Ave Maria University in southwestern Florida has announced a major expansion of its intercollegiate athletics program, including the addition of men’s and women’s varsity swimming & diving team.
The school, located in Ave Maria, Florida, and has an undergraduate enrollment of just over 1,100.
Ave Maria competes in the NAIA, and will grow its club swimming & diving team into a full-fledged varsity program in time for the fall 2021 semester.
They become the 5th members of the Sun Conference to sponsor swimming, joining NAIA swimming powerhouse SCAD-Savannah, St. Thomas (FL), Thomas, and Keiser University.
Teams will train at the Ave Maria Water Park, which is located less than a mile from campus. The lap pool there claims four 25-meter lanes.
“We’re thrilled to be adding swim and dive to our varsity offerings,” said Director of Athletics Joe Patterson. “There is great momentum within the Athletic Department right now, and we believe swim and dive will be a great asset to the University.”
In addition to a new men’s and women’s swimming & diving program, the school will reinstate men’s and women’s golf in the fall of 2021. Both sports were suspended last semester due to COVID-19 budget concerns.
The school is also launching junior varsity programs in women’s basketball, softball, and men’s soccer. This will bring the school to a total of 18 varsity and 6 junior varsity programs.
The school is also building a new 6,500 square foot locker room facility, overhauling and reconstructing Golisano Field House, and building a new outdoor, open-air, multi-court covered basketball facility.
This addition is part of a rapid growth of swimming & diving programs in NAIA schools, which view the sport as a way to boost enrollments on their often-small campuses.
The private university is affiliated with the Roman Catholic church and has a rather interesting history as an educational institution. Originally founded in Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1998 by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, that campus closed in 2007 when it was denied approval by Ann Arbor Township in Michigan to build a larger campus.
This prompted Monaghan, who founded the university with a donation of $250 million, to begin construction on his own master-planned college town in southwest Florida, known as Ave Maria. In 2004, Monaghan made controversial statements by expressing his wish to build a town free of pornography, premarital sex, and contraceptives, which is likely unconstitutional. Under pressure, Monaghan backed down on his plans to intertwine religion into the town government, announcing a milder plan that would bar sex shops and strip clubs.
The school’s sports teams are nicknamed the “Gyrenes,” which is a slang term for a United States marine. Monaghan was a United States marine from 1956 through 1959 – accidentally enlisting when he had intended to join the Army.