- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

It's a big, old homely thing, campus building No. 162 on the Northwest Quad of the University of Maryland. Outside are red bricks and white columns, which is OK, but inside it resembles a giant barn or, according to the most popular comparison, an airplane hangar.
And besides, "the building was never the important thing," Lefty Driesell said. "We didn't win because of Cole. We won because we had good teams."
True enough. Driesell had some very good teams at Maryland, which would have won on a playground, in a CYO gym, anyplace that had a couple of hoops and a ball. Still, when Lefty's teams won, they won at Cole Field House. And Cole responded. Maybe because of that, the Terrapins won some more.
"When the sound rises and bounces off the roof and comes back down to the floor, when the crowd is right down on top of the other team, it has a magical effect," said Len Elmore, one of Driesell's first stars. "There's no place like it."
After Sunday night, when Maryland plays Virginia in its 637th and final game there, not even Cole will be like Cole.
The women's team, which had its own, innumerable magic moments under coach Chris Weller, is already finished there. Cole will remain standing and be used for a variety of purposes but not, after 47 years, college basketball. The $125 million Comcast Center, scheduled for completion in the fall, awaits. Unlike Cole, it is chock full of restrooms, concession stands and wider seats (the seats at Cole are tiny; was the 1950s tush that much smaller?). There are suites, of course, and other amenities galore, including better access for the handicapped. The roof is not expected to leak, as Cole's does, and fans won't get overly up close and personal with each other when they walk around. No one disputes that Cole is antiquated. Still, a dying breed withstands another casualty.
When it opened in 1955, "It was something we were very proud of," said Jerry Jarosinski, who worked for Cole's builder, Baltimore Contractors Inc. "Today it's a little different."
Said Maryland sports historian Jack Zane: "The biggest thing right now is that the game has outgrown the building."
Before a recent game, Zane left the Terrapin Club office off the concourse that rings Cole to get to his seat in the top row of section E, a relatively short distance away. The trip took 15 minutes.
"It's a matter of what we need for the university," said Terps coach Gary Williams, who still loves Cole on game days. "The university needs a place like the Comcast Center."
A half-century ago, Maryland president Harry C. "Curley" Byrd decided the university needed a place like Cole Field House. There was some opposition; some thought the Terps' home at the time, Ritchie Coliseum, was fine. But Byrd was a forward-thinking fellow under whom the university experienced unprecedented expansion that's his name on the football stadium. He also helped put together the ACC.
Eventually, however, it became clear that Cole Field House needed Lefty Driesell. Before Driesell arrived in 1969, armed with his Virginia twang, his recruiting genius and some big plans, Maryland men's basketball was moderately successful but hardly a hot ticket. By then, Cole Field House was nearly 14 years old, often serving as a nice, quiet place where you could bring your homework and study in peace during games.
Driesell, the country slicker, would change all that.
"Coach Driesell created Cole Field House," said Joe Harrington, a Driesell assistant for several years who has a company and a Web site (www.colefieldhouse.com) that is selling pieces of Cole's floor.
"What Lefty did was take a deflated basketball and fill it with air," said George Raveling, another former Driesell assistant.
"You've got to understand that [before] Lefty arrived … we hadn't had that type of interest or that type of enthusiasm," said former athletic director Jim Kehoe, who hired Driesell. "And it's great now, but back then it was new, it was different. That's what made it so unusual. So spectacular."
But even before Lefty, the historical foundation was in place. Cole will be a special place Sunday night, but it already was special the night it opened as the Student Activities Building on Dec. 2, 1955, when talk about coincidence Maryland played Virginia. The Terps won 67-55.
With all seats unobstructed, Cole was built for $3.3 million using funds from the student activities fee; the single-level bowl (named after Board of Regents chairman William P. Cole Jr. in 1956) with the 14 green arches was a showpiece. It was the second-largest arena on the East Coast after New York's Madison Square Garden.
Strange as it might seem now, Cole was state of the art. "It was considered to be quite a feat at that time," said Charles Benton, former director of finance at Maryland.
It took some time, but history would gravitate to it. In perhaps the most famous high school game ever played, DeMatha, from down Route 1 in Hyattsville, beat Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and New York's Power Memorial in 1965. Texas Western rocked the college basketball world, and society, by winning the 1966 NCAA championship, and the legend of UCLA and John Wooden grew yet again four years later in Cole's second Final Four.
Driesell was on the scene by then, having declared he would turn Maryland into, well, the UCLA of the East. He recruited talented players like Elmore and Tom McMillen and infused the program with his charisma. And he literally added fans. One of his first moves was to put folding chairs on the floor to increase attendance, noise and intimacy. The first time, Driesell, his coaches and kids recruited for a "pep committee" did the work themselves. "We got it done by 5:30," Harrington said, still proud of the feat.
When Driesell walked out of the tunnel before games, arms raised, flashing a "V" for victory sign, and the pep band played "Hail to the Chief" (until the White House made them stop), the students went nuts and didn't stop. Soon everybody else, all 14,500 and occasionally more than that, was going nuts, too. Before long, Maryland fans were witnessing their own history.
"Is it the wrist or the hand, the chicken or the egg?" Kehoe asked. "You had to have both. I think Cole is something like Yankee Stadium or Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. We had great teams, and it was a great facility."
Now Cole Field House is down to its last basketball game, with the four restrooms and four concession stands and dangerously narrow concourse braced for one final assault. With sparkling Comcast Center looming nearby, even a crusty old salt like the Lefthander allowed himself to detach from the practical and concede to sentiment.
"I'm sad to see it go," said Driesell, now coach at Georgia State. "I had some good times in there."
He has some company.

Cole might be homely, but to many it is home. That's how Maurice "Mo" Morrison feels. Morrison sits in section F, eight rows from the floor. It's a good seat, between midcourt and the foul line, and he has had it since opening night in '55.
Morrison saw Bob Kessler sink the first basket in Cole. He saw Jim "Bozo" O'Brien hit an 11-footer at the end of overtime as Maryland beat second-ranked South Carolina 31-30 in what came to be known as the "stall" game in 1971. He saw David Thompson soar, armpit above the rim, to tip in the winning basket as N.C. State beat the Terps on Super Bowl Sunday in 1973. "I've seen everything," he said.
A 1951 Maryland graduate, Morrison is 73 and retired, the volunteer director of the Potomac Boys Club.
"I'm very sad," he said of Cole closing its doors to basketball. "I'm happy with the seats we have, and the noise that's generated here is a pleasure. It has a lot of history behind it. I'm sad to see it closed up, for whatever use they're going to make of it. But I have to accept it. We have no choice."
Sitting next to Morrison is his pal, Ed Martin, Maryland '54. Martin and Morrison both worked in marketing for the Southern Railroad and moved to Roanoke, Va., when it merged with the Norfolk and Western. Morrison eventually returned to the D.C. area, but Martin stayed in Roanoke. That, however, doesn't stop him from commuting to nearly all the games. Martin usually stays overnight with Morrison or with his children. Until he retired three years ago, Martin often would leave work about 3 p.m., drive four hours, sometimes more, and return after the game, arriving home as late as 2 or 3 a.m. Then he would be back at work by 8. "I did that dozens of times," he said.
Like Morrison, Martin hates to see Cole shut down. "I have a lot of good memories here," he said. "I think it's a great facility. I've been to a lot of games in a lot of arenas, and the excitement here is better than most."
Martin played clarinet in the Washington Redskins marching band at both Griffith and D.C./RFK stadiums, which were loud and intimate. Not, he said, like FedEx Field, where the Redskins moved in 1997. He said he hopes the Terps' move to Comcast works out better.
"I don't think the intensity of the fans and the excitement are nearly as good," he said. "When I played in the band at RFK, the way it wrapped around, you almost had to hold your ears. It was deafening."
Martin, who watched Maryland football teams play in the Sugar Bowl in 1952 and the Orange Bowl in 1954, and Morrison have paid dearly to cheer the Terps on at Comcast. They, along with Morrison's son, ponied up $50,000 for the right to buy seats, although the actual seating will be determined by their accumulation of Terrapin Club points. That shouldn't be a problem. They have been members for more than 25 years and have donated generously. "We've created a lot of scholarships," Morrison said.
High above Morrison and Martin, Charles White is standing, not sitting. He's wrapping up his 43rd year as an usher at Cole. White is 79, and he, too, plans to move to Comcast, perhaps less reluctantly. Things get awfully crowded up where White works on the concourse, keeping the peace in sections D and E.
"I like this place, but there's gonna be more room in the other place," White said. "Less people standing around. Less confusion."
White, who started working concessions at Redskins games in 1939 at 16, has ushered at Washington Senators, Redskins and D.C. United games, plus those of the Bowie BaySox. He has worked in Griffith and D.C./RFK stadiums, and FedEx Field. Ballparks and arenas come and go, but White endures.
"I don't know how I'll feel," he said of no longer working at Cole. "It's all gonna be new. But I'm used to that."

When it comes down to it, Cole Field House has few amenities. But they are important. It has tradition, and it has character. Even the visitors appreciate it.
"You think of old buildings like the Boston Garden and the Chicago Stadium, and coming to a place like Cole, it had that aura," former North Carolina and NBA star Brad Daugherty said.
Said Elmore: "There's an awful lot of tradition wrapped up in that place. My experience in college is intimately involved in that tradition, and I hate to see its prominence as the grande dame, if you will, of college arenas go away. But you have to face progress or what people interpret as progress."
The tradition was infused via great players like Elmore, McMillen and John Lucas Lefty's boys. Before them were Bob Kessler, Billy Jones, Will Hetzel and Bud Millikan, the Terps' coach when Cole opened its doors. Afterward came Buck Williams and Albert King and Len Bias and Walt Williams and Joe Smith and Juan Dixon and today's coach, Gary Williams, and on and on.
The character is imbedded in the place itself. It oozes character.
"It's not esthetically pretty," McMillen said. "It looks like a hangar. I guess that's its charm. It doesn't have all the accoutrements. It's fairly simple, a retro thing. You go there and it harkens back to another day."
Former Terp Greg Manning attended the Duke game a few weeks ago as an honorary captain. He felt the same rush then as he did as a player.
"The electricity in the old place, it was perfect," said Manning, now Driesell's boss as athletic director at Georgia State. "I had goose bumps down the back of my neck walking out of the tunnel again."
People keep talking about that tunnel, the one that leads from the court to both locker rooms. It must be something special.
"When you walk out of that tunnel for a big game, you can feel the noise," said Williams, a Maryland grad who played in Cole for four years, worked as a graduate assistant for another and has been coach for the last 13 seasons. "It goes right through you."
They also talk about the heat. Cole has no air conditioning, and no matter how cold it gets outside, it can feel like a sauna inside. Williams, a perspirer of epic proportions, isn't the only one who works up a sweat.
Said Jacob Straus, a former member of the pep band: "There's nothing like a cold day in January with a big ACC game and it's 20 degrees outside and 85 degrees inside and the place is so noisy you can hear it outside in the parking lot."
Like every hallowed (or is it venerable?) arena, Cole had its memories and moments. Some were sad, like the memorial service for Bias perhaps Maryland's greatest player who died from a cocaine overdose in 1986. Some were stupid, like the mother of Duke player Carlos Boozer (she's a Maryland grad) getting conked on the head by a plastic water bottle last year.
But mainly, there were big games, important games, loud, wild and crazy games, right up to right now. The Terps, who are 485-151 all time at Cole, beat No. 1 Duke two weeks ago, then beat Wake Forest when a player for the Demon Deacons called a timeout when none remained, resulting in a technical foul and a last-second Dixon free throw.
And some of the memories and moments have nothing to do with Maryland.
In 1965, a young high school coach named Morgan Wootten had his DeMatha team prepare for the 7-foot-2 Alcindor and Power Memorial by holding up tennis rackets during practice. Then DeMatha went out and, after thousands were turned away, served up a 46-43 victory the only loss of Alcindor's prep career.
"Without a doubt, it was the most significant high school game ever played," said Wootten, who still coaches at DeMatha and keeps in shape by walking two miles around the Cole concourse. "It was the first high school game that drew national media attention."
A few years later, Wootten was interviewed for the Maryland coaching job. Had Driesell not accepted Kehoe's offer within 24 hours, the job would have been Wootten's.
In 1966, Texas Western (now Texas El-Paso) coach Don Haskins fielded an all-black starting five for the first time in NCAA championship game history and won the title at Cole. The Miners beat an all-white Kentucky team coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp, who steadfastly and stubbornly refused to recruit blacks, as had the rest of the Southeastern Conference. The game was considered a landmark occurrence with huge societal implications. It wasn't long before segregated teams, including Kentucky's, went the way of the two-handed set shot.
Haskins, who retired in 1999, acknowledged Cole's finale as the end of an era.
"I hate to see it happen because, you know, I coached 38 years of college basketball, and that was the highlight of my career," he said of the 1966 title game. "In the back of my mind, I always wanted to go back and play another game there. If Maryland had ever called, I'd have gone back and played there one more time."
When Cole played host to its second Final Four in 1970, UCLA beat Jacksonville to win the sixth of Wooden's 10 national championships, his fourth straight. Wooden, who retired in 1975, remembers the game well.
The key, he said, was changing strategy to allow forward Sidney Wicks to play behind Jacksonville's towering center, Artis Gilmore. Wicks helped shut down Gilmore, and the Bruins came from behind to win 80-69.
"Sidney blocked two or three shots and we went down and scored on the fast break, and that turned the game around," Wooden said.
Wooden also coached the Bruins in a regular season game at Cole, an 81-75 victory over the Terps in the final of the Maryland Invitational in 1974.
"Some of the fans were hooting Driesell after the game," Wooden said. "I didn't think that was very nice."

But Cole has been more than basketball. There have been track and wrestling championships, graduation ceremonies and concerts featuring performers as disparate as Bob Hope, Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley and Simon and Garfunkel. The Grateful Dead performed for several hours at Cole.
"You couldn't see the other side of the arena because of the [marijuana] smoke," said Bob Sommers, a longtime Cole employee who was ushering that night.
The Chinese national table tennis team visited Cole in a display of pingpong diplomacy, and the then-Baltimore Bullets played some games there. Steve Prefontaine ran at Cole. Aretha Franklin sang there. Everybody but the Beatles, it seems, showed up at some point.
But all things must pass. Even Curt Callahan knows that. If you can actually cozy up and get close to a building, Callahan has done it. As Maryland's assistant athletic director for operations, he lords over Cole and has an office there. A 1970 grad, Callahan wrestled, coached wrestling and lived in the wrestling room. He got hooked on running on the concourse and can tell you that it takes 5⅓ laps to run a mile.
"I have real mixed feelings," he said. "The place has meant a lot to me, and it has a lot of traditions. But it has its drawbacks. Running the operations, you see a lot of things wrong. The concourses are too narrow. They're dangerous. There aren't enough restrooms and concessions. Not enough elevators going to the classrooms. It'll be nicer having an arena to operate that's a lot better and safer.
"But the environment is great," Callahan said. "It's gonna be hard to replace that."
Staff writer David Elfin contributed to this report.


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