A day for a legend: Athletics center formally named for Fritz Pollard Jr.
UND honors hall of famer, All American, and Olympic medalist alum who excelled on campus and in life
UND Athletics Director Bill Chaves probably had the shortest speech of the day but ended up putting it best.
Chaves looked out over a standing-room-only crowd of UND friends and alums, including former student-athletes, and listed off the three blocks every student-athlete is asked to check during their time in Grand Forks.
- Earn a UND degree.
- Be a leader — in action.
- Perform at the highest level in their sport — whatever that level might be.
After each, Chaves connected it to the late Fritz Pollard Jr., an elite student-athlete in two sports (boxing and track & field) and three-time All American in a third — football. He was one of the school’s first black graduates, earning his UND degree in education before moving on to receive his terminal degree in law. He was a bronze-medalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, and later served as a special services officer for the U.S. Army in World War II. “Check.” “Check.” “Check.” Pollard Jr. embodied everything that UND has ever asked of its student-athletes.
“Quite a legacy for our current and future student-athletes,” Chaves remarked.
And all that is why it was so fitting that Frederick D. “Fritz” Pollard Jr., who never forgot his glory days at UND and who came back often to rekindle those memories, was atop the very short list of potential names to grace UND’s High Performance Center (HPC). On Friday, Sept. 17, the building formerly known as the HPC was formally named after Pollard Jr., before a packed crowd that included his son, Fritz Pollard III, granddaughter, Meredith Pollard Russell and her husband, Kenny Russell.
The family was present to unveil a replica plaque that tells the story of Pollard Jr. and his connections to UND. Once completed, a permanent plaque for Pollard Jr. will be set at the building that now bears his name. Pollard Jr., one of the University’s most storied student-athletes passed away in 2003. Before this past weekend was over, his son, Pollard III, would see a building named for his father, serve as Grand Marshal in the annual Potato Bowl USA parade and flip the coin during Saturday’s UND-Drake University football game.
Chaves and DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, also made sure to thank UND and alumni leaders — past and present — and other donors in attendance, who made the newly named Pollard Center possible, including Altru Health System, the organization that cleared the path with a $9 million lead contribution.
UND President Andy Armacost was among the dignitaries on hand to pay tribute to Pollard Jr. and his family.
The President revealed that the suggestion to name the building after Pollard Jr. first came from Chaves, and that the suggestion turned out to be “spot on.”
“When we choose to put somebody’s name on a building, (and in this case ) a very big building, it’s a huge deal,” Armacost said. “We have done this to honor (Pollard Jr.’s) important legacy to our University and to society.”
There were plenty of stories to go around about Pollard Jr. — some that have become legend at UND. Stories such as his preference to run atop the train boxcars that lined the railroad tracks on the campus’s southern border. He would sprint at top speed with a towel in his mouth, leaping over the gaps between cars. He did this because it was one of the few places around, at the time, that would be consistently cleared of snow.
Other accounts focused on his weeks-long voyage aboard the ship to compete in the 1936 Olympics. Pollard Jr. suffered a serious leg injury while training on the ship, and instead of dwelling on his misfortune, ended up coaching the other athletes on board. Those athletes included his close friend and American track-and-field legend Jesse Owens. Pollard Jr. still was able to compete at the Games in the high hurdles event, but bad luck would strike again. As he rounded the final turn for the finish line, he tripped over the last hurdle, costing him sure gold. Ever the competitor, Pollard Jr. finished the race anyway and took bronze in the process.
On Friday, UND Head Football Coach Kyle “Bubba” Schweigert kept the stories coming when it was his turn to speak. He talked about meeting Pollard Jr. many years ago during a student-athlete reunion tour of old Memorial Stadium. Pollard Jr. was among the student-athlete alums known affectionately as the “Stadium Rats” because they lived, studied and trained inside the old stadium.
Schweigert remembered the “wow” moment he experienced when he first saw Pollard Jr. — hall of famer, All American and Olympic medalist.
“There was just something different about Fritz,” Schweigert said. “He had it. He had the attention of everyone on that tour. He was a leader with all kinds of special qualities.”
Rounding out the host of speakers was Pollard III, who spoke fondly of his father and his time spent at UND.
“My dad loved North Dakota,” he said. “The people here were so nice and so loving that he fell in love with North Dakota. He couldn’t wait every year to come back to North Dakota to visit with friends that he had met here.”
Pollard III said his father came to UND after first starting out at Brown University in Providence, R.I. While at UND, Pollard Jr. excelled in football, picked All North Central Conference in 1937 and 1938, and was a Collier’s Magazine Little All-America selection in football in 1938. Pollard Jr. was inducted into the UND Athletics Hall of Fame’s initial class in 1975, and was named to the All-Century Football Team at UND, celebrating the top athletes in the first 100 years of varsity football, in 1994.
Throughout the years, Pollard Jr. remained loyal to his alma mater as a member of the Old Main Society, a UND Foundation philanthropic club. In 1986, he was honored during UND’s Homecoming parade and football game, and received UND’s highest alumni award — the Sioux Award.
“I’m so glad he left Brown (University) and came here,” Pollard III said about his father, while holding back tears, “because it made a better man of him … just like everyone who comes here is going to be a better person for doing it.”