Grand opening of St. Joseph’s College’s Hill Center

Play ball! Clinton Hill college athletes end years in exile with new gym

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Home is where the court is.

Saint Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill opened its new athletic center on Vanderbilt Avenue between DeKalb and Willoughby avenues on Thursday night, ending more than a dozen years of work. The small, Catholic liberal-arts college broke in the basketball court with a two-win double-header against teams from its Long Island location. The facility in use was a sight to behold, according to the school’s athletic director.

“Not often can you see a dream become a reality,” said Frank Carbone, who runs the school’s sports programs and coaches its Lady Bears women’s basketball team. “To actually see it come to fruition is truly special.”

The Hill Center features a three-story atrium, exercise and sports-treatment facilities, and a hardwood basketball court that will also be used for volleyball games. It is the result of a long collaboration between Carbone, Sister Elizabeth Hill, the center’s namesake, and Steve Somers, a college trustee and 1982 grad.

Hill retired last June after leading the college as president for 17 years.

Carbone joined the school with Hill in 1987, and on his watch, it has gone from having three varsity sports and 30 athletes with no conference affiliation to 13 sports, 175 athletes, Division 3 status, and membership in the Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Before the grand opening, Hill praised Carbone’s problem-solving skills.

“That man can make bricks out of straw!” she said.

And thanks to the underground student-parking that is part of the building, the two biggest problems Hill saw have been solved.

“When I became president, I said I wanted to do two things: do something about parking, which was very hard in Brooklyn, and to find a home for our basketball and volleyball teams,” she said. “We’re finally able to do that, so thank god for that.”

The athletic program had been nomadic for years, playing in borrowed spaces including Brooklyn Technical High School’s cramped gym.

The timing is fortuitous. Next fall, all 13 of the Saint Joseph’s sports teams will move to the Skyline Conference, which will allow them to qualify to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association postseason for the first time.

Saint Joe’s is following in the footsteps of Brooklyn College in betting big on athletics. Last year, the Flatbush school finished the West Quad Center, a $100-million complex including an arena, a pool, and playing fields. So far, the ambitious amenities have been paying off, Brooklyn College’s athletics director said.

“They have helped our program continue to grow and helped us with recruiting, student-athlete morale, and fan attendance,” Bruce Filosa said.

Hill said her school’s new gym will take its sports to the next level.

“Every college should have a home court, a place where they can come to and be proud of, and the students can come and cheer the team on,” she said.

Updated 6:31 pm, December 23, 2014
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