Bidding Farewell To St. John Arena, A Centerpiece Of Ohio State Lore
Ohio State recently announced that it will be tearing down St. John Arena and replacing it with a new facility to be built on the western end of campus and named in honor of Sam Covelli, who donated $10 million towards the project. The Covelli Arena project is expected to begin in 2014 and St. John will remain in use until the new facility is completed.
While the location of the new arena will not be as convenient for students, the building itself will be a much needed upgrade.
St. John is currently home to indoor sports including volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling, and fencing. Men’s and women’s basketball called the facility home until the Schottenstein Center opened in 1998. The arena is in need of serious repairs and has become rather expensive to maintain, but it will be missed by many in the Ohio State community.
To give a sense of SJA’s place in Ohio State lore, I interviewed Matt Ripley, director of the Block “O” Volleyball student section for 2 years. Matt lives and breathes all things Ohio State volleyball; here are his thoughts on the historic building:
What do you like most about the building?
Ripley: When you talk about St. John, you have to talk about the history. History and tradition ooze out of every crack and crevice of that arena. You walk across the floor and realize the greatness that was there before you. Bobby Knight prowled these sidelines before anywhere else. Stacey Gordon drilled kill after kill into this court. Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek made this arena explode in cheers. You can’t help but feel these ghosts of sports past are hovering in the rafters, and that’s something you can’t get anywhere else.
What is your fondest memory of St John Arena?
MR: My fondest memory is an odd one, mainly because it is a loss to Michigan, which is rarely a fond memory. It was the first match that I was Director of Volleyball Operations. It took place the Wednesday of Welcome Week in 2008 and we pushed the event to Block “O” more than any other volleyball game we ever had. As match time drew closer, the student section was completely packed and we were scrambling to find more room for the wave of students that kept flowing down the tunnel. In the end, we had crushed the previous student attendance record and the place was rocking in a way it hadn’t for a while. When the match was over, all the students made their way onto the court, to surround the team in singing Carmen, Afterwards, I stood in the center and led a few giant cheers. It was an incredible experience to witness the students get behind the team, and it was even more amazing because it came on the end of a 3-0 sweep for Michigan.
Approximately how many games do you think you attended there?
MR: Wow… this is tough. I’ll count by sport first. 38 Women’s Volleyball matches, 44 Men’s Volleyball matches, 2 Men’s Basketball games, 2 Women’s Basketball games, 2 Wrestling matches… I’m sure I missed some, but that puts the final number around 90. Plus several skull sessions and a few Buckeyes Got Talent [annual student-athlete talent show].
How does it compare to some of the other volleyball arenas you’ve been to?
MR: There are better facilities out there, which is why the move to Covelli Arena is an exciting one. But I have been all over the country (from Happy Valley to Palo Alto to Chicago and everywhere in between) and have never been inside an arena that had the same feel of tradition as St. John. No arena could make me feel like I was just a passing figure in a long history of athletic greatness. While I won’t miss the poor small crowd acoustics (except for when it is packed to the gills, then nothing really tops it), the poor climate control, or the uncomfortable and crooked bleachers, there is no way Covelli will be able to match St. Arena at that for a long while.
I really hope athletics sends it out with a bang… try and pack the place a few more times the last season it is in use. It deserves it.
Personally, I have several fond memories of St. John. The first Ohio State sporting event I attended was a men’s volleyball game in April 2009 when I visited campus before deciding schools.
Several of the women’s volleyball games I’ve been to at St. John had raucous, electric student crowds that were so much fun to be a part of and were due in large part to Matt’s efforts.
Convocation was also held there the first week of my freshman year, one of the few times our entire class was gathered together at one time. Many students have expressed how exciting it was for the class as a whole to be convened this way, and I can’t help but think St. John’s intimacy and history played a small role in their reactions.
Here’s to several more great memories before the doors close for good.