Weekly Column: Really Closed Now
pblackwell, Fri, March 6th, 2009
Sometime late on Saturday night, at the end of a long session of six basketball championship games, Fabius-Pompey and LaFayette will walk off the court at Manley Field House, and a long and meaningful era will conclude.
For nearly half a century, that round-roofed arena on the corner of Comstock and Colvin served as a Mecca of sorts – first for the area’s college basketball fans, then for two generations of high-school dreamers chasing championships.
Soon enough, though, Manley will be just another indoor practice facility at a big American college, with football, basketball and lacrosse teams no longer needing to fight for practice time in the Carrier Dome.
So yes, SU’s most visible athletes have year-round comfort. But a big portion of Central New York sports history is going away, and that’s sad, no matter how you spin it.
Really, Manley’s history can be divided into two parts – the 18 years where Syracuse University’s men’s basketball team called it home, and the three decades that followed where high school sports took over.
Up until 1962, SU’s basketball team had many different homes on campus, but there was little reason to have a bigger house. In the last year before going to Manley, the Orangemen went 2-22, the sort of number that’s impossible to imagine these days.
The move to Manley coincided with the arrival of Dave Bing on campus. By the time he was done, SU was an eastern powerhouse, and Manley became one of the toughest home courts in the country.
Night after night in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Orange faithful would squeeze into that 9,500-seat gym with the round roof and raise it with noise and passion. They saw the genesis of Roy Danforth’s squad that made an unlikely run to the 1975 NCAA Final Four, and saw the early coaching days of Jim Boeheim, with some of the ugliest suits ever seen in Western civilization.
Grand ambition, the dawn of the Big East and the construction of the Carrier Dome meant that the Orangemen had to leave Manley behind in 1980, but not before winning 57 in a row at a place every opposing team feared to visit.
Except for Georgetown, who had taken its share of lumps in trips to Syracuse, but somehow pulled out a 52-50 win over SU in the last game before the move. At the end, John Thompson decreed, “Manley Field House is officially closed.”
Disheartening as that was for anyone who bled Orange, that single game sent the SU-G’town rivalry to the stratosphere and was a cornerstone in the immediate emergence of the Big East as a power conference. It also enhanced the Manley legend, though Thompson was about 29 years premature with his declaration.
SU has now spent much more time in the Carrier Dome than it ever did at Manley, but the old arena remained a place of magic, beyond the fact that SU’s women’s hoops teams and wrestlers continued to compete there.
From the mid-1960s onward, local high school athletes would consider trips to Manley as something special and important, from indoor track teams that set up shop for the entire winter to basketball teams in pursuit of Section III titles.
In particular, hoops teams thirsted to step onto that same court where Bing and Bouie and Orr had held sway. To be sure, some melted under the pressure, and many teams had difficulty adjusting to the shooting background and threw up tons of bricks, but no one, win or lose, ever forgot the experience.
Will any other future championship venue hold that kind of aura? It’s hard to get worked up about any high school gym, and though college sites like LeMoyne have nice facilities, they hardly carry the sort of magic and history Manley provided.
Up at Onondaga Community College, a solution is in the planning stages. They want to build a field house with thousands of seats, plus an indoor track. If completed, this will become the successor to Manley and will become a grand home for winter championships.
At best, the new OCC building will be done in 2011, but who knows in this tough economic climate. Local sports fans will have to be patient, for sure, and indoor track might suffer for a while if teams have to travel out to venues like Colgate, Hamilton College or Cornell.
Any new venue has a difficult act to follow. Each winter, I looked forward to making the pilgrimage to Manley, enduring the parking fees and crowded aisles to drink in a unique and electric atmosphere.
And it provided one more unforgettable classic on Saturday, when Stefan Thompson put CBA on his back, scored 41 points, led a ridiculous comeback in regulation, and did the same in overtime to stun Henninger in the AA final. That last long pass to set up Greg Thomson for the winning lay-up will get talked about forever.Manley Field House was a place where great things happened, where memories were planted in the brain, never to be removed.
Now all we have are those memories.