The story of the Wright Whitaker Sports Complex begins with the introduction of one of its namesakes, Berry M. Whitaker. The University of Texas hired Whitaker in 1916 to start a men’s intramural sports program as part of the Athletics Department. His objective was to promote “athletics for everyone.” Old Clark Field at 24th and Speedway Streets became the venue for intramural football, baseball, outdoor basketball, and track. Approximately 850 men participated that first year. The intramural program was more or less brought to a standstill as World War I broke out and most able-bodied men left campus, including Mr. Whitaker, who would not return until 1919 to carry on where he left off.
With the opening of Gregory Gym in 1930, the men now played on the tract of land south of the gym, what is now Speedway and 19th Street. Unlighted and consisting of three football, softball, or soccer fields plus tennis courts, this on-campus location, known as the intramural playing fields, was highly visible and well used by the men’s program. Women’s intramurals, was played on fields on the north end of campus. In spring 1947 the Inter-Fraternity Council provided lights for the intramural playing fields. The completion of the lighting system was made possible through a generous gift of the Athletic Council of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The men’s program grew rapidly as did the need for land on campus. The intramural playing fields ceased operations in the fall of 1966 to make way for the construction of a coed residence hall. That spring a tract of land at 51st and Guadalupe Streets was made available to the University, and the fields were named in honor of Berry Whitaker. Early the next year, the new Whitaker Fields opened, featuring four lighted softball fields, or eight football fields, and eventually 40 lighted tennis courts. With the joining of the men’s and women’s intramural programs in 1972, and the introduction of a coed program in 1974, the intramural fields became the site for all outdoor recreation including a growing sport club program and year-round special events.
Stemming from an internal Recreational Sports Master Plan developed in 1976–77, a plan to renovate all outdoor facilities was approved by the Board of Regents, and in the fall of 1980 the project began. New lighting, new irrigation, a new control building, and a maintenance building were added to the facility to go along with what now included 18 multipurpose fields that could be set up for football (9 fields), soccer (4 fields), and sport clubs (6 fields). This 1982 upgrade served its purpose for many years, supporting over 400 football, 300 soccer, and 300 softball teams, as well as various sport clubs including men’s and women’s soccer, lacrosse, rugby, and ultimate. The fields also accommodated youth camps in the summers and student organization events.
A 2007 feasibility study and facility assessment concluded, not surprisingly, that the current facility was in poor condition. Two engineering studies followed in 2010 which projected a renovation cost of $20 million. With $10 million funded by students toward the facility’s renovation, the Division sought to elicit another $10 million in donations from alumni, UT faculty and staff, and other friends of RecSports. The fundraising campaign, For the Love of the Field, was launched in fall 2013 to address the deteriorating conditions at the fields and to build additional amenities that would create a facility matching the quality and excellence of other RecSports facilities, such as Gregory Gym and the Recreational Sports Center.
Whitaker Fields closed for construction in October 2015 with an anticipated opening date of spring 2017. Project components included a new gateway building with single-entry access, equipment check-out, meeting and lounge space, lockers, restrooms and vending, new natural grass fields, a championship corner with synthetic fields for intramural championships, club tournaments and special events, energy efficient lighting and irrigation systems, shade structures, seating areas, a great lawn and fire pit, a renovated support building with meeting, training and storage space for sport clubs, and, four sand volleyball courts.
The newly renovated facility, renamed Charles Alan Wright Fields at the Berry M. Whitaker Complex, opened in spring 2017 thanks to the generous financial support of countless individuals. The new facility continues to serve as the home for outdoor intramural sports events, as well as the location for sport clubs to hold activities ranging from practices and matches, to tournaments, clinics, and other special events.