By Ben Johnson
CNHI News Service
TAHLEQUAH — Northeastern State’s athletic landscape, as we know it, is about to change.
Sure, football will still be housed at Doc Wadley Stadium, baseball will stay put at Rousey Field, and softball and soccer will be played at the corner of Crafton and Oklahoma.
But change is coming. And there is a good chance you’ve noticed what it is if you’ve been meandering up and down Grand Avenue.
It’s NSU’s new basketball arena — and that’s about all you can call it right now. Naming rights are still up for grabs if you have the proper amount of cash.
Regardless of what the name is, the new digs will flip athletics on its head at NSU.
Nestled beyond the south end zone of Doc Wadley Stadium, the new arena, coupled with the football stadium, is the new greeting point for visitors coming in from the north. It’s what Seminary Hall is on the southern edge of campus.
Perhaps one day it’ll be the main attraction on campus.
“I think Seminary Hall is that building that most people remember when they think of Northeastern State,” said Tony Duckworth, NSU’s athletic director. “But selfishly, as the director of athletics, I hope (the new arena) becomes an iconic building on campus.”
There’s still several months of work left, but the new arena is looking like the crown jewel that the university had hoped for.
Slated to hold 3,100 for basketball contests, the new arena will almost certainly become the envy of the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association. There are more spacious buildings in the league, but few — if any — will match the quality of the RiverHawks’ new home.
The new facility will also house a lot of the athletic staff. Basketball coaches Larry Gipson and Randy Gipson will upgrade to new spacious offices, while Duckworth and others in athletics administration will also occupy space on the south side of the building.
During a recent tour of the building, the noticeable amenities were the locker rooms for both NSU basketball teams. Both appear to be quite comfortable and inviting for any prep standouts that are considering vowing their commitment to the RiverHawks.
Right down the hall from the home locker rooms on the north side of the gymnasium are four visiting locker rooms. But what is so significant about that? The abundance of locker rooms almost ensures NSU will become a major player on the high school basketball scene.
Even Duckworth admitted that’s in the works.
“High school athletic associations are always looking for venues where they can host postseason events,” Duckworth said. “And I can tell you that high school student athletes absolutely love coming to college and university settings to play in the postseason.”
That’s cause for celebration for Sequoyah, Keys and Hulbert fans. Even Locust Grove, Fort Gibson, Stilwell and other outlying communities can get fired up about a relatively short commute to NSU. It would almost certainly be a blessing for Kansas High School, which always travels with a large contingent that is normally having to drive extraordinary lengths to watch basketball.
It’d be a stretch but perhaps the neutral-site aspect could benefit Tahlequah High School. The problem for its basketball programs is that most of the 5A competition is closer to the Tulsa area, as is Muskogee’s in 6A.
And when NSU isn’t coordinating high school basketball excitement, the arena will also serve as a home to concerts and trade shows.
The new arena is on schedule to open in October. But excitement about the new building should have already begun.