LSU breaks ground on gymnastics practice facility

D-D Breaux didn’t need one of the fancy gold-painted shovels traditionally used at groundbreaking ceremonies when LSU officials gathered Tuesday to kick off construction of the Tigers’ new gymnastics training center.

She brought her own.

When LSU President F. King Alexander, Athletic Director Joe Alleva and high-ranking Tiger Athletic Foundation officials dug their shovels into a pile of dirt, Breaux used her late father’s shovel to symbolically make her mark on the practice facility she’s had an eye on for 25 years.

“It’s a little worn, but I knew the moment we announced the groundbreaking (last week) that I was going to go get it,” Breaux said of the shovel her father used to tend to his gardens years ago in Donaldsonville. “It has significant personal meaning for me.”

So does the long-awaited training facility that Breaux, who’s been the Tigers’ coach for 37 seasons, and members of her staff are touting as another major step forward for a program that’s coming off a third-place national finish in April — the highest in school history.

The two-story state-of-the-art training center, which will cost between $10 million and $12 million, will go up just north of the basketball practice facility. Construction should take 10 to 12 months, associate athletic director Eddie Nunez said.

The center will include a team locker room, squad room, lounge, cardio workout room and video room along with an 18,000-square-foot practice facility — some 10,000 feet more than the Tigers currently have in a corner of the Carl Maddox Field House.

While the specifications for the training center have been on the books for years, with Breaux having a hand in the design, she said the project took off this spring when she accompanied Alleva and TAF officials for several stops on the annual Tiger Tour.

“We had been talking about it, but it really grew legs on the tour,” Breaux said Monday. “I was telling Joe and Eddie what a big deal it would be for us. It kind of created some conversation on the tour, and we set a date.”

Alleva agreed the time had come. LSU gymnastics is coming off its finest season, one in which the Tigers reached the Super Six for the fourth time in the past seven seasons after winning another regional title.

“D-D’s program has been excellent for years and years and years,” Alleva said. “People say we’re finally building a house for D-D, but it’s not. It’s really a house for the student-athletes to take advantage of.

“When I got here (in 2008), I asked D-D what she needed,” he continued, “and it was evident to me the passion she has for what she does and her competitive spirit.”

Breaux, who has career 650 wins, was voted national coach of the year by her peers, while Jay Clark and Bob Moore were named assistant coaches of the year after the Tigers scored a 197 in 14 of 15 competitions — including 13 in a row. They held the nation’s top ranking for a three-week stretch in late February and early March.

Also, senior-to-be Rheagan Courville earned her second consecutive vault title at the NCAA championships — giving LSU athletes 10 individual national champions during Breaux’s tenure.

Breaux said the facility will be the finest training center in the country, a distinction that currently belongs to Georgia.

She said three other Southeastern Conference opponents she has to recruit against and compete with twice yearly — Florida, Alabama and Arkansas — have state-of-the-art facilities, as well.

The Tigers currently have one vaulting station, two balance beams, two sets of uneven bars and one floor. The new facility will have three vaulting stations, five beams, three sets of bars and one oversized floor.

“All along, I’ve said this will provide us with a safe training environment for the student-athletes,” Breaux said. “It’s going to be a great place to train.”

Clark was the associate head coach at Georgia when that school’s facility was completed in 2007 with 16,500 square feet of training space.

“Right now, that’s the finest gymnastics facility in the country,” he said, “but this one is going to be everything that one is … and a little bit more.”

Said Courville, who turned one of the groundbreaking shovels Tuesday: “The training center will bring so much pride to the program. The tradition D-D has built here will continue to carry over, but it’s going to make an even bigger difference in every aspect of the program.”

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.