Goodbye To Cole Field House
I was saddened the other day to learn of the passing of another acquaintance of mine. I started to use the word friend but decided not to after realizing that I had only met the deceased party on two occasions. Fortunately, this time it was not a person who was involved but a structure that was passing from the scene. I'm talking, of course, about Cole Field House on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland.
Cole was built during what I refer to as my "dead period" of following Carolina and ACC sports and I don't think I was aware they had built an arena larger than Reynolds Coliseum until I returned from the service in 1955. I was surprised that Maryland had built what was then such a mammoth building because Maryland was not noted in those days as a real basketball power. I just chalked it up to the large number of people in the metropolitan Washington D.C. and wished them luck in filling it on a regular basis.
I had listened on the radio to Maryland games with the Heels prior to actually visiting Cole. In fact, it was the game at Cole in '57 that almost caused me to have a heart attack and I know that game was responsible for me developing a taste for cheap wine.
My first visit to Cole was in '66 when I was lucky enough to get tickets to the Final Four which was held there. I lived in Nashville, Tenn. at the time and my former boss in Charlottesville, VA. called and asked if I was interested in attending the games. I stayed on the road most of the time in my job at the Vanderbilt Medical Center and fortunately I could rearrange a trip I had planned for the Washington area later in the year. My ex-boss had gotten the tickets through the public address man who was also a personnel administrator, like us, at the U. of Md.
If I remember correctly Utah and Duke played in the consolation game, both of them losers the night before to Kentucky and Texas Western. I don't know if many of you can remember it or not but there was a considerable amount of racial strife ongoing at the time and the fact that Kentucky had an all white team and Texas Western was all black was cause for some concern. When I went to my seat I was conscious of the fact that a black gentleman was seated next to me.
I introduced myself to him and we thoroughly enjoyed the game even though we were pulling for different teams. Nothing that I was aware occurred that night either on or off the court that was racial in nature. After the game, he and I shook hands and I think both of us were pleased that we had enjoyed a good basketball game together and had not let race enter into it.
My second visit to Cole Field House was in 1977 for the UNC-Kentucky game in the Eastern Regionals. Strange that both of my visits have involved Kentucky. I had not gone up for UNC's first game with Notre Dame but several friends who had gone telephoned me after the game and said, "Come on up." These were not even Carolina fans but it sounded inviting especially when they assured me they could get me tickets from Notre Dame fans who were leaving. So Mrs. RamFanatic and I went up to College Park and saw the Heels beat Kentucky to move on to the Final Four in Atlanta. As we rushed onto the floor after the game, I met this very large gentleman who seemed as pleased as I was with the outcome of the game. As it turned out he was "Chick" Yonaker's father who had played football at Notre Dame. Man, he was big. I had to wonder how he felt during the first game when UNC was playing his alma mater. Somehow, I think the fact that his son was playing for the Tar Heels overrode any feelings of loyalty he might have had to the Fighting Irish.
During the game I sat next to Bob(?) O'Brien, a former Maryland player whom I learned recently played for Maryland in their first ever game in Cole Field House. He was very nice and even rooted for the Heels to defeat Kentucky even though I know he must have had to force himself to do so considering the rivalry that existed between the Terrapins and the Heels.
So there you have it. I don't think you could describe my relationship with Cole FH as a close one, but maybe one that was involved in two very special memories I have of college basketball over the years. I don't think I have to tell Maryland fans that they are going to miss Cole FH because I think they already know it. Luxury boxes seem to be ruling the day since the capacity for their new arena is only about 3,000 more seats than Cole. I haven't heard anything about what Maryland plans to do with the building, but I'm sure for a while they will find a good use for it. With the passage of time, however, land will become so valuable on campus that they may have to do what we did with the old Tin Can. Even though it was an eye sore, I still miss it. Ate some good barbecue there from Griffins ( now gone) in Goldsboro prior to many a football game. None of us can stand in the way of progress even if we do question, from time to time, whether some of the changes do, in fact, represent progress.