And to think it all started with a field house …Written by Dave Woolford | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Entering the main entrance of the new Charles A. Sullivan Athletic Complex on the campus of UT for the first times makes you wonder if you’re dressed properly for the occasion, no matter what it might be.
You don’t have to check your shoes at the door, but if you’re wearing a tie, straighten it. If you’re dressed in jeans, at least pull them up and attempt to hide the manufactured and supposedly stylish holes, slits and tears. If you’re wearing a hat, it might be best to stow it in an empty pocket.
For salutations, say “hello” instead of “yo,” and use the proper surname instead of, “dude.” when addressing someone.
This is the lavish main lobby that leads you to Savage Arena and the Bob Nichols basketball court, elegant new home of the Rockets basketball teams along with a number of other sports and activities.
The lobby is three stories high, surrounded by glass walls that give you a panoramic view of the main campus and the exquisite, though sometimes encrusted, Ottawa River.
I mentioned to a bystander on a recent tour of the new facility that I have a pair of glasses lying somewhere on the bottom of that river. I explained that a fraternity brother and I won the annual fraternity canoe race and were ceremoniously tossed into the river by the brotherhood. That got nothing but a cursory nod as in, “Dude, who cares?”
Undeterred, I let nostalgia hold sway as I marveled at this new complex. I couldn’t help but recollect walking into the old field house for the first time in 1960 as a freshman at UT (better known as TU among us more mature alumni).
Coming from University Hall you had to pass two Quonset huts used for classrooms to get there. That told you a little something of your approaching destination. It was a salt-of-the-earth gymnasium with all the luxuries of a landfill, but it was our landfill. It was cozy and had all the trappings of the consummate home-court advantage. The stands were so close to the court that a fan sitting in the first row with a incessant cough could have both teams and the officials hacking before halftime.
While you look up in amazement to survey the new UT athletic complex, you looked up in self-defense in the old field house as you climbed up to the press box. Once there, one wrong move, such as standing erect, and you would conk your noggin on one of the many low-hanging pipes that obviously loathed craniums. Anyone who jumped up to cheer was sure to be rendered unconscious, but went unattended because the standing rule now as well as back then is, “No cheering in the press box!”
Melancholy me had to visit the old field house on the same day I called on the new Sullivan Athletic Complex.
Another jarring revelation. The old field house is still labeled, “Memorial Field House” on what are the original stone walls erected in 1931. I knew it has recently been made over into a snazzy classroom facility, but any resemblance to the old field house on the inside is purely coincidental.
What a beautiful facility, but couldn’t someone have at least left an old banner hang somewhere or dangle a pipe at eye level in some nook or cranny just as a reminder?
In the middle of what is now a three-story facility is what is called, “Town Square.” As a reference point for those of you from the old field house era, it’s about where the University of Detroit’s Spencer Haywood hit referee Red Strauthers during a game in 1969.
Best game in the old field house? I’ll take an exhibition contest in 1965 when the Rocket freshman team, consisting of starters Steve Mix, John Rudley, John Brisker, Bob Miller and Jimmy Hayes, lost to the varsity something like 96-92. That freshman class would go on to be the best basketball team in UT history.
The move to the new Centennial Hall basketball facility in 1976 was more awe-inspiring than the unveiling of the most recent restoration because of the huge dissimilarity between the old field house and the new, cavernous 9,000-seat arena with the funky-colored seats.
Covering the first game in what was then Centennial Hall remains vividly etched in my psyche and I’m sure that of many others in attendance on that night. It would become one of the most dramatic Rocket triumphs in the 32-year history of Centennial Hall, its name changed to Savage Hall in 1988.
Toledo defeated defending national champion Indiana 59-57 in the 1976 inaugural, snapping the Hoosiers’ winning streak at 33 games. In what had to be a first, and most certainly a last, subdued IU coach Bobby Knight never used one word of profanity in his post-game remarks, at least not publicly.
That was 522 Rocket men’s basketball games ago, but all contested inside the same walls that surround the new Sullivan Athletic Complex. That’s what’s so amazing and inspiring as my bias bleeds through, and why not? I’m a UT grad, former sports editor of The Collegian and later a part-time instructor in the department of communication. I’m allowed.
The university has taken two worn athletic facilities and upgraded their tradition by saving their exteriors, while creating very impressive state-of-the-art facilities from within at huge savings as compared to tearing down and starting anew.
Who couldn’t be proud of that?