Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

February 27, 2013

Field House finale

Northeastern State to close out an era at Jack Dobbins Field House on Wednesday night.

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.

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