By MIKE KAYS
Jack Dobbins insists he won’t feel a sense of melancholy when he attends his final game in the house that is named after him.
Northeastern State plays arch-rival Central Oklahoma on Wednesday at Jack Dobbins Field House. Barring a delay in construction on a 78,000-square-foot event center, it will be the final game for the facility.
“No, not at all,” said the man who won 321 games from 1958 to 1981. “Of course it was an honor (to have it named after him) but the thing I appreciate most is watching the facilities and resources grow the way they have from a time in which we really didn’t have much of anything. I’ve seen the whole university program grow, not just in basketball but in all sports, including women’s sports.
“My commitment is to this university’s progress and this is progress.”
It’s a step up in many ways, from an arena that will seat almost three times the people (3,000), have the computer hookups in the locker room to watch film or a TV with cable capacity.
But the grand old guy, so to speak, has seen – and provided – its share of precious history.
Originally Redman Fieldhouse, the facility has been home to NSU men’s basketball since the fall of 1955. The lower gymnasium was added in 1954 and was renamed Jack Dobbins Field House in 1994. The women’s basketball teams also began playing inside JDF in 1979, before that in the original gym.
“It took Title IX to get us into the big gym,” said Willa Faye Mason, who coached women’s basketball at the school from 1963-80.
But once there, women’s hoops has had a history of its own, beating the likes of Division I programs Oklahoma and Tulsa over the early years, before Division I basketball had a renaissance of its own.
Meanwhile, NSU continued to excel in Division II, winning a 2003 Lone Star Conference title there and later having runner-up seasons in 2004, 2005, 2010.
The men’s best year in the arena, 2002-03, which culminated in a national championship.
At times, the arena’s seating capacity has hurt it. In 2002, hosting the South Central Regional, people were turned away by the fire department, limiting those who saw the RiverHawks, on the eve of their national title year, lose in overtime.
Regular sellouts in the 1960s and even into the 70s were common, Dobbins recalls.
One of his former players and the only RiverHawk to be a first-round NBA draft pick remembers the crowds and the atmosphere.
“If you weren’t there at tipoff you weren’t going to get in,” said Charlie Paulk, picked
“The signs, the banners – one that had ‘Paulk for President’, there was always a lot of enthusiasm. And the way it brought together a diverse group of people — whites, African Americans and Native Americans all in common support of us. Those were memorable times.”
It had its cast of characters – Jim Ross, who went to school there, was a public address announcer there well before he became widely known as a commentator for professional wrestling. Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, ever the flamboyant NBA star, played for Southeastern Oklahoma there.
And it had its character – but it has outlived its usefulness.
The Senior Day presentation will be held between the men’s and women’s games on Wednesday. There will also be a presentation to honor those who have been part of the 58-year history of Jack Dobbins Fieldhouse, and NSU’s 2003 NCAA national championship team will also be celebrating the 10-year history of the historic title run.
Saying Goodbye to Dobbins:
Ten memorable moments
1. Feb. 8, 2003, No. 1 goes down. This was Northeastern State’s 13th consecutive win in a national championship year. The Redmen came in ranked second nationally in team field goal percentage (53 percent), made 50 percent of its first-half shots and then connected on its first seven field goals after halftime on the way to a 17 of 32 shooting performance (53.1 percent). It marked the first time all year that an opponent has shot better than 50 percent from the floor against Tarleton, which was leading NCAA Division II for a second straight season in field goal percentage defense. Shon Robinson and Muskogee High ex Darnell Hinson led the Redmen with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
2. Stuffed beyond the rim, March 9, 2002. – Before what’s believed to be the largest-ever crowd at Dobbins, NSU lost its first game in the South Central Regional to Rockhurst in two overtimes, 75-70. Several hundred were turned away by the fire marshal. Chris Edwards was a season best 5-of-6 from 3-point range.
3. Best scoring game, Dec. 8, 1962. Using available records, All-America guard Bobby Edwards set a school scoring mark with 47 points in a 101-79 win over Langston. Richard Dumas broke this with 50 points in a road game in 1968.
4. Dennis Rodman, thrice. His story at Dobbins was as odd as the man himself. In 1983-84, his first season, he had 24 points and 17 rebounds in a 65-64 NSU overtime win. The following season, he had 18 points and 17 rebounds in a 61-57 loss. His 13-point game in 1985-86 was his lowest regular-season total but Southeastern won that game 57-56. It was in that game, former sports information director Doug Quinn recalls, that Rodman, booed and mocked with plastic worms the entire game, made a head first dive into the crowd. “I remember it was the southwest corner of the gym and it got real quiet when he disappeared into the crowd. When he came back out, there were cheers for him the rest of the game, I think, because people appreciated his hustle.”
5. Titletown. March 8, 2003. Joanna Golunska, a Polish native, scored 19 points and the Lady Reds won their first LSC championship, 82-58 over West Texas A&M. The Riverhawks would be runner up in 2004, 2005, 2010. They lost to Drury in a neutral site, 73-70 in the SC Regional.
6. Double-buzzer beaters. On Feb. 7, 1964, Ted King, the fourth option on the play, hit a shot at the top of the circle to beat Southeastern. On Feb. 8, in an overtime win over Oklahoma Baptist, Kenny Willis, Tahlequah resident, hit a 92-foot shot for the win. The play, said Dobbins, was to be a pass from Ron Cox to Joe Smith on the opposite — kind of like Laettner with Duke against Kentucky. Instead the pass went to Kenny.
7. Lone Stars, March 2, 2002 — Playing for the Lone Star Conference title on its home court, Northeastern State’s men beat Tarleton 66-50, earning a host berth for its first NCAA regional.
8. On the map, Nov. 25, 2003 – NSU 88, Drury 79 – Drury was a top-five team and it was their only loss until they got to the national tournament. Kelli Griffith and Leslie Warner each had 18 points. “I don’t think anyone would have seen us as a prominent program back then but that win, in my opinion, catapulted us into the higher level of national respect,” said RiverHawks’ coach Randy Gipson. It put them at 4-0 en route to a 12-1start and their second consecutive LSC title, this one won on a neutral floor.
9. Playing with the big girls. Feb. 25, 1978. NSU women hosted the AIAW state tournament and finished third beating Central State 51-48 to qualify for the AIAW Regional in Nacogdoches, Texas. NSU lost to Oral Roberts 67-53, missing a finals shot at Oklahoma, which wound up losing to ORU 57-53. All three teams moved on.
10. Hurricane RiverHawk, Jan. 21, 1985. NSU women 77, Tulsa 43. Maybe the biggest name team Northeastern has beaten. The Lady Reds did twice in the 1984-85 season. Tulsa was 5-21 that year and two years later, discontinued its program until 1996.