said while a gorgeous landmark, the Greek Theater is never used outside of a lunch spot by at best a handful of students, faculty and staff. Hardier students had studied there up to a decade ago, but they found the bleached concrete bleachers (which can seat 2,750) cast an impossible glare on the screens of their electronics.

The annual sorority “Bid Day” does fill the stands. With the renovation, it can be a rain-or-shine event.

“I was horrified to learn that the Division of University Advancement was developing — under the table, per policy —  a parking lot proposal for the acreage,” she said, “You should’ve seen the look on their faces when I told them the Greek was on the National Register of Historic Places.”

The million-dollar improvements to the facility completed in spring 2015 will be used fully, she said.

“The Greek Theater is a beloved campus landmark and evokes feelings of nostalgia and pride from our students and alumni,” Vice Chancellor for Advancement Chris Wyrick said at the May 6 rededication. “It is a signature space that we should continue to maintain, improve upon and cherish.”

Britches’ proposal leaves the elements of the amphitheater intact. Through her Breech Foundation, she has made a long-term lease with for chairback seats and cushions free of charge to fans of the visitors and home teams. The famous 14 columns upstage will honor the Olympic spirit as their shadows fall on the croquet greensward of artificial turf, scraps left from the various football practice fields. The stage can just handle the 105 by 84 feet regulation size of U.S. Croquet Association Rules. Badminton courts are 20 by 44 feet, while an international singles squash court is 21 by 32 feet.

The elevator-mounted squash court has been endorsed by UA’s Sam M. Walton College of Business because of the sport’s popularity among young traders and investors. Little Rock-based Stephens Inc., has informed the Razorback Foundation of its interest in the Department of Athletics hiring a coach and recruiting high school students for a new team.

Some excavation under the stage will be needed to accommodate the 20-foot height of the glass room.

Mallets Aforethought, the croquet club of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, will support the “Wicket Razorbacks.” An SEC badminton team remains under development.

Pryor said of the football stadium expansion, according to Arkansas Business, “that he needed more information about the plans to make an educated decision. Specifically, he requested insight on the costs and benefits of the expansion, but said, ‘I want to be supportive if I can.'”

Britches for the meeting wore Razorback red coach’s shorts under her trademark clear vinyl rain pants. The retired competitive ballroom dancer has long found therapeutic benefits to nonwicking apparel.

Given her preference for clarity, transparency and sunlight, Crystal Britches expects the roof over the Greek Theater to have lots of skylights as well as enough solar energy panels to power air-conditioning and heating.

— Copyright 2016 Ben S. Pollock Jr.

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