Vol. 10, No. 10

March 7 - March 13, 2002

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The Last Night of a Legend: Farewell Cole Field House

by Amy Mulligan

Out with the old, in with the new. It’s a pattern not uncommon in the sports world. Before we can say hello to state-of-the-art facilities like Camden Yards and the MCI Center, we must say goodbye to classic venues like Memorial Stadium and USAir Arena. Tradition gets pitted against technology, history versus potential.

At the last basketball game at University of Maryland’s Cole Field House March 2, I kept thinking about my first basketball game at Cole. It was one I played in.

I was 12 years old, and my basketball team played a 10-minute scrimmage at halftime of a women’s game. It’s something they do with local teams; it gives youngsters a chance to be a part of the excitement of Maryland Basketball.

I can remember the feeling of how big it was, how bright the lights were and how important I felt to be playing in front of so many people. What I didn’t know then was the history and tradition behind one of the greatest college basketball arenas in the country. There are things I never understood about the building until I was much older.

No one ever told me the day I played in Cole Field House that it is the only on-campus arena to have hosted two NCAA Final Fours. Or that the 1966 championship game broke down color barriers in college basketball when Texas Western, starting five African American players, upset the University of Kentucky’s all-white team.

I didn’t know at the time that Cole was the site of the first-ever televised women’s basketball game.
Names like Len Bias, Lefty Driesell and John Lucas were unfamiliar to me. Incredibly, it never crossed my mind that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan had run up and down the very same court I was playing on.

It was only later, as a student at the University of Maryland, that I realized what the building had seen and what it could do. I saw how it transformed my roommate, normally disinterested in sports, into a yelling, screaming, sign-waving basketball fanatic the day of a game against Duke.

I saw the trepidation in opponents’ eyes when they saw and heard 14,500 people packed into the “cozy” building. I felt the way it turned players like Steve Blake and Juan Dixon into my best friends for two hours on gamedays.

Elvis has played at Cole; Nelson Mandela has spoken there. Boomer Esiason, former quarterback for the Terps, was at the game Sunday night.

Legendary Dematha basketball coach Morgan Wootten best explained in an interview with ESPN the building’s connection to celebrities, athletes and fans.

“Cole is special. It’s like a museum,” he said.

But as it turns out, it’s an outdated museum. Cole’s roof is leaky, and there is no air-conditioning. There are no replay monitors, sound systems or luxury suites.

The Comcast Center will be the new $101-million home of the Terrapins next year. It will be an important recruiting tool to keep the nation’s best players coming to Maryland and an adequate space for athletic offices, locker rooms and workout facilities.

What remains to be seen is if it will be good enough to carry on the tradition that is Cole Field House.

Everything I never knew about Cole Field House when I was 12 was very much a part of what I saw that last night. It still felt just as big, and the lights looked just as bright, but I had a respect for Cole at my last game that was not there for my first.

It was then that I realized the thing I like best about Cole Field House’s rich history is that I am a part of it.

Former Bay Weekly Intern Amy Mulligan is a junior journalism student at University of Maryland.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly