Final buzzer sounds for the Fieldhouse

March 6, 2008 9:07:00 PM PST
The final buzzer on Hawk Hill has sounded for the Saint Joseph's Fieldhouse. It is like a run down neighborhood bar. Locals love it, and they win most fights. But when the snooty types walk in, they quickly walk out.

Former St. Joseph's players will tell you they had some teams beat the minute they stepped into the cramped musty Fieldhouse.

"The four years that I played here, I wouldn't give up for the world," said former player Jameer Nelson.

Nelson, Mike Bantom and other former players and coaches said goodbye Thursday night.

When the Hawks return home, the gym will be renamed the Michael J. Hagan '85 Arena. Hagan contributed $10 million to the renovation project. New locker rooms, coaches' offices, meeting areas, study space and 1,000 new seats are part of the upgrades expected over the $25 million renovation project.

"Charm wears thin after a lot of years. They needed a new facility. I think what they're getting is going to work out very well," said former coach, Dr. Jack Ramsey.

St. Joseph's is trying to keep up with the Jones' -- meaning Villanova and other regional schools that have spruced up facilities to attract big time recruits.

While visiting Hawk Hill was certainly one of the more unique experiences in college basketball, Saint Joseph's realized it had to flap its way into the 21st century. The facility is sorely outdated, with cramped locker rooms, a jammed lobby for fans and certainly no high-tech videoboard overhead to replay each fancy dunk. Coach Phil Martelli's office is not much bigger than an office cubicle and he was concerned about losing recruits to programs with state-of-the art equipment and player lounges, among other amenities.

But Joanne Devlin like Fieldhouse just the way it is. She has been coming to games here for nearly 40 years.

"A little sad to see it go. I love my seat. We've had these seats since 1985," said Devlin.

The 3,200-seat gym - which hosted its first game on Nov. 26, 1949 - was famous for its raucous crowd and students close enough to the court they could touch their favorite player's sneakers. The Hawk mascot never stopped flapping its wings and the famed chant "The Hawk Will Never Die!" could overwhelm visiting teams not used to the steamy and intimate environment.

The Hawks will play home games at the Palestra next season. The renovated Fieldhouse will open for the 2009-2010 season.

While it will have a new look, players and former coaches say it will still have mystique.

"It's great. It's going to be bigger, but the memories will still be there," said Ted Raczkowski.

Saint Joseph's closed Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse with one more upset win, beating No. 8 Xavier 71-66 on Thursday night. (READ MORE)

--- (The Associated Press contributed to this report)