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Sanford gives $2 million to Dragon Athletics

It’s rare to see a college president literally jump for joy.

But that’s exactly what MSUM President Edna Szymanski did Monday afternoon after Sanford Health announced a $2 million donation to Dragon Athletics. The regional medical giant’s pledge of $200,000 in student-athlete scholarships over each of the next 10 years should help the program – perennially underfunded compared to its conference and Division II counterparts – attract more top-tier athletes.

JESSICA FLEMING - flemingjes@mnstate.edu

“I am infinitely grateful for the difference you are making for this university, for our students and for our region,” Szymanski said in front of Nemzek’s sleek new athletics offices. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Then she raised her hands as if holding pompoms and belted a gleeful “Woo hoo!” before hugging Sanford President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft.

Krabbenhoft revealed that Sanford had pledged $10 million to MSUM’s pursuit of Division I hockey, but when that effort ended last month, the company decided to help in a different way. While noting Sanford’s 18-year partnership with the university, Krabbenhoft said there was a “direct correlation” between the organizations’ hockey funding discussions and Monday’s gift.

“The hockey adventure, the hockey journey, paid off and it paid off well,” he said.

He called for other local businesses to follow Sanford’s lead. Szymanski said the “transformative” big money donation would surely draw others. Two have already committed: Bytespeed at $20,000 per year for 10 years and the same amount for five years from Border States Electric.

Sanford’s donation alone will put the program, which distributes among the fewest scholarships in its 14-school conference, to near the NSIC average, Szymanski said. And she said expects that when more donors step forward, Dragon athletics will become among the conference leaders in scholarships.

The Sanford gift could theoretically provide about 12 full-ride scholarships each year, but it will be more broadly distributed, athletic director Doug Peters said. No current student-athletes receive full rides; in 2010-11, the MSUM average was $1,300 per scholarship.

“This will impact a lot of people,” Peters said.

In previous interviews, Peters has praised Dragon athletes’ success despite the program’s lean budget, pointing to the men’s basketball team’s best season in years and the individual triumphs of track athletes, wrestlers and divers. But the infusion of funds could help the Dragon’s 16 varsity teams and more than 300 student-athletes be even more successful in competition.

Senior running back E’Boni Lucious-West, a scholarship recipient, drew that conclusion when he heard about Sanford’s big gift late Monday afternoon.

The football team, which now receives between nine and 10 total scholarships – about 11 below the conference average and about 17 below the conference maximum, according to a consulting report prepared for MSUM last year – has won only 8 of 36 games over the past four years.

“They definitely will get better,” Lucious-West said, “because when you can get money you get better players.”


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