Simmons Bank gave the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's athletics program a reason to celebrate Tuesday morning with a $2.5 million gift that will go toward upgrading the university's football and baseball facilities.

The gift, which must be approved by the UA board of trustees, is the largest in school history, UAPB officials said.

Administrators and members of the Simmons Bank family were on hand, including the chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Corporation, George A. Makris Jr., who said, "Simmons is honored to partner with UAPB to help students excel right here in our hometown of Pine Bluff. There is nothing more rewarding for our bank than the opportunity to invest in our communities, especially in our young people.”

On stage were members of the UAPB athletic department, including interim Athletic Director Alyse Wells-Kilbert, UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander, UAPB Head Football Coach Cedric Thomas and UAPB Head Baseball Coach Carlos James.

Dignitaries from the University of Arkansas were also on hand, including several members of the UA board of trustees and UA System President Donald Bobbitt.

Kilbert opened the ceremony by thanking Simmons Bank for the contributions they have made over the years to UAPB.

“We are grateful to Simmons Bank for its long-standing partnership with UAPB, and more specifically, this major gift that will allow us to complete much-needed upgrades," Kilbert said. "These improvements will benefit our student-athletes and create a better fan experience during football and baseball games.”

Alexander then spoke on what UAPB plans to do with the money, as portraits of a new scoreboard, a turf football field, a press box at the baseball stadium and other upgrades were unveiled.

“On behalf of UAPB faculty, staff students and alumni, I’d like to express our appreciation to Simmons Bank for its generous gift,” Alexander said. “This donation will directly benefit our student-athletes by assisting them in reaching and exceeding their athletic and academic performance goals.”

Golden Lion Stadium's new turf will carry the name "Simmons Bank Field," and the words will also be emblazoned on the facade of the stadium's home side.

There were many factors and elements that went into this long-thought-out donation, officials from both Simmons and UAPB said.

Retired Major League Baseball All-Star Torii Hunter — a Pine Bluff native — has had his hands in on project from the beginning, and he talked about what the donation means for the city of Pine Bluff and UAPB.

"Simmons Bank chose to jump in and do something about this community," said Hunter, whose name is already on UAPB's baseball complex after a significant donation of his own several years ago. "They're trying to restore it, restore the face, and this is how you get it started. There was a lot of hard work behind the scenes, and there's been a lot of time spent, chatter and skull sessions leading up to this. There's no reward without risk, hard work and dedication."

When asked about the areas of baseball and football and how the donation was made, Hunter made it known that it's not just two sports that supporters represent. Improvements must start somewhere, he said, and for all parties included, this donation will be beneficial in many ways.

"I think it's well-targeted," Hunter said of the donation. "We raise money as far as all areas, whether it's academically or athletically. Whether it's football, softball, baseball or any other sport. We raise money for everybody. People have money and they choose where it should go. It's a great marketing tool for Simmons as well with the naming of the new field. I definitely think it's in the right area."

Upgrading the facilities will enhance the experience for students, student-athletes, the community, fans and the brand of UAPB, school officials said. It'll also bring excitement to the campus, representing a positive ripple effect for Pine Bluff in general.

"It's definitely very exciting because you draw more people in," Hunter said. "You get more support from the surrounding areas. Coming to a stadium that's one of the best football and baseball venues in the SWAC, you'll get more out of it. People will want to come see what are we doing different. It'll get more recruits to come here. Even if they don't play baseball or football, I just think the revenue streams of these stadiums will be huge. The gas stations, hotels and restaurants will see a growth in business. People will be able to come in and they'll give back to the economy just to see a game."