Celebrating 40 Years Of SHU Sports

In 1983, Sacred Heart University (SHU) was a small Division II school, home to just four athletic teams. Since then, the university’s athletics have significantly grown to welcome 33 NCAA Division I teams, 39 intercollegiate club teams, and an intramural program.

The evolution of SHU athletics dates to 33 years ago with the addition of two big aspects to the school: James Barquinero and football.

“What if we start football, then maybe a marching band, then cheerleaders, maybe down the road start a dance team,”said Barquinero, SHU Senior Vice President for Enrollment, Student Affairs, and Athletics, to the president at the time.

Barquinero said upon his arrival at Sacred Heart, he heard the news of eight northeast schools dropping their football program. With SHU also being in the process of switching from commuter to residential living, Barquinero knew he could not miss out on the opportunity of adding a football team.

Barquinero’s visions for the university’s athletics continued to grow as he pushed for the addition of more sports teams. Barquinero said other schools in the northeast conference questioned him as to why he was including so many sports in the university’s program. They called him crazy, saying his decisions would backfire.
“The more they said that the more I said ‘Good, they don’t want to do it. More athletes for us then,’” said Barquinero.
Yet his desire to advance SHU athletics did not end there. Barquinero took his “crazy” ideas one step further when he began to think Division II was not enough.
In 1993, Barquinero hired a new Athletic Director, Donald Cook. Together they decided to move Sacred Heart out of Division II and into a Catholic college conference, but they were denied from entering. After this, Barquinero and Cook made up their minds.

“Don, we are going D1,” said Barquinero.

Since then, Sacred Heart Athletics have been Division I with 33 teams representing the university. A significant shift from 40 years ago when men’s basketball, men’s soccer, baseball, and softball were the only teams comprising SHU’s athletic program.

Now Sacred Heart is home to a myriad of athletes and sports teams.

“One in every four students here are involved in some type of sport,” said SHU Club Football Head Coach and Associate Director of Athletic Marketing, Greg Jones.

Athletic Director Judy Ann Riccio called this expansion “an explosion of growth.” She said during her time at SHU she witnessed the two recent additions of Division I women’s rugby and Division I women’s wrestling.

She watched the women’s basketball team earn the school’s first NCAA tournament basketball victory last March and the cheerleading team take home their fourth consecutive National Championship. She also made note of the newly built Martire Family Area.

This $70 million hockey and skating area was Barquinero’s last project for the university. The rink houses the men’s and women’s Division I hockey programs, the figure skating team, three men’s club teams, and the women’s club team, not to mention the avid attention of many hockey fans.

“It is a fun atmosphere to bring the school together while supporting our hockey players,” said sophomore Shannon Willard.

Riccio believes the university’s athletic program will continue to build on the success and accomplishments captured in the past four decades.

“It’s pretty incredible to see where the school came from. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like in the next 40 years,” said Jones.

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