Tahlequah Daily Press

February 28, 2013

COMMENTARY: A proper send-off for Jack Dobbins Field House

Sports Editor

— It doesn’t get any better than this when it comes to Northeastern State basketball.

A raucous crowd of 1,224 christened Jack Dobbins Field House for a reunion, of sorts. Oh, and Central Oklahoma was in town.

All good stuff.

The cherry on top was it just so happened to be the ending of an era. The 58-year-old facility, known as Jack Dobbins Field House, was given a proper send-off as NSU ventures into a new realm of athletics.

There will be plenty of time in the future to talk about the RiverHawks’ new $14.4 million, 3,000-seat jewel that is slated to open next season on the north end of campus.

But today is all about Jack Dobbins Field House and how the community — and more specifically, a group of NSU students — helped turn back time at the building, which stood — and will likely continue to — stand as the welcome mat to the university from the south.

It’s no secret that attendance across the college basketball landscape has dwindled. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa know it all too well. People just aren’t turning out to watch games on the collegiate hardwood.

Northeastern State has suffered the same plight. The RiverHawks rank toward the bottom of the pack in basketball attendance. That’s a far cry from the days in the 60s and 70s when fans had to be turned away at the door.

Heck, fans from the surrounding area couldn’t even fill Jack Dobbins Field House for NCAA tournaments games in 2011. There were still seats to be had when the NSU women lost to UCO in the Round of 32.

Last season, NSU enthusiasts would show up early to watch the top-25 women’s club before bailing before the men’s game even started.

This year, at least the fans have stuck around for both games. Through 12 home dates (prior to UCO’s arrival in town), the RiverHawks have averaged 558 fans per men’s game. That’s narrowly ahead of Lincoln’s 496, which ranks dead last in the league.

Not good.

All of that went out the window Wednesday night. Jack Dobbins Field House was alive and well during victories for both the NSU women (64-58) and men (83-71 in overtime).

Former players showed up for one last hurrah. Jack Dobbins — as he normally does — was in attendance, shaking hands and greeting people all night long.

It was a night to celebrate.

An occasion such as this one typically doesn’t need any sort of self promotion. Most fans and followers realize the uniqueness of an event such as this.

That didn’t stop The NSU Movement — or, as it’s known on Twitter, “@THENSUMOVEMENT” — from going all-out to make students go all-in.

“We just hit everyone up on Twitter, fraternities, sororities, baseball players, all the sports,” said Jonathan Brown, one of the leaders of The Movement. “Then we hit up the regular students. It was pretty easy to get people to come out.”

The Movement, also led by Steffon Herd, Aaron Folwer, Josh Cousins and Prince McJunkins, helped gray out the stands in Jack Dobbins Field House. It also brought back a rowdiness not seen at the Field House in quite some time.

Sure, The NSU Movement is a little late to the party, in terms of turning out fans for football and basketball. But, hey, better late than never.

“It’s catching on quick,” Brown said. “We’ve been having so much publicity and everyone has been talking about it. We’ve even talked to a few alumni, and some have said they wish we would have been around four years ago.”

Now that the doors at Jack Dobbins Field House will be closed forever (for basketball games, at least), the NSU Movement will shift its focus to home baseball and softball games during school lets out for the summer. Then, it’ll be back at it for fall sports.

But on behalf of everyone at Jack Dobbins Field House for the final basketball games, thank to The NSU Movement. You guys helped rejuvenate the old days while providing a perfect final image for the Field House named after a perfect man.