Spring 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 2
Read and share your Field House memories
Aah, yes, the deafening crowd noise, the raucous celebrations both during and after basketball games, and the euphoric teammates celebrating sweet victory. Those were all very nostalgic visions — but what I vividly recall was repeatedly running up and down every step of those bleachers, rhythmically striding to the beat of baseballs rocketing off the aluminum bats below. And after descending from the bleachers, I ran the loop beneath them, praying that those batted balls stayed within the confines of the batting cage netting as I turned the corner towards the hitters and ran the stairs and the loop again. Per Coach Dewey Kalmer’s orders, we ran for what seemed like hours through that dingy Field House. Strangely enough, in a heartbeat, I would gladly return and run those steps all over again, because it would mean I would be back at Bradley with my old teammates — Guido, Ep, Tills, Mitch, D.C., T.A., B.D., Cujo, D.J, and Slu. Do I remember Oscar Robertson, NIT Tournament teams, or the first game in the Robertson Memorial Field House? I do not. But what I do remember was 1988, and a group of spirited young men and aspiring athletes, together, learning how to win.
Mike Boyan ’90
I remember target shooting under the east bleachers for the Air Force ROTC rifle team during my freshman and sophomore years. We shot .22 caliber target rifles on the 50-foot range. Being on the rifle team meant you got to shoot on Thursday afternoon rather than having to attend marching drill.
David Oedewaldt ’60
Being a native Peorian and a student at Peoria High School, I actually watched the groundbreaking, as the first shovel of dirt was turned to begin construction of the Robertson Memorial Field House. When I enrolled at Bradley, I had no idea how many more memories of that place would become a part of those which I so fondly recall of Peoria today.
I pledged Theta Chi in September 1953. Our old house was on Elmwood Avenue. Today, it’s the front door, literally, of Harper Hall.
Pledges were “required” to post our class absences, excused or otherwise, and our current grades from our latest exams. Our pledge marshall monitored this chart daily, and the reprimand to any pledge whose marks on this chart incurred his displeasure, was to eat dinner at the earliest sitting, and then head over to the Field House to reserve seats for the rest of the chapter for that evening’s basketball game. Our favored location was in the front rows of the south side of the Field House, on the Glenwood Avenue side. Here, increased brotherhood in our fraternity was fostered, and school spirit, like nothing most students today can never know (because games have not been held in the Field House for so many years now), was promoted. Too, my family’s (grandfather’s, uncles’, and father’s) dairy business had provided the four electronic (at that time state-of-the-art) scoreboards, and I was intrigued by the mechanisms of their operation as scores changed so very rapidly right before our eyes. Truly, Robertson Memorial Field House was the point-of-origin of so many memories of my years in Peoria, both as a “townie” and as a student, that no other spot on campus can possibly measure up to it. Indeed, “Hail, red and white …”
Roger Roszell ’57 MBA ’59
I remember all the wonderful basketball games we attended. Though somewhat crowded — the ambience was wonderful, not to mention the wonderful smell of freshly popped popcorn filling the lobby area. The year the Bradley basketball team won the NIT was one of the greatest seasons of all.
Joseph and Kimberly Benko ’00
I grew up in Peoria, and aside from the occasional ice show, Robertson Memorial Field House was Bradley basketball. I remember being chosen to be a Meri-N-Ette in 1968, the early morning practices on the raised floor, and the first time in uniform walking up onto the floor to perform. There was nothing like that energy! Because I am tall, during my senior year I was the “head” of the line. Imagine the rest of the line queing on you as you march straight ahead down the length of the floor. Ah yes, I remember it well…
Jolyn Dorick Trzyna ’71
My late father, Arthur Bergstrom, was director of athletics when the Field House was enlarged to its present form and size. I can remember the unique method of construction of the roof, and the installation of the bleachers, the scoreboards and the raised floor. It was one of the largest on-campus basketball arenas in the USA, and the largest in Illinois!
There were many memorable games that took place in the years we were involved with Bradley. One of the most memorable to me was the game in which Gene Melchiorre ’51 made a shot from deep in the back court. It traveled at least 75 feet!
Other memorable games involved the 1954 team, which was the NCAA runner-up to LaSalle and the 1957 NIT championship team. Many members of this team were my classmates and/or friends.
Other memories were the National Campus Basketball Tournament, held in 1952, and the 1952 Olympic Basketball playoff game between The Caterpillar Diesels and the Kansas University Jayhawks. Caterpillar won the game and the best-of-three series and became the nucleus of the 1952 U.S. Olympic squad.
Two non-basketball events are big in my memory — the 1952 campaign appearance by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and an Easter sunrise service featuring J.C. Penney as the principal speaker.
I recently visited the Field House. Not much is different, except for the brick facade on Main Street, which was added after Dad’s tenure.
I am looking forward to seeing the finished article in Hilltopics.
Jon Bergstrom ’58
I was part of the student work crew at the Field House from 1980 to 1985. We set up for the games, worked the games, and cleaned up after the games. They are the best basketball memories that I have. We were a very tight knit crew. Most of us were athletes in other sports and worked at the Field House to support ourselves. When the team moved downtown, it was never the same. You could not make enough noise at the Civic Center as you could in the Field House. The floor at the Field House was intimidating, and the crowd was overwhelming.
Dawn Feest ’85
I worked at the Field House for about two years. My favorite memory was after a women’s volleyball game, when all the players and fans had gone home. Two other members of the “Field House crew” and I put on a karaoke concert to the empty stands. We grabbed microphones and had the volume blaring throughout the entire Field House. Let me tell you, we rocked that place!
Amy Erceg ’03
I was a part time spotter in the early ’70s for the person who ran the individual scoreboard that hung above the court in the Field House. The inventor of the boards, Merle Engle, always kept the boards on both sides of the Field House in good working order. When he passed away, nobody at Bradley knew how to fix any of the problems. It would keep adding up totals and the operator couldn’t stop it.
The final home game of the 1973–74 season was against Louisville. Bradley had to win to tie for the conference title. Louisville had a player named Murphy. When he picked up his second foul in the first half, the board kept going to three fouls. I told the operator, John Metroff, he only had two fouls. He said, “I know, but I can’t stop it.”
Denny Crum, the Louisville coach, took Murphy out of the game. One of their assistant coaches realized he only had two fouls and went to the scorer’s table. The PA announcer said, “Scoreboard, Murphy only has two fouls.” John and I were embarrassed, but it wasn’t our fault. Denny Crum wasn’t too happy about it either. Needless to say, it was the last game for the individual scoreboards.
I didn’t realize how significant Robertson Memorial Fieldhouse was to me until seeing the article in Hilltopics this morning. Reflecting back there were several special moments that I will never forget.
Thanks for the great memories!
Chip Small ’73
Great BU games of course. Outstanding IHSA supersectionals, especially the 1969 and 1970 Peoria Spalding victories. Bob Seger/Silver Bullet Band and the Little River Band, Sly and the Family Stone, and the famous Rare Earth concert.
My dad, David Brown, spent his early years watching the Bradley Braves play at Robertson Memorial Field House. When I received an offer to play Division l basketball for Paula Buscher at Bradley, needless to say, he was thrilled. I accepted the offer, and my life has been nothing but wonderful since that day. I had a great basketball career at Bradley, being the starting point guard for four years and accruing several records. The friendships I made will last a lifetime — indeed, one “friendship” in particular. During my freshmen year, Coach selected several of Bradley’s finest male athletes to come and work out with our team to give us some competition. Mathew Wright ’05 was one of them. Our relationship started slowly, rebounding for each other, shooting at various hoops at Robertson, to him coming to all my games with the number “5” on his shirt. Prior to my senior year, on July 21, 2006, he took me into Robertson saying I needed to practice my shot. Little did I know that he had Coach bring down the very basket we began our relationship on, and after 26 free throws, Mathew rebounded the basketball, got down on his knee, and pulled a beautiful engagement ring out of his basketball shorts and proposed! We were married exactly one year later and our reception was held at the Bradley Student Center Ballroom. Mathew is teaching and coaching basketball in Morton. I am teaching and coaching basketball in Dunlap. Robertson will always be a wonderful memory for us as that is where we began our lives together.
Jennifer Brown Wright ’07
I was pleased to be in the packed Field House in 1973 when Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made probably his last talk in his home diocese of Peoria. He will most likely be moved into sainthood in the next decade.
John Gibson ’57 MBA ’68
My first introduction to Bradley basketball at the Field House was by my Dad when I was a little girl in grade school. He was a huge Bradley fan, and I remember him taking me to the games. It was always a great time and nice to spend time with my Dad.
I ended up attending Bradley University, so of course I remained a Bradley basketball fan throughout the years. I had the honor of having my graduation ceremony in the Field House in 1990.
I’ve since moved to Des Moines due to my job, but visit home frequently. I still visit Bradley a few times a year to see what has changed and take a stroll by the Field House to relive those childhood and undergrad memories.
Christine Waldo ’94
I have so many wonderful memories of Robertson Memorial Field House. My first memory was as a freshman the day BU played Louisville, then a member of the MVC. There was a freshman for Louisville who was an All-American high school player and was advertised as a future pro player. My friends wanted to get his autograph but were too embarrassed. So they paid me a small amount of money as a bribe, and I was able to obtain it. That player was Wes Unseld, All-Pro of the Washington and Baltimore Bullets.
I also remember watching so many phenomenal players in the Field House. Butch Beard of Louisville scored 41 points one night. The scoreboard couldn’t handle that amount of points. Phil Jackson of North Dakota was terrific. Steve Kuberski ’71 from Bradley went on to play with the Boston Celtics. My memories of such BU players such as Ernie Thompson ’68, Joe Strawder ’64, Chuck Buescher ’68 MA ’70, the combination of Alex McNutt ’71 and Tom Campbell ’70 at guards, Willie Betts ’68, Rich Rapp ’70, and Walt Slater ’67 dunking in warm-ups to “In the Mood” are times I will always cherish.
I also remember a night during Greek Week in 1968 when a number of events were held in the Field House. One of the games was the dating game, and I was selected from my fraternity, TEP, to be one of the contestants who asked the questions of three sorority girls. Boy, was I nervous. The Field House looked tremendous from the stage area, and so many seats were filled with Bradley students. But in the end, I won. Unfortunately, I found out she had a boyfriend so we never had the chance to go out. But I did give her the certificate so she could have a good time.
Alan Pressman ’68
As a young Whittier grade school brat, I knew the Field House like the back of my hand between carnivals, science fairs, concerts and graduations. We looked forward to the Spring Carnival to spend our hard-earned paper route money. I got my first kiss under the bleachers during a science fair in seventh grade; I saw my first rock concert there; and I saw my father and sister get their bachelor’s and master’s degrees; and, yes, even I eventually graduated.
But most of all I remember the basketball. As a grade schooler my friends and I would walk to the Field House in the cold of winter and get a fireman to sneak us in through an emergency exit. We would sit in the top row of the theater seat side and root on our Braves. Kids from Whittier and St. Mark’s schools would congregate there each game for fun and sometimes silly mischief. I also remember playing grade school basketball games on the raised floor and dribbling down the floor expecting the ball to return to my hand, only to see the ball remain on the floor after hitting one of the “infamous” dead spots.
In high school we would get tickets from neighbors who couldn’t attend, or we would shell out the $6 to see a game. I hated it when the Braves were no longer allowed to power dunk during warm-ups to the song “In the Mood.” Lay-ups just weren’t the same. I remember the great overtime playoff game between Louisville and the Braves in ’74 to determine who would go to the NCAA tournament. I think that was the last time Louisville visited the Field House, and I recall Denny Crum was very happy to never have to see his team play on the raised floor again.
In college, I would get to the game early to sit with my fraternity brothers, or better yet, I would work as an usher. As an usher I liked to work next to the floor assisting the who’s who of Peoria to their seats, all while watching the game from floor level and earning beer money for later that evening. What a great gig.
I miss the old lady; there was a feel, charm, and yes, a smell that made the Field House unique among stadiums.
John Bohls ’78
I remember seeing Oscar Robertson play in 1959. The Braves had lost in Cincinnati, and in Peoria they had a three-point lead with seconds to go. UC got the ball and Oscar backed in for a final shot, and the Braves were very careful not to foul him. He made the shot and the clock ran out. The Braves won; the score was 91-90. The Field House was so crowded that night, that even with a student ticket I sat in the aisle the whole game.
Later after graduation and the Army, I moved to Cincinnati to work. The company I worked for had season tickets to the Cincinnati Royals, and I watched Robertson some more, still backing in, until he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. Now I see him every once in a while when my wife and I go downtown on Sundays for breakfast.
In an earlier time, before ever going to Bradley, I can remember going to the Field House to watch the Caterpillar Tractors play teams such as the Phillips 66ers, the Zollner Pistons, the Akron Wingfoots, etc. when the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL) was in operation.
Dave N. Jackson ’60
I first walked into the Field House in 1955 as a freshman with a job as a member of the Field House cleanup crew. I fell in love with that place. My brother was two years ahead of me and on the football team so I arrived two weeks early for school that year and began working in the Field House since I had no classes to attend at that point.
The head of the Field House crew was Scotty Jamieson, father of Robert A. Jamieson HON ’81, who was on the BU faculty for a number of years and eventually was President of Security Savings and Loan. I became friends with both of them and then Robert’s sons Dick Jamieson ’61 MA ’67, who was quarterback on the football team, later became a coach at Missouri and offensive coach of the St. Louis Cardinals professional football team among many other places, including a backup quarterback for the New York Titans and Baltimore Colts. Robert’s other son was Bob Jamieson ’66 who went on to be a news reporter for ABC network news in New York City.
I also met Pete Vonachen, a Peoria legend, at the Field House because he owned the concession stands there, and the Field House crew cleaned them for Pete.
Because I worked at the Field House, cleaning before and after games, I saw every home game the four years I was a student. I got hooked on BU basketball and have been going to home games ever since. I have gone to BU games for 52 years. I have had season tickets for about 35 years.
I remember seeing all the great players who came to the Field House and even had the pleasure to live in the same private home off campus with Barney Cable ’58, Danny Smith ’60 and Gene Herberger ’58. Some of the players I recall who played against Bradley were Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and Reggie Theus.
My son, Tim, now 37, was about 10 or 11 when we saw the game against Cincinnati that went into seven overtimes, the longest game ever in college history.
I remember very well great Bradley players like Shellie McMillon ’58, whom I interviewed for a story I wrote for the Bradley Scout, Curley Johnson ’58, Bobbie Joe Mason, Joe Billy McDade, and Gene Morse. Mason, McDade and Morse were all ’59 classmates.
I remember when we had to put the basketball floor together and working until about 4 or 5 in the morning to get it done. I also recall that on a Saturday morning after we had finished cleaning the Field House for a game that night we would break out a basketball and have a full-court game … to think back that I played on the floor where so many greats performed.
Caterpillar Tractor Co. also played games in the Field House back in those days on Sunday afternoons. That’s when Warren Womble was the coach. Those were some great teams including Bert Born, Howie Williams and a guard named Dean Kelly.
The game in 1959 between Bradley and Cincinnati I recall very well because a friend on the crew, Garry Norder ’63, and I grabbed the Field House cat, who was black, and locked him in the Cincinnati locker room the night before the game. The game was a noontime start on a Saturday. I figured when the team was ready to open the door, the cat would be eager to get out. Sure enough, they opened the door and out came a black cat. As we all know Bradley won the game, which was the NBC game-of-the-week with Lindsey Nelson broadcasting.
I always thought it was ironic that a player named Robertson, who was so good, never won any of the three games he played in a place named Robertson Memorial Field House.
I could go on and on but I will stop there.
Fred J. Filip ’59
It’s one of college basketball’s classic snake pits that no opposing team looked forward to playing in. So many have said from the shape of Robertson Memorial Field House that it is like being inside a drum during so many classic games. I remember leaving some of those great games, and my ears were still ringing well after the game. You could cut the electricity and excitement during some of those classic games with a knife.
My first real experience with Robertson Memorial Field House was in the early season of my freshman year. In the previous season, Minnesota won the Big 10 and came into Robertson Memorial Field House in the top 20. Bradley wasn’t supposed to have a chance. What I remember was the Bradley hustle, the incredible noise, and a short player by the name of Henry Thomas ’74 taking charges from these extremely tall Minnesota players. Bradley won and I was hooked on Bradley basketball.
A classic game, and one for the ages, was when No. 2 Louisville came into Robertson Memorial Field House in the late winter of 1975. During my four years as a student, Bradley and Louisville had close games. This was the one victory I waited my four years at Bradley to see. Tom Les ’75 put on a clinic in defense and running the plays. Jimmy Caruthers ’76 had a great game. As the clock ticked to zero, there was jubilation on the basketball court.
The final game at Robertson Memorial Field House for me was in the spring of 1980 when Bradley was playing, I believe, West Texas State for the Missouri Valley Tournament Championship and the automatic NCAA tournament berth. No longer a student and living in Chicago, my wife and I came the night before, and I got up early and stood in line for tickets. The fans, the noise, the atmosphere, the snake pit was in fine form that day as Bradley won and went on to the NCAA tournament that year.
Carver Arena is a great home for Bradley today. The atmosphere there is terrific. I am just glad that I got to witness some classic games in an arena where A.J. Robertson and other legends coached and played.
Stephen Wathen ’75
My favorite memory, other than attending games for extra credit, was working in the Sports Information offices and having to go to the storage areas on occasion to dig up something on a former player or team.
Since I worked under Bobby Parker, I was in the building almost every single day while a Bradley student. Sadly, I transferred after the spring of 2004, but I remain a Brave in my heart to this day!
As a member of the women’s golf team, I spent many hours in the Field House. Whether it was in the athlete’s weight room, hitting golf balls into nets under the bleachers or running the bleachers while the men’s basketball team practiced, I will always have many memories of the old aircraft hangar!
Sara Beckman Alexander ’98
I was a senior at Bradley when the first part of the Field House was put in use. The Greeks used the raised floor and larger space to build elaborate sets for our stunt shows at Homecoming. Before that, they performed in the auditorium in Bradley Hall.
Graduation in 1948 was held there for the first time.
The basketball team continued to play their games that year at the Armory on Adams Street.
The following year, the second half was added with the foyer. Bleachers were on the south side and theater seats plus bleachers were on the north. Along with my parents, who had been attending Bradley games since the Famous Five, I purchased one of the five-year season tickets. We sat in bleachers right next to the student section on the south side. The cheers rebounding off that metal building and the raised floor proved intimidating to the opposition. It also had a unique scoreboard unlike any other in the Missouri Valley.
The next year, I was married and sold that ticket so we could buy tickets together. We sat high up on the north side, and there were so many people in each row you had to sit down fast after the national anthem to have room. And heaven help the guy on the end if he wasn’t fast enough.
I remember one game with Illinois State when some of their fans sat behind us and continued to heckle the Braves’ fans as loud as they could. As Bradley went ahead to soundly defeat them, they became very quiet.
When Bradley beat Cincinnati with Oscar Robertson, a friend and I were in seats high up under some pipes. We jumped up like everyone else when it ended and bumped our heads on the pipes. Unfortunately, my husband was away on a business trip and missed that very exciting game.
One of the outstanding halftime entertainment features was the Bradley Meri-N-Ettes. They were an excellent drill team and were invited to Madison Square Garden when Bradley played there.
My husband, Harold Anderson ’49, and I continue to buy season tickets and enjoy the games at the Civic Center, but they will never have the atmosphere of the old Field House.
Edith Gorenz Anderson ’48
Growing up across the river from Peoria in Tazewell County, I was able to attend many Bradley basketball games at the Field House long before becoming a Bradley student. Barely 10 years old on December 30, 1957, I saw my first Bradley game — a 79-73 win over Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati. From that night forward, there was absolutely no doubt that I wanted to go to Bradley.
Earnings from delivery of the Peoria Journal Star and later as a Kroger grocery clerk were spent on Bradley basketball tickets. I had season tickets all of my high school years — quite a bargain at $32 for 15 home games. As a Bradley student from 1965–69, I had the honor of broadcasting the games at the Field House on campus radio station WRBU.Specific memories? One would have to be the only basket by Leon Hall ’70 — at the final buzzer on February 8, 1964 in a 76-74 win over Wichita State, which was unbeaten in conference play. There was a half-court buzzer-beater to top North Texas State by Al Smith ’71, and in March 1967, both Smith and L.C. Bowen ’69 scored field goals in the final second (note: not plural) of a four-point win over St. Louis.
More than those brief thrills to cherish as Field House memories is the recollection of the wonderful atmosphere in the building on game nights. In the late 1950s, before the Fire Marshall demanded wider aisles and seats were expanded as well, 8,500 fans could squeeze into the Field House. It seemed like more than 80 percent of the student body would pack the bleacher seats behind the team benches. An opposing coach would call timeout in an attempt to quell a Bradley rally and to quiet a raucous crowd, but the students would keep the momentum going with chants of “Bradley! Bradley! Bradley!” throughout the timeout.
There was the pre-game warm-up entertainment as the lay-up drill evolved into slam-dunks and the Pep Band played Glen Miller’s “In the Mood.” Formal player introductions were accompanied by a deafening crescendo toward the announcement of Bradley’s ultimate star — Lavern Tart ’64 in 1964, Joe Allen ’68 in 1967, Bowen in 1969.
But for me, the most enduring memory of the Field House is the consistent ritual 20 minutes before every game. From his perch across from student section, the Field House organist was able to get the first glimpse of the Bradley team exiting the locker room and filing toward the court alongside the student bleachers. As the first player reached courtside, the organist literally stopped playing his tune in mid-note and blasted out the notes to “Charge on Bradley!” The crowd would stand as one, and virtually every fan would shout, “Here come the Braves!” At that moment, there was a unanimous feeling of exhilaration, confidence, and invincibility I have not witnessed in any other setting. In the crises and challenges of my life, I have often thought of that moment in the Field House for inspiration, and the practice has served me well.
A major regret in my life is that I cannot share in the memory that I’m sure so many alums will recall. I was not in the Field House for Bradley basketball’s all-time pinnacle — January 16, 1960 — the 91-90 victory over Oscar Robertson’s unbeaten and top-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats. All tickets for that game were gone before my Field House arrival at 11:30 a.m. the first day tickets went on sale.
Greg Florey ’69
Robertson Memorial Field House! I do have some great memories of the place.
As a Bradley faculty member from 1961 to ’70, I had the opportunity to work the pass gate at Robertson, where all the B-Club members came into the Field House. I got to meet many of the old sports stars who were just names to me until then.
What was nice about that gate assignment was that I could sneak across the foyer, which was only about 35 to 40 feet away, and watch the game through a crack in the double doors while still keeping an eye on the pass gate.
I remember, too, the sound of the Bradley band, sitting under the west basket and on the playing floor — talk about loud! I don’t know who the dignitaries were who sat under the opposite basket, but they had great seats. They also caught a lot of basketballs and basketball players!
I remember the warm-ups before the game started — long-range shooting first, followed by the lay-up drill. This was a time when “dunking” the ball had become popular, and the crowd would cheer as each player tried the dunk. This was a time when not all the players could do it. We had a 5-foot-5 guard (whose name escapes me now) who tried the dunk during every game and failed. Except the last game of his senior season, when he actually succeeded to the roar of the crowd!
Harry Vesely ’61 MS ’64
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