The University of Akron’s resurrected baseball program has received a nearly $1 million gift from a former UA baseball player and his wife.

The university revealed the gift from William and Mary Skeeles in a campus newsletter Tuesday.

The donation will help to fund the return of the UA baseball program in 2020. Specifically, the money will go toward the renovation of the baseball stadium’s playing surface — the first phase of a $2 million upgrade of the Zips' baseball stadium at Lee R. Jackson Field on the UA campus.

Practice is scheduled to begin Sept. 1.

Former UA President Scott Scarborough eliminated baseball as a varsity sport in July 2015 as part of $40 million in budget cuts. Former UA President Matthew Wilson, who replaced Scarborough, said in 2017 that the university would restore baseball, using private funding for scholarships. 

Skeeles, who was raised in Jefferson County, started playing baseball at a young age, coached by his father. His passion for the sport grew, leading him to UA, where he could pursue his education while he played, UA said in the newsletter.

The Skeeles decided on the donation after a visit to Akron to watch the Zips football team in early November, when new baseball coach Chris Sabo presented the baseball program's needs to them.

“The University of Akron provided me with a practical education and leadership opportunities which helped to shape me into the community leader and successful businessman I am today,” Skeeles said in the newsletter.

“Mary and I feel strongly about giving back. The opportunity at the University with Coach Sabo and the baseball program to make an impact on so many students was appealing to us. We knew this was the moment to give back.”

George Van Horne, senior associate athletics director for development and marketing, called the improvements to the field a recruiting advantage for the program.

"When talking to recruits about the opportunity to play and practice as much as possible in Northeast Ohio, it's absolutely fantastic," Van Horne said. "It makes a huge impact on the program. It also allows us to use the field for soccer camps, football camps, band camps, so a lot of different sports and activities will be able to take place because the baseball outfield is huge.

With the whole field being turf, you're not worried about tearing up the dirt and the clay infield and you can use it for the whole student body of the University of Akron."

Van Horne said UA would like to make other improvements.

"We'd like to put about $2 million into the field to include dugouts, seating, scoreboard, press box area with a goal to make it as nice as FirstEnergy Stadium [soccer] and our softball field."

Skeeles is a principal and CEO and president of PointeNorth Insurance Group in Georgia.

The company serves more than 50,000 businesses and households, generating more than $295 million in annual premiums.

He received a bachelor’s degree in economics from UA in 1977. After relocating to the Atlanta area in the late 1970s, Skeeles received his law degree from the Woodrow Wilson College of Law in Atlanta.

Mary Skeeles is a principal and chief operating officer at PointeNorth Insurance Group.

She and her husband have been donors to UA for 37 years.

 

Beacon Journal staff writer George M. Thomas contributed to this report.