Long before Billy Napier arrived in Lafayette to help reshape the Ragin’ Cajuns’ fortunes on the football field, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s partnership with Notre Dame Hospital in Lourdes was hard at work. behind the scenes to strengthen the future of the entire UL athletics department.
On Tuesday, the university and Lourdes announced another development in hopes of pushing the football program and the community to even greater heights.
Officially, it will be Cajun Field at Notre Dame Stadium in Lourdes, as Lourdes invested $15 million over 15 years in the athletic department by purchasing the naming rights for the soon-to-be-renovated 50-year-old football stadium from UL. after opening. .
“Our long history of alignment with the University of Louisiana continues to evolve because our organizations share a collective vision toward a bright future for the Acadian community we both serve,” said Kathy Healy-Collier, president of Our Lady of Lourdes.
“Our partnership energizes all of our constituents, whether it’s community service or economic investments in personal health. We’re elevating Acadiana’s regional business and showcasing the Ragin’ Cajun spirit. I call it a prescription for the health of the championship.”
The Cajuns’ home opener at Lourdes Stadium is at 6 p.m. on Sept. 11 against Nicholls State.
“The magnitude of this is really going to be special,” said UL Deputy Director of External Operations Nico Yantko. “This announcement is not only incredibly monumental for the trajectory of our athletic department, but also for the entire university and community. Think of the economic impact of this stadium renovation for the Lafayette and Acadiana area. This is huge and long overdue.
The donation will benefit the football program in recruiting and other aspects of the program, Napier said Tuesday. The donation, he noted, is the result of a long-standing partnership with Lourdes, and partnerships “help transform communities.”
“In recent years, when our program has needed help to continue to evolve and grow, Our Lady of Lourdes has always responded to our needs,” he said. ” They went that way. They have always answered the call.
“I think it’s important to realize that this will engage the community and the university campus. A year-round venue that can generate revenue and take game day attendance and participation to another level. This will give us an advantage in recruiting. This will allow us to have more talent, but above all, character. We are extremely grateful for their support.
On the face of it, the hospital’s latest financial investment in UL’s athletic department is simply to help fund renovations to Cajun Field, which still bears a strong resemblance to the field that opened on September 25, 1971. However , the new stadium will also feature a full-service nutrition center for all UL athletes, as well as additional offices and operations facilities.
“As we know, there’s an arms race in college athletics with facilities and we expect that to be a first-class type of facility,” Yantko said. “Further supporting the gameday experience. So it’s going to support us on the recruiting side, it’s going to help our student-athlete experience enormously, but also the experience of our fans. This is going to mean new amenities and premium assets to really be able to focus on a modern gaming experience for Cajun Nation.
Tuesday’s successful announcement is the culmination of discussions that began 20 months ago between UL and Lourdes officials. The idea first arose, UL athletic director Bryan Maggard recalled during a meeting between Yantko and Lourdes vice-president Duke Walker at the FOR restaurant in River Ranch.
Healy-Collier, who took over as hospital president on Feb. 22 earlier this season, only sealed the deal.
“Timing is everything,” Yantko said. “With Kathy on board as the new CEO, they really felt this partnership was appropriate for us to really get involved in the field as a partnership between Lourdes and UL Athletics.”
So much had already been done. The hospital’s relationship with UL athletics dates back to 1987, and over the years Lourdes has continued to be a benefactor, providing donations for endowments, scholarships and community campaigns.
The hospital provided MRIs and imaging to injured athletes, offered health screenings at UL sporting events, purchased equipment for sports programs, and worked with the university to raise awareness of the issues. community health.
Perhaps no one has felt the impact of Lourdes on UL’s athletic department more than Deputy Athletic Director of Sports Medicine Travis Soileau, who is in his 18th year at UL and leads the department. of sports medicine since 2011.
“We’ve grown tremendously since 2011,” Soileau said. “Without the relationship we have with Lourdes, we would not be able to provide the level of care that we provide to our student-athletes.
“They have been instrumental in the actual treatment and care of our student-athletes along with our relationship with them.”
For now, Lourdes is helping Soileau and his staff care for the athletes by providing MRI facilities in a timely manner.
“When I need an MRI, I have to do it the same day for the next day,” Soileau said. “The availability they provide and not having to wait is a very important part of that. It has only grown through the partnership we have together and the commitment they have to the department of sports.
“We couldn’t be the sports medicine department that we are here internally without what Lourdes does for us on the healthcare side and the access to the resources they provide us.”
Lourdes continues to be a major player in the university’s healthcare alliance, which brought huge dividends to Soileau’s mission when it launched the sports performance center in 2016.
“A lot of people probably don’t realize that Lourdes actually paid for most of the furniture that we have in our new gym,” Soileau said.
Lourdes has also provided regular physical exams for UL coaching athletics staff and recently offered COVID vaccines to all UL athletes.
A new wearable technology called “Catapult” provides the athletic department with advanced health analytics in areas such as heart rate and speed. Lourdes and Park Place have partnered with UL to make this project a reality.
“We know how fast Chris Smith was running on the kickoff return at Iowa State because of Catapult,” Yantko said. “I think he hit 24 miles per hour on that kickback.”
The naming rights announcement also builds on the momentum the Napier team started with the program’s 10-win first season with an 11-3 campaign in 2019, then going 10-1 and finishing last season ranked 15th in the latest AP poll.
“We’re really excited for this thing to take off,” Yantko said. “Our student-athletes are thrilled. It helps you attract and retain the best student-athletes, the best coaches, the best administrators to want to come here and make this a place to want to be.