UNT indoor main

UNT has begun early construction work on its new indoor practice venue that will be located at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

The University of North Texas announced the largest donation in the history of its athletic department on Friday to help fund construction of the school’s new indoor practice facility.

Don and Patty Lovelace, their son, Dillon, and granddaughter, Macey, donated $2.5 million.

UNT has begun early work on the venue, which is expected to be completed by next summer. The school will officially break ground on the facility Sept. 29 during “Champions Weekend.” UNT also will unveil a statue of program legend “Mean” Joe Green outside Apogee Stadium before a game against Louisiana Tech University.

The Lovelace family has been longtime supporters of UNT athletics. The school’s softball stadium is named Lovelace Stadium in honor of the Lovelaces, who helped fund its construction.

“The Lovelace family has been tremendous supporters of UNT and the Denton community for many years,” UNT athletic director Wren Baker said. “They are generous in many ways beyond just financial support. This latest commitment continues a steadfast dedication to student-athlete growth and development and to our mission of ‘building champions and preparing leaders.’ I am grateful for their support and for their friendship.”

The family owns Lily of the Desert, a Denton-based company that sells organic aloe vera products as well as nutrition supplements, beverages and more.

The Lovelace family cited their excitement about the direction of the UNT football program as one of the reasons for their donation, according to a statement released by UNT announcing the gift.

“Our family is very excited to see the UNT football program starting to achieve its potential,” Don Lovelace said in the release. “The UNT football program, under the leadership of President Neal Smatresk, Athletics Director Wren Baker, and head football coach Seth Littrell, is bringing championship football to our university, and doing it the right way, by building champions and preparing leaders. We are optimistic that the addition of this indoor practice facility will further enhance this cause.”

Littrell posted a message thanking the family on Twitter:

“HUGE thank you to the Lovelace family for their generous gift to @MeanGreen Sports!” Littrell wrote. “Their support and friendship is second to none!!”

The venue is set to be built over one of the fields at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility. It will be 196 feet by 426 feet and have a 55-foot ceiling. The venue will include an entry lobby and recruiting lounge.

UNT officials are hoping the addition of an indoor venue will provide another boost to a football program that has improved dramatically under Littrell, who is in his third season at the university.

The Mean Green have played in bowl games in each of the past two years and are 2-0 heading into Saturday’s game at the University of Arkansas. UNT had played in just one bowl game in the 11 years before Littrell’s arrival.

“There is no doubt it could help our program,” Littrell said of an indoor facility after it was announced. “It would help our student-athletes as far as safety and welfare in the fall when it is hot outside. It would also help with weather days when there is rain and lightning, and it would help in recruiting. You can show young men that we are committed to excellence.”

The venue will be used by other programs as well, including UNT’s women’s soccer team, which made its fifth NCAA tournament appearance last fall.

“An indoor facility would help us tremendously,” UNT soccer coach John Hedlund said. “When there is bad weather, we have nowhere to go on campus and have to travel to Corinth to practice.”

The addition of an indoor venue is the latest move UNT has made to upgrade its facilities since Baker arrived at the school prior to the 2016-17 school year.

UNT also has renovated the Mean Green Athletic Center, Ernie Kuehne Basketball Practice Facility and its women’s basketball locker rooms during Baker’s tenure.

The gift UNT received from the Lovelace family will add to the program’s overall momentum under Baker. UNT announced a record fundraising year that brought in $8.9 million last October.

“UNT alumni, fans and friends continue to demonstrate their passion and loyalty for the program,” Baker said at the time. “Their commitment is a big reason why North Texas Athletics is on the rise.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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