WEST LIBERTY - Jim Watson has been associated with West Liberty University for a long time - 44 years to be exact.
And in all those years he's been party to lots of fantastic accomplishments as a coach and athletic director.
But there's something about what's taking place at the school's football stadium that trumps everything.
Crews are hard at work preparing newly renamed West Family Stadium for it’s home opener, slated for Sept. 6 against Shepherd.
"If you look at all of our other athletic facilities, they've all been built new or refurbished," he said, citing the new soccer and softball fields, and the renovated baseball diamond as examples.
"But this is the crown jewel."
Yes, the football stadium is, for most colleges and universities, the centerpiece of it's athletic facilities. It's true on the hilltop, too.
And, for the past six years, it's undergone a tremendous transformation.
Monday, the family behind the effort was recognized.
University and athletic department brass gathered in one of the venerable stadium's end zone's to announce the renaming of the facility as West Family Stadium.
The West family includes Gary West, his wife, Flip, and his two brothers, Jack and James.
"Gary's continued generosity to our university makes it appropriate to name the new stadium after the West family," said Jason Koegler, WLU Vice President of Institutional Advancement.
"His leadership and remarkable philanthropy is visionary. Our students, alumni, staff and the entire community will again benefit from his kindness."
The renaming of the 3,200-seat stadium comes as workers are putting the finishing touches on the latest renovations at the facility. Latest upgrades include new fan seating with a reserved section, a new and expanded press box, VIP hospitality box and customer-friendly concession stands and restrooms. Everything is ADA compliant.
"This all started with Gary's commitment to the MondoTurf field six years ago,'' Watson said. "That got the ball rolling."
West, a 1958 West Liberty graduate, gave a $1M lead give toward the turf field. Then, last year, the Wests donated an additional $500,000 to fund the Musco athletic lighting system for night games. The final $3.5M gift funds the final, and current, phase of the project.
"The stadium renovation project is a 100 percent privately-funded project,'' Koegler said. "In the midst of continuing cuts to higher education, we are especially grateful for the ongoing support from Gary, and all our alumni and friends."
An additional $500,000 for the stadium project came from other major donors including alumni Charlie Annett, of Weston, Fla., and H.R. "Bucky" Kopf, of Avon Lake, Ohio, along with an anonymous corporation.
"As you can see, scale-wise, it's an impending structure in a postage stamp setting,'' Watson said of the new press box. "It's tall.
"Now, when you compare it to the one at Mountaineer Field it's not as big, but it will have similar types of amenities, just on a smaller scale."
"Well, on the first level, you have the restrooms and the concessions," Watson said. "The concessions will face the stadium where before they were they were located in the rear. So, you could be in line and see what's going on."
Watson added the potential also exists to pump sound from TV14 - the campus' television station - into the restrooms and concessions area.
The left part of the second level will feature the VIP area. This will include VIP seating, along with a plaza area. The press box is also on the second level and will include the latest technology for members of the press and game operations.
The third level features areas for game filming and coaching booths.
"The good news is we're going to have an incredible facility for many, many years that's going to accommodate the needs and interests of various groups," Watson said.
The Hilltoppers will christen the refurbished stadium when they open the season Saturday, Sept. 6 against defending Mountain East champion Shepherd.
M&G Architects and Engineers, Wheeling, completed the stadium design work. Waller Corporation, Washington, Pa., is the general contractor. Other contractors include: AE Pelley, Wheeling; United Electric, Wheeling; and Kucera Plumbing, Heating and Cooling, Shadyside; Kalkreuth Roofing, Wheeling; Mardo Masonry, Waynesburg, Pa.; Savage Construction, Wheeling; Joseph Testa Concrete Contracting, Carnegie, Pa.; LM Construction, St. Clairsville; and Saints Painting, Venetia, Pa.