Memories will last long after the Field House is no more
The physical features of WVU’s basketball hothouse, also know when it was first opened in 1929 as The Field House, were easy to remember. Five flagpoles near the four towering windows at the front of the low-slung brick building. Long walkways that paralleled Beechurst Avenue led to that imposing front entrance. Vehicles neared the sidewalks as they crept past the new house of West Virginia University basketball.
The structure cost only $250,000. It was just below Old Mountaineer Field and just above a bend in the Monongahela River.
When first opened it seated only 4,500 but the crowd capacity gradually grew to 6,000.
Once inside, the fans were greeted by only a few creature comforts. Heating vents jutted from the steel supports of the upper deck of stands. There was what appeared to be a balcony on one side and the other side rose almost to the ceiling with about 20 rows of the permanent seats.
The noisy and Mountaineer-biased crowds clung close to the court. The West Virginia opponents could never feel too comfortable with the often sold-out facility giving the home crowd such access to the “enemy.”
Steel girders loomed across the expanse of faces on the one side. A small scoreboard was tucked into a corner of the upper reaches.
At floor level there were about seven rows of seats on rollaway bleachers. The students liked that viewing area — the better to see the concern in the opposition’s players eyes.
The usually well-dressed crowd readied for the Mountaineers to come on to the floor for pre-game warmups. When Fred Schaus became the coach in the mid-1950s he brought a little showmanship with him. Out of the dressing room came the players in their white warmups.
They stormed to the court on a slender carpet of blue and gold that had the team’s name written on it. And one player carried a basketball painted blue and gold that the team used as it went through warm-ups.
The heat generated by the intense crowd, vents and the Schaus-coached full-court press was a constant presence in The Field House.
Anybody ever witnessing West Virginia’s fiery intensity there on Beechurst Avenue remembers the details of the facility.
But they remember the details of the “Golden Era” teams and their individuals even more.
Teams that won 20 or more games in Schaus’ last five years of leading the Mountaineers. Teams that won Southern Conference championships every year Schaus coached. Teams that held the state’s loyalty and small-town passion.
When the Mountaineers played, the whole state often moved close to their transistor radios to hear what broadcaster Jack Fleming had to report about how the game was going against Duke, Pitt, Virginia Tech or Villanova.
The listeners and those huddled close together in every reach of The Field House knew Jerry West was from Chelyan, “Hot Rod” Hundley was from Charleston and Marvin “Bucky” Bolyard had only one eye and was from Aurora in Preston County. They knew Willie Akers was a center in high school in Mullens . . . and that Bobby Jo Smith was forward/guard that stood at 6-foot-3.
Lloyd Sharrar was a timber-tall favorite, Lee Patrone was nicknamed the “Bellaire Bomber” . . . and Ronnie Retton was like a Jack Russell terrier with his tenacity and 5-foot-7 frame.
Joedy Gardner and Don Vincent were the starting guards on the 1957-58 team that lost only one regular season game. Jim Ritchie, Jim McCormick and Jim Warren could come into games and turn them in favor of the Mountaineers.
Bob Clousson was a quiet, unassuming role player as was Joe Posch.
The crowds knew the favored shooting spots on the court of every face that Schaus brought to the fray. And they knew Hundley and West were the ones to bring those Southern Conference games into the win column.
The Field House even hosted the Southern Conference tournament in 1953.
The last game in the facility was fittingly played against Pitt. It came in March of 1970 when the Golden Era was but a memory as Schaus had gone to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, where he had both West and Hundley on his teams.
When the facility closed to NCAA basketball it acquired the name Stansbury Hall after an athletic director in bygone days.
It had housed WVU basketball from 1929 to 1970.
And now the building on Beechurst Avenue will soon be gone as a $10 million contribution to the university will be used to erect a new edition to the Business School on those grounds. The Field House/ Stansbury Hall will be no more.
People who were there will still close their eyes and prick their ears and see in their mind’s eye the Mountaineers close in on a Davidson lead or pressure their way to a last-seconds win over Duke. They’ll hear the low-pitched roar that becomes a din generated by the vocal crowd as the Mountaineers dispatch Pitt or George Washington or Penn State.
The Field House will be gone. But the memories of what happened inside its cramped walls will live on in places like Bramwell, Follansbee, Harts, Kenova, War, Williamson and Elk Garden.