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Harry Minium | NORFOLK, Va. – The Old Dominion Athletic Foundation had its most productive year ever in 2022, raising more than $18 million for ODU athletics. That topped the nearly $17 million that ODAF raised in 2019.

Jena Virga, ODAF's executive director, said breaking the fundraising record was remarkable given an economy teetering on the brink of a recession, soaring inflation and an ailing stock market.

Since Virga was hired by ODAF, and Dr. Wood Selig became ODU's director of athletics, both in 2010, ODAF has raised more than $139 million, an average of $10.7 million per year, Virga said.

"For a relatively young university like ODU to raise that kind of money year after year is pretty remarkable," Virga said.

"It's really helps that we have an athletic director who understands what it takes to raise money and does anything we ask him to do to help.

"The amount we raised speaks volumes about our donors. They just believe in what we are doing."

It also speaks volumes about ODAF, Selig said.

"Jena and her entire crew work tirelessly on behalf of our student athletes," Selig said. "Their enthusiasm is infectious. They believe in our athletic program, including our commitment to academics, and our donors sense that dedication."

For the 10th year in a row, all of the nearly 130 full-time ODU athletic employees donated to ODAF. Some donated a few dollars, while others donated tens of thousands of dollars.

That shows a remarkable commitment to the athletic program from those who coach, train and otherwise take care of ODU's student athletes.

"I can't imagine there's another athletic department in the country that has received a 100 percent commitment from its entire staff for a decade," said Casey Cegles, ODAF's senior associate athletic director of development and revenue generation.

"It's simply phenomenal and we're so grateful to everyone in athletics who has supported us."

ODAF also increased the number of donors by 20 percent, including the recruitment of a large number of young alumni. More than 2,400 businesses and individuals donated to ODU in 2022.

ODAF helps pay for athletic facilities, but its most important role is raising scholarship money for athletes, Virga said.

ODAF is obligated to fund $5 million of ODU's nearly $11 million scholarship bill for athletes, from football and basketball to field hockey, volleyball and baseball.

"We can't let up," Virga said. "We have people who donate to help build new facilities and that's great. But our underlying goal is to raise money for student-athlete scholarships.

"We have to be successful every year. Our coaches and athletes depend on us."

But ODU is among the fundraising leaders in the Group of 5. Sun Belt Conference rival James Madison broke its fundraising record by bringing in $6.1 million in 2022, the school recently announced.

Georgia Southern, also a Sun Belt rival, raised a record $10.6 million. Florida Atlantic, which is leaving Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference next season, raised a record $6 million.

ODAF might be the most prolific fundraising organization in the Sun Belt – not all conference schools announce their fundraising numbers, but ODAF's numbers are far superior to all that do.

Virga said ODAF's fundraising numbers were up in part because ODU is in the midst of a campaign to renovate Bud Metheny Ballpark. More than $7 million raised in 2022 was for capital projects, with most going to the baseball stadium renovation.

ODU set its previous record in 2019 during a similar campaign to renovate S.B. Ballard Stadium. Amenities such as the Priority Automotive Club and a new scoreboard were paid for with funds raised by ODAF.

"People get excited about a new building or a new stadium," Virga said. "And that has certainly been the case with our baseball stadium."

The baseball fundraising effort is being led by President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., who secured several seven figure donations, including $2.5 million from local businessman Dennis Ellmer and his wife, Jan. The stadium will be known as the Ellmer Family Baseball Complex.

ODAF raised a record $2.8 million from premium seating, with most of it coming from suites, the Priority Automotive Club and loge seating areas at S.B. Ballard Stadium. That money has been allocated to fund scholarships for all of ODU's athletics teams.

ODAF also received commitments for $3.8 million in "planned gifts," meaning donors who plan to give to ODU athletics when they pass away.

ODAF continually emphasizes to donors that ODU athletes excel in the classroom. ODU's 466 athletes had a composite 3.28 grade point average in the fall, and 61 athletes had a perfect 4.0.

"Our donors value ODU's commitment to academics," Virga said. "For some, that's the primary reason they give, because they know our athletes are not only winners on the field but in the classroom."

ODU is in the midst of a $500 million fundraising campaign to increase the university's endowment and scholarship funds. ODU set ODAF's goal at $120 million and Virga said her group has raised a little more than $76 million since the campaign began.

Virga said she believes that ODU's move to the Sun Belt has helped and will continue to help fundraising.

"The rivalries in the Sun Belt are going to be much stronger than what we had in Conference USA," she said. "People know our conference rivals. It's a really good geographic conference for us. Our donors were excited when we made the move."

She said ODAF's goal in 2023 is to break the record of $18 million.

"We continue to do better year after year, but we can't stop," she said. "We have so much more to accomplish.

"Every year on January 1st we start over. We haven't raised one penny. And we have to raise a lot of money to meet our obligations."

In addition to Virga and Cegles, the ODAF staff includes Athletic Development Officer John Vellines Jr.; Ashley Vellines, director of special events and premium seating; Blaine Taylor, ODU's former basketball coach and the athletic development officer for major gifts; Dex Blank, director of athletic development; and Ashley Waters, athletic donor relations manager.