Siloam Springs Herald Leader

The evolution of basketball arenas

- DOUG CHASTAIN Random Recollecti­ons

The first collegiate basketball game I ever saw featured the Arkansas Razorbacks. For the life of me, I can’t remember the other team, although I’m pretty sure it was another member of the old Southwest Conference. And to be honest, I was easily distracted at that time in my life. I was 8 or 9, so it was probably 1965 or 1966. What I do remember is that I went to the game with my friend Larry Foley. (He’s now an awardwinni­ng documentar­y producer and journalism professor at the University of Arkansas.)

The game was played in Barnhill Fieldhouse. No, not Barnhill Arena. Barnhill Fieldhouse, a metal building on the southeast corner of Razorback Stadium. It was dark inside, except for the lighting over the court. Metal bleachers, brought in from the south endzone of the football field, surrounded the court. In the areas outside of the bleachers was a sawdust floor. Apparently the basketball program “borrowed” the fieldhouse from the football program during basketball season. During the rest of the year the football program used the fieldhouse for its own purposes.

The Razorback football program had just won a national championsh­ip and was one of the best in the country. The basketball program seemed to be an afterthoug­ht, reduced to seeking the charity of the football program and its metal building with the sawdust floor.

And then Eddie Sutton showed up. And Barnhill Fieldhouse became Barnhill Arena, a place feared by any team unfortunat­e enough to find itself on the floor, 9,000 Razorback fans practicall­y breathing down the necks of opposing players and the Hog Wild Band playing during every timeout, making it nearly impossible for opposing coaches to communicat­e with their players.

And after Eddie departed, Nolan Richardson arrived to build on his success. And soon the Razorbacks were playing in Bud Walton Arena, which was — is — one of the best basketball venues of any level in the country. And the 9,000 rabid Razorback fans became 19,000. And the Hogs won a national championsh­ip and became the team that hounded opposing teams from endline to endline for 40 minutes. It was glorious.

It appears the evolution of Razorback basketball fortunes and venues has influenced high school basketball programs around the state as well. Basketball doesn’t take a back seat to football anymore and it shows in the investment made by many communitie­s in programs and arenas.

Ah, yes, the arenas. High school basketball is generally no longer played in first and second generation “boxes” in which fans sit on bleachers with someone else’s knees in their backs — if there is room to sit at all. Now the game is played in second and third generation arenas with spacious, chair-back seats, large video boards and other amenities. And those high school arenas rival college arenas, even in size and design. (I really like the architectu­ral designs of the arenas at Harrison and Russellvil­le, which feature floor to ceiling windows on their north sides, with panoramic views of the surroundin­g countrysid­e.)

Basketball venues have come a long way from sawdust floors and cramped little boxes. If you haven’t yet, you need to attend a local high school game and see how much things have changed. You probably won’t be disappoint­ed.

Doug Chastain is a retired teacher and is currently a largevehic­le transporta­tion specialist for the Siloam Springs School District. (Okay, he drives a bus.) He is also a grass maintenanc­e technician at Camp Siloam. (Yeah, he mows the lawn.) You can contact him at dougchasta­ opinions expressed are those of the author.

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