Lords, Anfield, Fenway, Wrigley, Lambeau and MSG. When contemplating the most hallowed grounds of sport, its hard not to consider these six stadiums.
Their continued existence acts as a testament to their ability to resist the change that has occurred in wider society as their history echoes throughout the ages up into the present day. Unfortunately, many of the living museums of sport do reach a point where they must be replaced for more modern facilities.
While obviously not on the same level as those ancient shrines of global sport, the Main Gym, which hosted the U of A Golden Bears and Pandas basketball and volleyball teams for more than 25 years, sits empty now on the west end of campus. U of A programs have instead taken their talents to the Saville Community Sports Centre at South Campus, three LRT stops south of Main Campus. And although the new facility, now one year old, is widely recognized as an up-to-date, state-of-the-art facility, there are still those who maintain that the Main Gym, while not as spacious or stylish as the new centre court at Saville, was a very special place to play both for the home teams and the visiting schools as well.
“I’ll be frank, I miss the Main Gym,” Pandas basketball head coach Scott Edwards said. “I think it was a great place to play. I know that our competitors and our conference too, this was always their favourite gym other than their own to play in.”
Golden Bears basketball assistant coach Jon Verhesen also agreed that the Main Gym inside the Butterdome was a special place to play.
“The old gym always had this lore to it,” Verhesen, a third-year veteran of the Bears coaching staff, said. “It had a lustre. Everything was done there. There’s so much tradition, so much history.”
That said, it doesn’t mean the Bears and Pandas resent the move to Saville. Before the team had broken in the new digs last season, Laurie Eisler, the Pandas volleyball head coach, remarked she thought the Saville was a definite upgrade from the old on-campus arena.
“They’re fantastic,” Eisler said of the new facilities at the time. “You can’t even articulate what this place is like, and we can’t wait to play that home opener. You add a couple of thousand people and it’s going to be the place to be and a great training facility.”
One year later, the U of A’s two basketball coaches still echo Eisler’s initial sentiments about Saville.
“It’s a bigger space, we have a nice team room and some incredible training facilities for our kids outside of basketball,” Edwards said. “The facilities we have and the equipment we were able to put into a building that size has just made our training that much better.”
Verhesen agrees with Edwards that Saville is better for player development due to the sheer number of courts, rooms and amenities the facility has to offer.
As the Bears and Pandas enter their second season at Saville, they both hope to, in time, re-create some of the magic that existed at their old home inside the Butterdome.
“With any new building, it takes time to create a culture and a feel for it, so I think that will come because it’s got a great energy in that gym — it’s just so new to us right now,” Edwards said. “But, everything else around it is great for our kids and I know that we’ll make our own memories there as time goes on.”
“I can’t say I don’t like Saville, because I do. We were 10-0 here last year. I’ve never lost in this gym yet. I don’t know what it’s like,” Verhesen said. “But you can never replace that lore (of the Main Gym). We’re hoping to soon, but I’d say I like (Saville) just as much.”