NORMAN — Over the first couple months Headington Hall was open last fall, a clear divide existed between athlete and non-athlete residents.
Oklahoma student-athletes began moving into the new facility in the summer, so when non-athletes joined them, “self-segregation” — as faculty-in-residence Kelly Damphousse called it — came pretty naturally. But by October that tension began to fade, and the 380 residents started embracing the things they all had in common.
“Coming in, I thought they were superstars,” said Guymon native and non-athlete Kaitlynn Maddox. “Why would they want to hang out with the normal people? I definitely thought they wouldn’t want anything to do with us.”
Headington Hall is fully funded and maintained by the athletics department. Impressing football recruits was a major impetus in getting the project off the ground. According to NCAA rules, though, non-athletes must make up at least 51 percent of all campus housing facilities.
Despite the fact that Oklahoma student-athletes represent a minority inside the $75 million, state-of-the-art residence hall that was built for them, non-athletes who lived in Headington Hall during its inaugural year say they didn’t feel like outsiders or unwelcomed.
Many OU athletes have already moved into Headington Hall for the 2014-15 school year, and the non-athletes will be joining them next month.
“There’s really not much of a difference,” said Dallas native Brandon Terrell, who lived in Headington Hall last year. “Throughout the dorm, I mean, I was on the second floor, and there were football guys on my floor, so it’s not like they put all the athletes on their own floors.
“They were right across the hallway from me. They’re treated the same way. They interact with us and talk to us.”
Headington Hall features apartment-style, two- and four-bedroom units. A large dining facility on the first floor is named after 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, who donated $500,000 for the facility. There is also an 80-seat movie theater and a game room, plus several computer labs and study rooms.
Non-athletes stressed there were never any athlete-only events at Headington Hall, nor were they ever denied access to the facility’s numerous amenities.
“Everyone was really treated evenly, no matter if you were an athlete or a non-athlete,” Terrell said. “You could use the pool tables or the ping-pong tables whenever, go into the study commons. Never was it athletes-only. None of that.”
Damphousse — along with his wife, Beth — applied to be a faculty-in-residence several years ago after his children left home, but there wasn’t a spot open until he got a call about a year before Headington Hall opened.
“It was just my good fortune that my name came up just as Headington Hall was being built,” Damphousse said.
He has been an OU professor since 1997, is the university’s NCAA faculty athletics representative and became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in March. Beth quit her job to become a full-time “mom” to Headington Hall residents.
The Damphousses organized several resident activities, including Tuesday afternoon snacks and late-night breakfasts.
“We got to know each other,” Maddox said. “We were studying together, hanging out, eating together, so I’d say toward the middle of the year and definitely by the end of the year, there was no distinction at all.
“We’d have programs where Trevor Knight was serving us pancakes. We were decorating cookies with Eric Striker. Nobody cared.”
Kelly Damphousse said one of the first things he does when athletes arrive in the summer is encourage them to reach out to the non-athletes.
“You can tell that the non-athletes can kinda be nervous at first because you’re interacting with people who are really well-known beyond the campus,” he said. “That can be kind of intimidating, but there are lots of the athletes who go out of their way to make that a natural relationship.
“It just warms my heart a little bit to see how hard the student-athletes try to make it easy on the non-athletes.”