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Rick McCann: Field House farewell full of fond memories

Feb. 11, 2012 @ 11:52 PM

Marshall University had a "Farewell to Veterans Memorial Field House" event Friday night with nearly 100 former Thundering Herd basketball players and coaches there. The group was introduced Saturday night at halftime of the Marshall game.

Following are some leftovers from the event:

Happy birthday, Bill James.

The former Thundering Herd star turned 62 on Saturday while in town for the reunion.

Now a retired teacher still living in his hometown of Scottsburg, Ind., he still looks as though he could race up and down the court as he did for the Herd in the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons. He came to Marshall from a junior college.

Talk about a successful Marshall career -- James was on an NCAA tournament team (1972) and an NIT team (1973.

With eligibility remaining, James joined the Herd football team in 1973 as a receiver.

Like most of the players, he has great memories of playing in the Field House.

"I loved the smell and the echoes," he said Friday night. "The crowd was right on the floor."

James also has a favorite game from the Field House, the 1971 defeat of No. 8 St. John's in the Marshall Memorial Invitational finals.

"But, I liked them all," he said. "I always went as hard as I could.

"It didn't matter who we played."

Veterans Memorial Field House was built to honor military veterans and housed many events from concerts, boxing shows, ice shows, circuses, Marshall commencement and, of course, Herd basketball. The facility is being demolished soon and replaced by a Marshall soccer complex and a veterans park.

The Herd played there from 1950 to 1981, compiling a home record of 292-113.

Woody Williams, the only living West Virginia Medal of Honor recipient, spoke at Friday's finale.

"We can all be thankful that Marshall University leadership has agreed to keep this memorial to honor those who fought the hard fight," Williams said. "And for the loved ones who gave their husband, son or daughter to help us remain a free people."

The Friday program closed with a member of the Huntington High band playing "Taps."

Huntington native Hal Greer was the star of the show, returning from his Scottsdale, Ariz., home to participate. Greer was an All-American guard for Marshall in 1958 who continued playing in the NBA for 15 seasons. He was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary Team in 1996.

Greer, 75, stayed around long after Saturday's event ended signing autographs and posing for pictures.

During a Friday press conference Greer reflected on the Field House. Greer grew up on Doulton Avenue, but knew his way to Fifth Avenue and 26th Street.

"I remember so many years going there in the summer," he said. "In the summer it was the only place we could go and play. I remember the Field House as the biggest place around."

Greer also mentioned the fact that he was raised only a few blocks from another Marshall star, the late Leo Byrd, who was also a teammate.

Sonny Allen was another player from Greer's era, and also a teammate.

Allen, a Moundsville, W.Va., native, retired to Reno, Nev., after working as a Marshall assistant coach before becoming a head coach. Allen led Old Dominion University to the 1975 NCAA Division II national championship. He also coached the Las Vegas Silver Streaks of the World Basketball League, college teams at Nevada-Reno and SMUand the Sacramento Monarchs of the WNBA.

He reflected fondly on the Field House.

"It was the only good arena in the state," Allen said. "West Virginia (University) played in that old place on the river. This was by far the best place.

"We played in the Mid-American Conference then, and they all had old high school gyms with a track around it. Ours was by far the best and the most intimidating because we got more people in there."

Allen said the Field House was unique during his days because the players didn't sit on the bench, they were in the front row of the bleachers.

"Teams coming in had never seen a place like the Field House," he said.

Randy Noll was another key player on the 1972 NCAA tournament team and also remembers beating St. John's that season.

But, Noll's memories go beyond that.

"We won here," he said. "This was our house."

Reggie Giles, who played basketball (1987) and football (1988) on Southern Conference championship teams, said it was nice getting to meet other former players.

"I've met some of the legends of the game from the Field House," he said.

Sports editor Rick McCann covers the Marshall men's basketball team. Contact him at 304-526-2759 or hedge@herald-dispatch.com.

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