Campus History

Farewell to the Shell

The UW’s longtime sports center has been replaced by modern recreational facilities.

Black and white photo of runners crouched and ready for a race on the track inside the Shell

Historical and veterans groups opposed the Shell when the UW proposed it in the 1950s. UW Archives

On April 19, 2023, the final bounce of a basketball echoed throughout the arched concrete interior of UW–Madison’s Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center. Commonly called the Shell since its opening in 1956, the quaint fitness space became obsolete with the recent openings of the Nicholas Recreation Center and Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center.

In the early 1950s, with practice needs outgrowing the Field House and a desire to keep athletic competition in a concentrated area, the UW proposed an eastern appendage to Camp Randall Stadium. Local historical and veterans groups opposed the project. They cited its partial encroachment on Camp Randall Memorial Park, university-owned land honoring the Civil War soldiers who once marched there. The UW ultimately convinced the legislature and courts to allow construction of the $1.5 million indoor practice building, dedicating it to “the men of Wisconsin who fought to preserve the Union.”

Present-day photo of a runner on the running track of the Shell

The Shell’s last day on April 19, 2023. Colton Mansavage

The Wisconsin State Journal called the curved structure, completed in seven massive concrete pours and spanning 400 feet by 200 feet, “one of the trickiest [projects] ever attempted in Madison.” Initially sporting a clay track on the “specially treated” dirt floor, the sports center held its first varsity track meet on February 18, 1956, with a Wisconsin victory over Minnesota and Purdue. Serving athletes from every sport, the space also featured batting cages and a full basketball court.

In the 1970s, the Shell added an ice rink and transitioned to all-campus and public use. By the 1980s, it was hosting more than 230,000 visitors per year. The 200-meter track has always remained the indoor home of the Badger men’s and women’s track and field teams.

In April, UW athletics reacquired the Shell from University Recreation & Wellbeing. Plans include moving its track to the adjacent McClain Center and replacing the building with a modern indoor football practice facility that can compete with those of peer schools. The football team currently practices in the McClain Center, which can’t fit a regulation-sized field or accommodate punting practice. The proposed facility, like the Shell before it, aims to give UW athletes the space they need to succeed.

Published in the Fall 2023 issue


  • Geri Ceci Cupery January 15, 2024

    I transferred to UW-Madison in 1978 and have fond memories of skating at the ice rink there. Altho’ a lifelong Wisconsin resident, the Shell is where I learned to ice skate at the ripe old age of 20! I’m sorry it’s gone and there is no replacement planned for “all-campus and public use.”

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *