Larry Atwood can still remember the holidays at McDonald Arena, the venerable gym at Missouri State, as it played host to the great event he ran, the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament.
What an atmosphere it must have been.
“You bet. I can remember the year when the fire marshal would come find me and say, ‘You’ve got to cut it off, Coach,'” Atwood said, referring to the overflow crowd size. “People just stood in line, waiting for the next game.”
However, for the first time since 1947, the first year of the Blue and Gold, McDonald Arena will fall silent this week.
While the boys’ tournament moved across campus years ago, the Pink and White Tournament that had been held there for years will move on to Drury University and paired now with the old KTXR Lady Classic.
It’s was the right call by Blue and Gold/Pink and White tournament director Kent Hedgpeth and Mark Fisher, the athletic director of Springfield Public Schools. Both tournaments needed more punch and more attendance.
That’s not to say McDonald Arena won’t be missed. In fact, don’t be surprised if you spot Atwood or other old-timers making the lonely walk across campus from JQH Arena or Hammons Student Center from the Blue and Gold, strictly out of habit.
Well, if not for nostalgia.
“McDonald Arena is a great gym and one of the best places to watch a game,” said Atwood, the Blue and Gold Tournament director from 1969 to 1990, when Fisher assumed the controls.
He later added, “We had a lot of games where we had to add extra seats all around the area, even down on the floor. … If I can recall, I know we had two rows there.”
Indeed, in recent years of dropping by opening day of the Pink and White at McDonald Arena, it was hard not think of some of the place’s great moments, especially in the holiday tournaments. Often, I had chills.
Last year, I wrangled a front-page story on the 1961-1962 Central High School Bulldogs of coach Jim Ball, with a lineup featuring Danny Bolden, Denny Whayne and Manny Oliver, who himself would later join the Harlem Globetrotters.
Those Bulldogs won the Blue Division this week in 1961, scoring 320 points — a record that stood until 1994.
Or, there was the Republic Tigers who won it 50 years ago. (Read our 1A story today). The list goes on.
“When you think about all the great games that’s been at McDonald Arena, you go back to the ’50s, people like Curtis Perry and players like Doug Collins,” Hedgpeth said.
“I also think McDonald Arena is a good example of how (passion for basketball in the Ozarks) has grown,” Hedgpeth said. “In its day, it was a premier facility. It opened in ’41.”
Drury University, thanks to the construction in 2010 of the O’Reilly Center, should be a great venue now.
It will mean more chances for the tournaments to expand on sponsorships, if not offer a larger Hoosiers-like, small school vs. big-school (or out-of-town school) footprint, Hedgpeth said.
Said Atwell, “I think there’s a lot of nostalgia for the tournaments. But with the size and number of teams we’re bringing in, I think overall it’s good for the teams.”