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Former Cowboys Step Up to Help Renovations to UW’s AA

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Courtesy of UW Athletics

The renovation of the University of Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium has received a great deal of support from a special group of individuals over the past several weeks. That special group is made up of former Cowboy basketball players who have offered their financial support through generous donations.

Among the group of former Cowboys who have pledged donations are Theo Ratliff, Reggie Slater, Dick Scarlett and Robert Rhynsburger.

“We are thrilled that so many former Cowboys have stepped up with leadership gifts,” said University of Wyoming Athletics Director Tom Burman. “We know how important Cowboy and Cowgirl Basketball have been to the players and the fans through the years. We hope this leads to others expressing their interest in this important project as we move into development of Phase I of the project.”

Ratliff, who came to Wyoming as a freshman from Demopolis, Ala., lettered at Wyoming from 1992-95, and was named First Team All-Conference his junior and senior seasons, as well as being named to the WAC All-Defensive Team both years. Ratliff ranks as one of the top shot blockers in NCAA history. His 425 career blocks at Wyoming ranks 14th all-time in NCAA history. In the 1994-95 season, Ratliff averaged 5.1 blocked shots per game — that still ranks as the 16th best single-season average in the history of college basketball. For his four-year college career, he averaged 3.8 blocks per game, which ranks 17th in NCAA history.

Ratliff went on to enjoy an outstanding 16-year career in the NBA. According to his final bio found on NBA.com, his career highlights include: being named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 1999 and 2004; leading the NBA in blocked shots in 2000-01, 2002-03 and 2003-04. He is one of only seven players in NBA history to capture the blocked shots title three-or-more times. The others were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George T. Johnson, Mark Eaton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Marcus Camby.  Ratliff was voted the starting center for the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, but he was forced to miss the game due to a stress fracture in his right wrist. He ranks 19th in NBA history in career blocks (1,968). Ratliff is currently a successful businessman in Atlanta, Ga.

The new strength and conditioning center in the Arena-Auditorium will be funded with Ratliff’s gift and will be named the Theo Ratliff Family High-Altitude Training Center.

When asked why he wanted to get involved with the Arena-Auditorium renovation project, Ratliff said, ”This was an opportunity for me to get reengaged with the university since leaving to go to the NBA. Over the past 16 years, I have been focused on pursuing my career in professional basketball. I didn’t really have a chance to get back to Laramie or be a part of the program.

“When I came back this past winter, it was the first time I had been back to a basketball game since the last game I played as a Cowboy. That meant so much to me, and it meant a lot to see some of my former teammates on that trip. It was exciting for me to see how much the university and the athletics department have grown. I definitely could feel that things are on an upswing.”

“As an influential sports figure from the University of Wyoming, I just wanted to do my part in helping complete the transformation of the arena.”

“Being at the University of Wyoming was a great opportunity for me, not only to play college basketball, but to be around great educators and great people who were very genuine in giving of themselves to me while I was there as a student-athlete.”

Slater played for the Cowboys from 1989-92.  He earned First Team All-Conference honors three times — his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Slater was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year his senior season. He ranks as Wyoming’s all-time leading rebounder, with 1,197 career rebounds, and he ranks as the fourth leading scorer in school history, with 1,809 career points. Slater also went on to play in the NBA for eight seasons. A native of Houston, Texas, Slater returned to his hometown and is now a successful independent businessman in Houston.

Scarlett is a longtime successful entrepreneur in Jackson, Wyo. He has been a generous donor to many University of Wyoming departments through the years. Scarlett lettered in both basketball and varsity men’s soccer at UW in the early 1960s.

Rhynsburger, who came to the University of Wyoming from Torrington, Wyo., was a Cowboy letterman in the late 1950s. He has been a member of the Cowboy Joe Club for over 30 years.

The Wyoming State Legislature has also provided great support for the Arena-Auditorium renovation project. Many legislators have been instrumental in the project’s funding. One of the key legislative leaders in providing that support is current Wyoming State Senator from Fremont County Eli Bebout. Bebout was a letterman for the Cowboys in the late ‘60s.

Phase I of the Arena-Auditorium renovation will consist of approximately $12 million in improvements. Construction will begin in March 2014 and be completed by November 2014 — prior to the start of the 2014-15 basketball season. Phase I of the project will include: the new Theo Ratliff Family High-Altitude Training Center; new locker rooms for both the Cowboy and Cowgirl basketball teams; a new athletic-training/sports-medicine area; a new floor; new lighting and sound systems in the Arena; new video boards and digital LED ribbon boards; and an audio-visual control room.

“Continued fundraising will be necessary to complete Phase II of the project, which is estimated to cost $18 million,” said Burman. “We have been very encouraged by the response we’ve received from donors, and we are hopeful that fundraising continues to go well so we can begin Phase II in short order.”

Phase II will include enhanced fan facilities throughout the concourse, including: new bathrooms and concession areas; a new entryway on the east side of the Arena-Auditorium that will include a new ticket office to better serve fans’ needs for events in both the Arena-Auditorium and War Memorial Stadium; a Wyoming Store to provide fans a location to purchase Cowboy and Cowgirl merchandise; a UW Athletics Hall of Fame area; a new club-seating area; a new elevator to provide improved ADA access to the floor level for fans; and a new commissary to support concession areas in the Arena and War Memorial Stadium.

Individuals interested in donating to the Arena-Auditorium renovation project may contact Randy Welniak in the Cowboy Joe Club at 307-766-6242 or rwelniak@uwyo.edu.

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