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Public Notices

April 16, 2014

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The House Was Always Packed At Stately Stokely Center

Originally published: 2012-12-15 00:31:13
Last modified: 2012-12-15 00:32:52

One thing you always knew before the basketball game ever started at Stokely Athletics Center was what the attendance would be: 12,500. That was capacity.

The announcement that the old home of the Tennessee Volunteers would be closed at the end of the month, and later razed, brought back a lot of fond memories of my first days covering the basketball Vols back in the 1970's.

Tiny Day, the Sun's sports editor at the time, and I would often make the trek to Knoxville to watch the team, especially during the days of the "Ernie & Bernie Show," -- Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King, still two of the greatest players to ever play together on the same team anywhere.

I thought at the time, and still believe today, that Bernard King is the best player I've ever watched play for the Vols. The guy was just amazing with the things he could do, and watching him and Ernie play together was a highlight of my days as a sports writer.

When you talk about a home court advantage, few places had the same atmosphere as old Stokely.

Finding a ticket was often a problem, as the place would normally be packed to the rafters a half-hour or so before the game was scheduled to tip off.

Tiny would take his seat along press row, and I would take my seat under the goal with my camera in hand and shoot photos throughout the contest.

In clearing out some old files during preparation for retirement, I came across some of those old .35mm negatives that I had shot at Stokely.

Haywood Harris, the university's sports information director at the time, and Bud Ford, who would later carry that title for UT, were always around to make sure that media personnel were taken care of.

The legendary Ray Mears, who coached the Vols from 1962-1977 and posted a 278-112 record, helped make Stokely what it was.

The ball-handling drills of his Vols were pure showmanship, and Mears' bright orange jacket was a nemesis to the Southeastern Conference coaches of the era.

Unlike many of the modern arenas of today, Stokely, it seemed, had the fans sitting right up against the playing floor. Players who would fly out of bounds would often find themselves in the lap of a fan.


An exception to the close viewing, of course, was the upper reaches of Stokely, where players on the floor far below looked like little gnats buzzing around.

I found myself in those upper reaches when Elvis Presley made an appearance in Knoxville.

Just to find a ticket to the Stokely concert was a chore, but I was present when Elvis performed and later "left the building" to an absolutely frenzied crowd.

The Volunteers departed Stokely after the 1987 season and moved into their brand new digs, the ultra-modern Thompson-Boling Arena.

So did the Lady Vols, who played at Stokely from 1976-1987 and posted an astounding record of 137-18 during that stretch under Pat Summitt.

The university hasn't said what will become of the land occupied by Stokely when the building is torn down, but an extension of the football practice facility will probably be at least a part of it.

That's OK.

Bill Justus, a two-time All-Southeastern Conference guard who played for the Vols from 1967-69, said it best in an interview with the Associated Press about the demolition of Stokely Athletics Center:

"The memories will never be lost."

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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