Oct 31 2014

UM receives $7 million donation for athletic Champions Center

The Washington family, for whom Washington-Grizzly Stadium at the University of Montana is named, has once more stepped forward with a major gift to the UM Department of Athletics.

The sons of Dennis and Phyllis Washington, Kyle and Kevin, are giving $7 million on behalf of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation to be used for UM’s planned $14 million Washington-Grizzly Champions Center.

The 46,000-square-foot facility, which will be located against the southwest side of the stadium, will include a new football locker room and two-level weight room for all 15 of Montana’s athletic teams.

Champions Center rendering

Funding for the project comes entirely from private sources and needs approval from the Montana University System Board of Regents before construction can begin.

Kyle Washington was a sophomore in high school when the stadium that bears his family’s name opened in 1985. Like most Griz fans, he used to believe that the behind-the-scenes facilities – unseen to most but integral to the success of Montana’s teams – reflected the department’s championship ethos.

What he and his brother found on a tour of those facilities last December was just the opposite: a cramped space not appropriate for a high school team, let alone a Division I program.

“Something new was well beyond needed,” said Kyle, who graduated from UM in 1996 and today lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and works for the Washington Companies in their shipping and transportation endeavors. “I couldn’t believe that what was in place had been getting the department so far, for so long.”

When the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center is complete, the football locker room will expand from 2,400 square feet at its current location to 7,000. The new space will be a highlight of recruiting visits.

Currently housed in three separate areas, the new weight room will be consolidated into one facility and will more than double in size from 7,500 square feet to more than 17,000. Multiple teams will be able to train at once instead of stacked one at a time on a tight schedule that’s booked from sunup to sundown.

Locker room rendering

Strength center rendering

After three decades, Washington-Grizzly Stadium boasts a football win record of 177-26, energizing Griz nation and the UM brand. Will the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center have a similar effect?

“I certainly hope so,” Kyle said. “A school with pride like Montana needs to have the facilities that help its student-athletes be at a championship level in everything they do, and that was missing. I think this is going to fill that need. I hope this new facility inspires Missoula and Griz fans statewide and reinvigorates their Grizzly pride.”

Kevin echoed his brother’s comments. “The Grizzlies have a strong tradition of excellence, and this facility is an investment that sends a clear message to the student-athletes who give so much to the University that the tradition of excellence will continue,” he said. 

The facility will be the third construction project to begin under UM Director of Athletics Kent Haslam, who was hired in 2012 after working for the department in a development role since 2006.

“It’s exhilarating to be able to sit down with people like Kyle and Kevin, share the vision we have for this department and then have them invest in that vision,” Haslam said.

Over the years, Dennis and Phyllis Washington and their foundation have been among the University’s most generous benefactors. Among many other facilities, programs and scholarships, the foundation has been a key supporter of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, helping establish the Phyllis J. Washington Center for Education in 2009 and, most recently, providing $2.4 million to support the college-prep curriculum EdReady. The foundation has given more than $150 million to various causes since it was established in 1988.

“The Washington family’s generosity to the University of Montana is truly remarkable,” said UM President Royce Engstrom. “Their latest investment will benefit thousands of student-athletes who will use the new facility in the decades to come.”

Contact: Kent Haslam, UM director of athletics, 406-243-5419,