The University of Nebraska Coliseum will experience its final NCAA sporting events Thursday and Friday when the Nebraska volleyball team hosts first and second rounds of the NCAA volleyball tournament.
The Coliseum, which opened in 1926, was the home of University of Nebraska basketball until 1976. It also was the site of the state boys basketball and wrestling tournaments, several UNL graduations, and many other functions, including visits from entertainer Bob Hope and President Richard Nixon, both in 1971.
In March of 1975, when the Coliseum was preparing to host its final state boys basketball tournament, Randy York, a 1967 graduate of Alliance High School, wrote the following column for the Lincoln Journal-Star newspaper. Today, York is the director of creative service and senior writer for Huskers.com of the UNL athletic department.
By Randy York
March 15, 1975
Tears of Nostalgia
Surly, tears will be shed for the losers Saturday in the Coliseum.
Personally, sometime Saturday night, I might shed a couple for the Vine Street Barn itself.
The thought of the last prep basketball championship game in the Coliseum has to mean something special for those who have experienced it.
Granted, the bleacher seating is uncomfortable. By most any modern day standards, the Coliseum is a dismal-looking structure with poor lighting.
But we all know physical appearance is superficial. It’s what’s inside that counts and the memories of past Coliseum state basketball tournaments will linger forever.
I know press facilities at the University of Nebraska Fieldhouse for next year’s state tournament will be better. Fans will have more elbow room, be more comfortable.
You’ll be able to get to the rest rooms quicker and you won’t have to wait as long for the hot dogs, which might even be prepared with the mustard and ketchup already on them, thanks to improved concession stands.
But will it be better? Will it be more fun?
Perhaps, but probably not. It’ll take some time to break the fieldhouse in, to give it the appeal of the Coliseum’s musty atmosphere.
Skyward Ice Cream Bars
A few years ago, the Coliseum lost the best ice cream bar salesman you’ll ever find. Remember the guy in the red Nebraska letter sweater who’d throw an ice cream bar up to the top of Mt. Everest if you waved your hand at him?
Then you’d pitch your dime back and he’d catch it with one hand while preparing to launch another skyward shot with the other hand.
Those were the days. He must have sensed things would never be the same in a new, more modern facility. So, he left his ice cream gold mine to other, less aggressive salesmen.
All fans are bound to feel the intensity of a state championship game, but the high school students are the ones who get caught up in the atmosphere the most.
Twenty, forty, sixty years from now they’ll be recounting the memories they experienced in the Coliseum and the accompanying charisma in the barn.
Is the last stat tournament game in the Coliseum really Saturday night? Ah, Central and Prep … what a way to exit.
Lincoln’s Stan Johnson remembers the first state tournament played in the Coliseum in 1926. Construction was incomplete for the first state tourney, he recalls.
Money was tight then, too, remembers Johnson, a furniture salesman and father of Lincoln Star staff writer Cindy Johnson.
A group of students attending Jackson High in Lincoln figured out a way to beat the system that first state tournament.
Good Old Yankee Ingenuity
They pooled their money to pay one members way into the game. He, in turn, headed for the rear of the Coliseum where bricks still were not firmly in place.
There, he chipped a small entryway for others to squeeze through and collected dimes from those crawling into the Coliseum for reimbursement.
It was a prime example of Yankee ingenuity, according to Johnson.
Nebraska’s Coliseum isn’t the only one slated for its last state championship basketball game Saturday night.
The Denver Coliseum will bid a fond farewell to its smelly old Coliseum Saturday night, too, as the Colorado prep tournament moves to plush McNichols Arena next year.
“It will be a little like a last ride in your favorite old car, the one you saved up for and bought when you were a senior in high school,” Denver Post sports writer Mike Monroe predicted.
Cruising Main one last time.
Anyone who’s gone to high school knows the feeling.
“This place gets to me,” fellow prepwriter Chuck Sinclair remarked Friday while covering the Omaha Burke-Omaha Central semifinal. “I’m really going to miss it.”