At 5:10 p.m. yesterday, a freshman backup named Andre Collins bounced the first basketball on the last day Maryland would play a game on its historic hardwood at Cole Field House. Collins descended into the concrete hallway leading from the Terrapins locker room and, just as hopeful youngsters have done since 1955, stepped on the polished floor to warm up. It was the beginning of the end for one of America’s most legendary and distinctive campus arenas.
After the Terrapins wrapped up a 15-0 farewell season with a 112-92 rout of Virginia last night in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,500, Cole Field House disappeared as a college hoop temple, while like many sports monuments across the country. Next season, Maryland will play nearby on campus in a state-of-the-art Comcast Center, whose 17,100 seats include the hallmark of new sports facilities, luxury suites. Modern technology has helped mark the end of an era when the eBay website offered two coveted courtside seats for Cole’s last game for $1,200.
“Boy, that’s a little melancholy for me,” said Dave Cassel, a 1979 Maryland graduate and season ticket holder who bought Terrapins shirts in the hall. “I sat a few exams here, believe it or not. I’ll never forget January 1979, beating Notre Dame, which was ranked number one, by one point. I sat right there.” He pointed to the rows just inside the front doors, adding, “It’s sad to be leaving. I’m looking forward to the amenities of the new place. But I hope the atmosphere will transfer. That’s the real key for me: the atmosphere.”
Cole got it — for more than Maryland basketball, too. It was the site of two NCAA men’s championship games, including that of 1966, when Texas Western became the first team to pitch an all-black roster in a national title game and defeated the all-white team of the Adoph Rupp’s Kentucky. Six NCAA Regional Tournaments have also been held at Cole, along with five NCAA Wrestling Championships, NCAA Women’s Volleyball, an annual indoor track meet, a number of major high school games, and state championships and a 1972 table tennis match that marked the first sporting event between the United States and China.
Last night, the place became a sea of red as an excited crowd filled the former Terrapin home for the last time. Miles Resnick, Maryland ’69, stopped amid a crush of people in the lobby trying to buy programs and other souvenirs, shouting that he had come from his home in Beaumont, Texas, to the final game. Michael Miller and Nancy Gwozdz, who were married on Saturday night, delayed their honeymoon long enough to attend. Sitting behind the Maryland bench was Morgan Wootten, who made Cole history by coaching DeMatha to a victory in 1965 that ended Power Memorial’s 71-game winning streak led by Lew Alcindor.
Others, it seemed, had been at Cole forever – in fact, game after game and season after season.
Charlie White, 79, last worked as an usher at the top of the stairs between sections D and E. ‘Fourth row from bottom right,’ he told a woman who asked for directions . White knew the way; he was an usher at the time of Griffith Stadium – 63 years in all. Another woman who passed him on the way to his seat shook his hand, and he responded with a smile. “They’re all my friends,” White said.
George Atwell, 69, of Leesburg, sat in the Q section for Maryland’s first game at Cole, Dec. 2, 1955 — Virginia also played that game and Maryland won 67-55. For years, the Maryland graduate held a courtside membership in Section F, across from the student sections. “When you’re sitting here watching the student body and Maryland just scored 10 points in a row, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe,” he said.
Like many, Atwell was thrilled not only with the games, but also with the times spent with people he got to know. At first the place seemed huge to him, but soon he realized that it was actually compact – every seat was good.
“The first time I walked in here,” he said, “I thought it was the tallest building I had ever seen.” Her affection for Cole never wavered.
Longtime ticket taker George Krebs, focused on his job with his head bent, looked melancholy as he quickly moved people inside. “It’s kind of sad to see it closed,” he said. “The Duke and North Carolina games were the big games – every year.”
“The atmosphere this season has been surreal,” said Jack Zane, a former sports information director from Maryland who now runs a “Walk of Fame and History” in the new arena. “For the Duke game, almost everyone was in the building for the national anthem. You hardly ever see that – except maybe tonight.”
Maryland and Virginia were warned by a series of camera flashes. The emotion of the evening had been building for a long time, and the final attracted many former Terrapin athletes. Among them were Buck Williams, Len Elmore, Jay and Tom McMillen, Jim O’Brien, Adrian Branch, Albert King, Keith Booth and Boomer Esiason. Football coach Ralph Friedgen intervened.
For the closing ceremonies, Maryland brought back dozens of contributors familiar with the Cole legend. These included the 1955-56 team, the first to play Cole; the 1957-58 team, Maryland’s first NCAA tournament team; Bud Millikan, who coached these teams; about 30 U.S. players from Terrapin and all conferences, and five season ticket holders who attended games in the pre-Cole days of Ritchie Coliseum and Cole’s 47th birthday — with their next stop at the new arena.
Four current Terrapins were honored on what was also a senior night: Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon, Byron Mouton and Earl Badu. Badu received a standing ovation which expressed the fans’ warm appreciation for his contributions to the Terrapins’ final seasons; he would enter the game with 1:46 remaining and score the only basket of his career, a drive-in layup. “Moo-oo,” came the shout for Mouton. A deafening roar from the crowd greeted Baxter and Dixon.
After Maryland’s 637th and final game in the building, which Collins finished with a three-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining, Millikan and one of his former players, the current Maryland coach Gary Williams, took part in a “passing the ball” ceremony among players on the team’s all-time roster over the years. “Gary, Gary,” the crowd chanted the only coach to take the Terrapins to the Final Four. Williams, in turn, said her “happiest time” at Cole “was in the Q section when I took two final exams” to graduate. Steve Blake made a final honorary basket, filling the ball after being boosted by Tahj Holden. The prom ended at the hands of Student Government Association President Angela Lagdameo as Cole was handed over to students for campus activities.
They inherited a basketball temple, a distinctive structure with enough history to put it in the company of some of the best campus arenas in the country. Basketball sanctuaries continue to dwindle but still exist in places such as Kansas, Duke, Vanderbilt, Butler, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Oregon, among others.
Visitors will still be able to step into Cole and linger in his familiar lobby that rings the top row of seats. But when it comes to college basketball, such visits will be just memories.
Copyright The Washington Post Company March 4, 2002