UND administrators, alumni, former student athletes and family members of a late UND and Olympic athlete, gathered on Friday, Sept. 17, to formally dedicate the Frederick “Fritz” D. Pollard Jr. Athletic Center.
Previously called the High Performance Center, the building is UND’s primary indoor training facility for some UND athletes, including football and track and field. Along with boxing, those two sports were played by Fritz Pollard Jr. when he attended UND in the 1930s.
About 60 people were on hand for the ceremony, which included Pollard Jr.’s son, Fritz Pollard III. Attending with him was his daughter Meredith Pollard Russell, and her husband Kenny Russell.
“It's an honor for me to stand up here, and my dad I know is in this building to look at (this), being honored about this, because he loved the school so much,” said Pollard III, his voice at times filling with emotion.
Pollard III, who lives in Frederick, Md., will also serve as grand marshal at the Potato Bowl parade Saturday at 10 a.m.
UND President Andrew Armacost said naming a building is an important decision, one he supported after learning about the legacy, and lifelong support for UND of Pollard Jr. The idea to name the building after him was put forth by UND Athletic Director Bill Chaves, Armacost said, and came when he was in his third month as president. Armacost said Chaves’ idea to name the building after Pollard Jr. was “spot on.”
“I'm extraordinarily proud to join with the Pollard family today, on this important day, to honor Fritz Jr.,” Armacost said. “Please know that we are forever connected to you, and Fritz's name and legacy will continue to inspire our entire campus.”
Armacost said Pollard Jr., who was Black, came to UND at a time when Black Americans faced “unimaginable obstacles, bitter racism, and widespread injustice.” But it’s the legacy of Pollard Jr. and his commitment to excellence that can be a “stunning example” to all UND students and be a source of “unmatched inspiration for our students of color.”
Pollard Jr. was part of UND’s initial Athletics Hall of Fame’s class after a stellar career in football, boxing and track and field. In 1939, he was one of the school’s first African American graduates. In 1936, he earned a bronze medal as part of the U.S. Olympic track team in Berlin, where he competed alongside Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals. He was a World War II veteran, and one of UND’s biggest supporters, often making return visits to campus. He supported UND and UND Athletics until his death in 2003.
Pollard Jr. taught physical education in Chicago, and later worked as human relations commissioner under Mayor Richard J. Daley. During the Kennedy administration, he began working for the U.S. State Department, coordinating goodwill visits abroad by U.S. athletes.
When he wanted to return to UND, he told his son he needed just two checks to take with him, one for the university and one for the booster club. It was one of several anecdotes ceremony attendees learned about Pollard Jr., including how he trained at UND.
According to Pollard III, his father would run along the top of boxcars, located a short distance to the south. It was the only place he could do so because the snow was regularly cleaned off.
“I wish there were pictures of it that I could see, because it had to have been hilarious,” Pollard III said.
DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, said she learned that while on the ship en route to the Olympics, Pollard Jr. found his room full of flowers. Everyone assumed they were for Jesse Owens, but were in fact for Pollard Jr., and given by athletes he competed against across North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.
Meredith Pollard Russell said every time her grandfather visited campus, he came home with a bunch of UND-branded clothing, and that she always wore them.
"I still have my sweatshirt from '94," Pollard Russell said.
Chaves said Pollard Jr. embodied the three things that UND asks of its student athletes, including earning a degree. Chaves noted Pollard Jr. did that in “historic fashion” by earning a degree in law. Chaves said Pollard Jr. also accomplished the task of being a leader, something evident throughout his life and career. When it came to sports, Chaves said Pollard Jr. competed at his highest level, and left “nothing on the table.”
UND Football Coach Bubba Schweigert said he met Pollard Jr. about 20 years ago at the old Memorial Stadium. Schweigert said he was surprised at how humble he was, and that clearly showed the qualities of a leader.
“There was just something different about Fritz, he had the attention of everybody on that tour,” said Schweigert.
In talking with Pollard Jr. Schweigert said he learned the directions Pollard Jr.’s father gave him, on how to get to North Dakota by train, from Springfield, Mass.: Get on the train, and get off when it gets to Grand Forks.
“Boy, are we glad that he got off here in Grand Forks,” said Schweigert.
Schweigert went on to thank all the donors who made the building possible, and that being inside it “never gets old.”