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Last Basketball Game Set In Oldest Gym

February 24, 1987

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. (AP) _ Basketball rivals have a name for the 101-year-old Lasell Gymnasium at Williams College, where a visiting coach was recently thumped on the head by a hot dog dangling from a rope.

They call it a snake pit.

However, a publicist for Williams College said he had another word for the oldest college gym still being used for varsity basketball.

″We prefer venerable,″ Jim Kolesar said.

The gym, with its white stone facade and Victorian flourishes, will be retired this weekend after Williams plays traditional rival Wesleyan.

″I’m sure all those anonymous donations to the new gym were from opposing coaches,″said Williams Coach Harry Sheehy, whose team will move into an $8.5 million sports complex with seating for 1,200 and a regulation-size basketball court next season.

″We will miss it, because there is nothing left like it,″ Sheehy said in a recent interview.

Lasell Gymnasium, built in 1886, provides historical perspective to the term ″home court advantage.″

Over the past 87 years, the Williams College Ephmen have won 72 percent of their games in Lasell, running up a record of 528-204 in their cramped quarters.

The Eph’s first home basketball game was against Drury High School of North Adams in 1900. Williams prevailed 48-12. Later that year, Williams downed Dartmouth, 21-12, in the first intercollegiate game at Lasell.

″It’s the essence of Division III (small college) basketball,″ said Wesleyan Coach Herb Kenny. ″I’ll miss giving our players the experience of playing there.″

The home court edge at Lasell, where the playing area is six inches shorter and narrower than standard was even more pronounced before 1934, when the pillars and arches that marched in a double row down the playing surface were removed, said Athletic Director Bob Peck.

The wood running track, packed on game nights with 400 of the noisy Williams fans, still dangles 10 feet above players’ heads. The overhanging sideline baskets still occasionally deflect a high pass by an unsuspecting visiting team. Retired Springfield College Coach Ed Bilek called Lasell a ″bowling alley.″

The track - 16 2/3 laps to the mile - is similar to the one James Naismith hung his peach baskets on at Springfield College in 1891 to start it all, said Peck. ″The whole configuration of the gym is reminiscent of where the game was first played.″

The track gives Williams students, who line up hours before a big game because fire marshals bar the doors after 1,000 people enter, opportunities denied the rooters at Duke and Syracuse universities for discomfiting a visiting team.

They lower Williams pennants and other objects into the visitors’ huddle. Last weekend, Amherst Coach Dave Hixon was pounded in the head by a hot dog dangling from a rope.

They also stamp. With every rafter-raising thump, the century-old dust sifts down onto the opposing bench.

″A lot of players have told me that they really prefer playing in a place like ours where everyone is into the game rather than in a sterile area with maybe 200 fans and 2,000 empty seats,″ Peck said..

″And our fans are not usually cruel and abusive. They are clever a lot of the time.″

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