When student athletes at University of Illinois (U of I) aren’t competing in championships and tournaments or for Olympic medals and Big Ten titles, they spend countless hours in athletic facilities that serve as their second home. On any given day, you might find them sprinting the length of practice fields, putting up shots on state-of-the-art hardwood floors, or scooping ground balls from in-field turf. Maybe you’d find them receiving treatment in cutting-edge medicine suites, doing their homework near windows overlooking the beautiful campus, or making memories in sitting areas.
As senior associate director of athletics, capital projects, and facilities, Brett Stillwell builds those spaces. In doing so, he aims to not only prepare the athletes for the big moments but help them cherish the little ones, too.
“Our teams have a limited number of games each season. All the rest of their time is spent training and in practice facilities,” explains the U of I alum, who first spoke with American Builders Quarterly in 2019. “Since those places are like a home away from home, we build things considering their nutrition, academics, strength training, sports medicine, and more. Our student athletes might go do their lifts and do their training, but then spend a lot of time eating, doing their homework, and building team comradery there, as well.
“Having all those elements in one place helps us create the best experience for them and in turn, an exciting experience for our fans,” he adds.
In the past few years, the university has built out its facilities at an unprecedented rate. Stillwell’s team recently completed baseball and softball training centers, which feature a complete baseball infield, Trackman technology, and player and recruiting areas.
They’ve expanded the university’s basketball training facility to have more court and study space in addition to modern athlete amenities in team areas, new sports medicine facilities, and an enhanced strength and conditioning area.
Additionally, the team has wrapped up renovations to its golf course, adding a new lounge and a restaurant to the property. Next, his team is planning to build a new wrestling training facility and to add a number of upgrades to the university’s football stadium.
Sustainability has been another important consideration in developing these new offerings to help cut cost and reduce environmental impacts. Some facilities have solar panels on the roof to help generate hot water, and others utilize renewable materials for practice and game day floors.
Brett Stillwell on the Sports Tech Evolution
“Technology has changed things dramatically. For example, our basketball facilities have cameras that not only track the basketballs but also the people and can allow coaches to show how certain decisions impact things on the court. The kids and coaches are really into it.”
For Stillwell, the new additions and renovations work to enhance the student athlete experience while attracting new prospects. “We’ve built a lot of new buildings in a short period of time, and our goal has been to create training facilities and upgrades to develop and recruit student athletes, which will help create the best teams,” he explains. “When we have the best teams, we’ll generate more revenue and sell more tickets.”
The Mahomet, Illinois native came to the university in 2012 after decades of experience in the private sector. Stillwell graduated from U of I with degrees in architecture and went on to work twenty-one years at Architectural Spectrum in Champaign. There, he planned and designed commercial, institutional, and residential projects, working his way up to be the firm’s principal in his last eight years. After that, he continued his career journey to MSA Professional Services, where he was the managing principal architect.
Those chapters of his career set the stage for how he leads his staff of over fifty employees, who work on capital projects and the improvements to existing facilities. Similar to coaches developing their teams, Stillwell focuses on helping his staff grow.
“The basics are always good. Work hard, be a good teammate,” he says. “It works in sports; it works in life as well. You have to be creative and take advantage of opportunities. I try to provide that to my staff now and give them the opportunity to try new things, to be creative and to look outside the lines at the bigger picture. As they do that, they develop and encourage others to follow that path.
“For the football team, winning is the common goal,” he continues. “For us, it’s the student athlete and fan experience and making it the best it can be.”
Stillwell offers simple, yet important words to young people wanting to succeed in their careers: “Think big, work hard, and be a good coworker. I can point to how those things allowed me to go way beyond what I thought I could accomplish in my career.”
Reifsteck Reid is proud to work with the University of Illinois and leaders like Brett Stillwell to bring state-of-the-art athletic facilities to current and future NCAA athletes. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics is committed to providing the best facilities for its teams, and Brett has helped Reifsteck Reid deliver facilities the coaches desire. As members of the Urbana-Champaign community, Reifsteck Reid is always excited to help execute the dreams of our hometown teams.