Sunday afternoon at 5:10 PM central time Arkansas will face off against former SWC foe Texas Tech in Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University. When constructed in 1928 it was the largest basketball facility in the country, seating more than 15,000 fans. It is the sixth oldest basketball arena still in use and the oldest in Division I basketball. Hinkle Fieldhouse has been designated a National Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
My dad was a journalism major at Butler, attending school on the G.I Bill right after the end of WWII. He covered the Bulldogs for the student newspaper during the playing career of Ralph “Buckshot” O’Brien who became Butler’s first NBA player in the early 1950s.
Eddie Irwin had been raised in Indianapolis and in mid December of 1954 he, my mom, sister and I travelled there from Texas for our annual Christmas visit with his parents. Around the dinner table the talk was all about about an amazing feat pulled off earlier that year by tiny Milan, Indiana High School. The Indians’ basketball team had won the overall state basketball tournament. My dad explained that it would be like our hometown team in Texas not only beating the best AA teams but the best AAA and AAAA teams too from cities like Lubbock and Austin. Dallas and Houston.
While that was sinking into my head he suggested that we visit Hinkle Fieldhouse where Milan had knocked off Muncie Central High to win that title. It was a short trip and I was excited until we walked inside of the biggest indoor space I’d ever seen in my young life. It almost took me to my knees. I was used to high school gyms holding 500 to 1,000 fans. This place would seat 15,000. I could not figure out what was holding the ceiling in place. I half expected to it to come crashing down any moment.
My dad pointed to a wooden structure atop the stands on the far end of the court where the media worked during games. He offered to take me up to the perch where he had written his game stories on a typewriter. I couldn’t figure out how he managed to get a typewriter up there since the only access was via a wooden ladder that looked like something attached to a neighbor kid’s tree house back home. Seeing a look of absolute panic on my face, he changed the subject to the exploits of Buckshot O’Brien. I wasn’t doing much listening. I figured the longer we were there the greater the chance that the roof would cave in. Finally, to my relief, he suggested that it was time for us to go back to my grandparents house. I could not wait to get back to the car.
Many years later I saw the movie “Hoosiers” at a local theater in NW Arkansas. The story my dad told me about Milan suddenly took on new meaning. Afterward my wife got a laugh hearing about my one and only visit to Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Sunday afternoon, when the Razorbacks take on the Red Raiders, I won’t be there. The day I would have left for Indianapolis was the day I received my second COVID vaccine. The chance of a negative reaction was not worth the risk on a trip where multiple live reports would have been required throughout my time there.
So Sunday I will be watching from our sports studio a block from the Arkansas campus and remembering the time my dad gave a personal tour of historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to wide eyed first grader who was more concerned about a roof collapse than stories about Milan’s High’s big win and Buckshot O’Brien’s days as a Butler Bulldog.
And that roof? Well, sixty-six years later it’s still holding up.