I didn’t think I’d stay 36 years,” says James Gilroy, director of Yates Memorial Field House, who has devoted his life to getting Hoyas fit at Georgetown University.
His best moments still come at the start of the school year. “There is so much energy, not just at Yates, and among our student employees, but all over campus. I already feel it this year. It’s a new beginning.”
The 142,000-square-foot, four-level sports and recreation facility is named for the popular Rev. Gerard F. Yates, S.J. Over four decades, Yates was a professor, a dean and a member of Georgetown’s oldest student a cappella group, the Chimes. Yates — the field house — has the usual things, but in a big way: pool, weight area, basketball and racquet courts, aerobics rooms and wellness center. A variety of fitness classes are offered.
The place brings to mind that encouraging voice, “If you build it, they will come.” In 1976, the construction of Yates was approved by student referendum. The campus desperately needed a facility other than McDonough Gym where students could exercise.
Completed in 1979 at a cost of $7.5 million, the no-nonsense workout place for students, alumni and neighbors is still going strong — and, like its director, who happens to be a runner, has gone the distance.
For Gilroy, an English major who graduated from Georgetown College in 1972, the Hoya and local connections run deep. He was born at Georgetown University Hospital and his parents and his two sons are also alums. (He and his wife Jane live in Falls Church, Virginia.)
Employed by the university since June 1980, Gilroy went on to develop his administrative skills, naming as mentors Denis Kanach, first director of the field house, and athletic director Frank Rienzo, who emphasized varsity as well as student athletics.
Unsurprisingly, Gilroy cites two Georgetown titans as the individuals who propelled the school to the top tier: Rev. Timothy Healy, S.J., president from 1976 to 1989, and John Thompson, Jr., men’s basketball coach from 1972 to 1999.
There has been plenty of change at the Hilltop for Gilroy: more students, more buildings and a school that seems less like family, more businesslike, these days.
“In 1980, Yates was the only game in town,” he says. With all the other sports clubs in the city now, Gilroy likes to think that Yates focuses on what is “lasting, not a fad.” Beginning in the 1980s and continuing up to today, Gilroy says he has observed that people tend to exercise more “by themselves.”
The students keep coming and some old-timers and neighbors do, too. If you’re wondering, the annual fee for neighbors is roughly $1,055 plus the D.C. fitness tax. Students
Gilroy seems to know them all and is eager to welcome them. It looks like he has a dream job — pretty cool for a guy who’s also the official scorer for Hoya basketball. To fill out the picture, he brews his own beer and his favorite author is Charles Dickens (who visited the campus on his 1842 American tour).
This semester, there’s more change. The John Thompson Athletic Center — for varsity athletes — has opened down the hill from Yates. Years from now, the 2017-2036 Campus Plan envisions a new Kehoe and Shaw Field, with Yates likely to be demolished for something new.
Regardless, the 66-year-old Gilroy has run his marathon well. He will depart as Yates director by January, but adds, “I don’t have plans to retire.” Today, he and the repainted, refurbished Yates are ready for the new school year. “It’s an exciting time. Keeps you young,” he says.