MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - As is so oftentimes said, time marches on.
Last Friday, the West Virginia University Board of Governors announced that a recent $10 million gift from benefactors Bob and Laura Reynolds will help fund a new business educational complex that will reside where Stansbury Hall currently sits.
At some point down the line, aging 89-year-old Stansbury Hall, once known as the WVU Field House, will be razed to make way for a new facility benefitting aspiring West Virginia University students of tomorrow.
For those of us who attended the University in the mid-1980s, Stansbury Hall was where we took many of our English and philosophy classes, or where the downtown campus inhabitants played recreation basketball during cold, winter evenings.
The ROTC program for many, many years has also called Stansbury Hall its home.
Yet even in the mid-1980s, more than 30 years ago, what I remembered most about Stansbury Hall as a student was that it was very old, very cramped, and always too hot!
Certainly, its time has come.
But that doesn’t mean it will be forgotten.
To the people who grew up in Morgantown in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s - and there are many of you still around - the Field House was a magical place to be on cold winter evenings.
Each brick seemingly conceals a story - a great story.
Former Mountaineer player and longtime radio broadcaster Jay Jacobs, now 78, remembers what an unforgettable place it was for a young boy growing up in Morgantown. He can instantly recall sneaking into the gym to see 19th-ranked Duke, led by All-American guard Dick Groat, get run right out of the place and back to Durham, North Carolina.
Groat got his 26 points, but West Virginia’s 95 points tallied on that cold Saturday night back in 1951 were evenly distributed between Mountaineers Mark Workman, Eddie Becker, Moo Moore, Jim Sottile and Mack Isner.
Hatchet-wielding lay minister Frank "Chop 'Em Down" Henderson was one of the zany characters who used to frequent the Mountaineer Field House in the 1940s and 1950s. West Virginia & Regional History Center photo.
Jacobs remembers old ‘Chop ‘Em Down,’ a sometimes-unhinged lay minister who used to run around the place with a small hatchet scaring the hell out of all the small children and many of the big children, too.
“He was a big part of that place,” Jacobs recalled. “I don’t remember how he got there or how he always got into the building but he was always there. And the amazing thing was I don’t remember where he went after the game was over, but he always came back.”
Jacobs remembers Hot Rod Hundley and all of the crazy antics he was talked into doing, particularly when he got off double-secret probation to become an established player for the Mountaineers following his freshman season.
In some ways, Hundley grew to become far bigger than the WVU basketball program itself.
“All of the stories you always hear about Hundley were really, really true,” Jacobs said. “The crazy shots, eating hot dogs during the games and going out into the hallway and running back onto the court from the other side while the game was going on really happened.”
Jacobs remembers colorful Pitt coach H.C. “Doc” Carlson, who playfully used to insist that the initials H.C. stood for “High Class” instead of his given name Henry Clifford.
Because Carlson frequently had beverages thrown on him during games, he began bringing an umbrella with him to keep dry. Sometimes, he would grab the containers and throw them back at the fans or toss popcorn at them when, later in his coaching career, his out-manned Panther teams were stalling to try and keep the score close.
“What a great entertainer Carlson was,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs remembers the many great officials who called games in the Field House, such as Ford City, Pennsylvania’s, Red Mihalik and Baltimore’s Charley Eckman.
Whenever Morgantown Dominion News sports reporter Mickey Furfari began giving the refs the business, Eckman would immediately put a stop to it.
“He would come out before Mickey would start something - and he would start something - and Eckman would turn and get Mickey first,” Jacobs said. “He had complete control of the arena and he was always such a showman.”
The local, hand-picked officials such as Sheriff Tiano were also quite colorful.
Former WVU player-turned announcer Jay Jacobs said the old Field House was a great place to watch college basketball in the 1940s and 1950s. Geoff Coyle/WV Illustrated photo.
Tiano was the one who used to say “our ball!” whenever the basketball bounced out of bounds, and once when WVU coach George King complained to The Sheriff that he wasn’t helping him the way he used to help his predecessor, Fred Schaus, Tiano replied, “Listen, George, I can only put your guys on the free throw line. I can’t make ‘em for ‘em, too!”
Jacobs remembers the first time NBC ever came to Morgantown to broadcast a college basketball game at the Field House on February 7, 1959, when the Mountaineers faced Holy Cross.
Famed announcer Lindsey Nelson was brought in along with a crew from New York City, and the University made a big production over the rare opportunity to get national exposure. The TV crew set up along the river side of the Field House where most of the high-priced seats away from everyone else were located.
“They put a table out in the middle and they did the broadcast from there,” Jacobs recalled.
Jacobs was a big fan of jazz and remembers Dave Brubeck once performing at the Field House. He also remembered the palatial office Schaus occupied when he was presiding over all those great Mountaineer teams in the late 1950s.
“Man, Fred had such a big, beautiful office,” he laughed. “It was so big that his desk took up the entire office and if he was going to suspend you or kick you off the team, he had to do it from the hallway.
“‘You’re off for three games!’ he would yell to the guy standing out in the hallway,” Jacobs said.
Jay remembers the long lines that stretched down Beechurst Avenue extending to Ann Dinardi’s house, sometimes even beyond where Knapp Hall currently sits today.
“When the doors opened, those people would just fly in there to get to their seats,” Jacobs said. “If you fell, you got trampled because everyone was running to get to the best seats.”
But perhaps what Jacobs most vividly remembers was the state high school basketball tournament that used to take place at the Field House, beginning in 1939 and continuing on an annual basis until 1954.
A street view of Stansbury Hall as it looks today. Submitted photo.
Bringing the state tournament to Morgantown was the brainchild of WVU athletic director Roy “Legs” Hawley, and WVU was able to keep it there until the mid-1950s when Marshall cried foul and demanded that it rotate to Huntington on a semi-annual basis.
Marshall (quite correctly) argued that WVU had an unfair recruiting advantage by hosting the state tournament each year at the Field House.
Because the state highway system was so awful in the 1940s and 1950s, it was nearly impossible for some of the best players from other parts of West Virginia to get to Morgantown without first having the benefit of playing the high school basketball tournament there.
That’s how Mark Workman saw Morgantown.
Then, it was Red Holmes, Eddie Becker, Willie Bergines, Rod Hundley, Jerry West, Willie Akers, Rod Thorn, Bill Maphis and Fritz Williams - all tremendous high school basketball players - who got to really experience Morgantown for the first time when their prep teams played in the state tournament at the Field House.
When Huntington got the game in 1955, Huntington High’s Leo Byrd played at Memorial Field House and wound up going to Marshall.
He probably would have ended up there anyway, but West Virginia having the opportunity to serve as host of the basketball tournament that year may have made his decision a little more difficult.
The two marquee players of the 1956 state tournament met on a Friday night at the Field House in Morgantown in the semifinals - East Bank’s Jerry West and Mullens’ Willie Akers - and both ended up attending WVU.
Jacobs’ Morgantown High team defeated Parkersburg in the other semifinal game that evening to face East Bank in the championship game played on Saturday night.
“People would come in for the entire weekend, beginning on Thursday,” Jacobs said. “My dad owned a clothing store in downtown Morgantown and he had tickets to the state tournament each year.
“I would go to every game when I was a kid and afterward I would run home through the snow imagining that I was Walt Walowac from Logan (who signed with Kentucky before ending up at Marshall) or (Earl) Jitterbug Gilbert from Woodrow Wilson (who played at Virginia Tech).
“It was just so exciting.”
In 1958, when Rod Thorn’s Princeton team came to Morgantown to play in the state tournament it was a major, major event for the entire University - an opportunity for WVU to make a big impression on one of the top prep basketball players in the country.
A view from the riverside balcony of the final college game ever played at the Mountaineer Field House against Pitt on March 3, 1970. WVU Athletic Communications photo.
Fred Schaus pulled out all of the stops to land Thorn, who was also seriously considering Duke.
It was a similar deal in 1962 when Weirton’s Ron “Fritz” Williams faced Beckley Woodrow Wilson in one of the most memorable basketball games ever played in the Field House - at any level.
It was the first time in state tournament history two undefeated teams were playing in the Triple-A finals and Beckley overcame a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to win at the buzzer, once again demonstrating the superiority of southern basketball in state prep ranks despite Weir High probably having the better team.
“I remember that game well,” Jacobs said. “What I remember most was that EVERY team brought their band. It was really a wonderful thing and then it was gone so fast.”
Gone, for sure, but not forgotten.
The Field House was a wonderful place, occupied by many wonderful people making it such an important piece of West Virginia’s Wild and Wonderful sports history.
But, as they say, time marches on.