Jan. 10, 2009
by Jeremy S. Fallis '06
During the 2008-09 season, the Saint Joseph's basketball teams have had to play hopscotch when it comes to scheduling their home games this year. From the Wachovia Center and The Palestra to Philadelphia University, the two squads have had to adapt to life away from Hawk Hill.
For most of the season, The Palestra will merely provide a diversion from SJU's past--Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse--and the Hawks' future, the Michael Hagan Arena.
To two men, head coach Phil Martelli and benefactor Mike Hagan, the arena has been a years-in-the-making, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at a university going through changes all around campus.
"I know the first time I walked on the Maguire Campus," Martelli notes. "After driving down City Avenue past Episcopal [Academy], there's a different feel and a different sense. That's what I'm waiting for [here] with the Hagan Arena. "
From the acquisition and utilization of the Maguire Campus in Merion Station to the addition at the Campion Student Center, the Hagan Arena is but a small piece to the larger puzzle that encompasses the entire Saint Joseph's community. To many, it seems not so long ago that the Fieldhouse Expansion and Renovation project began, especially considering it is nearing its conclusion.
"The pace with which the project has come together," Hagan illustrates, "from the support of the SJU administration, to the financial commitments coming from other alums and Trustees...it is all moving towards a completion date that's much sooner than my wildest dreams."
After 59 years the Fieldhouse shuttered its doors and windows on June 1 after the St. Joseph's Prep graduation. By then the expansion had already taken shape, a project that will house the basketball teams' locker rooms, training centers and the Athletic Communications office as well as the Hall of Fame Room. Ultimately, what will stand in the Fieldhouse's place as well as what's attached to it will be a state-of-the-art facility complete with all the necessary amenities for current day basketball programs.
"[The Fieldhouse] had worn out its welcome," describes Martelli. "And I'm not crazy that kids are concerned with bells and whistles but we're going to have all the bells and whistles, that [was] my requirement."
As for Hagan's requirement, he just wanted to give back to a school that made him the person who he is today. As a Class of 1985 alum, Hagan found it simple to donate to a University that needed a second wind from a new facility.
"My time at Saint Joseph's played a big part in who I am," Hagan says. "It's easy to give back when you know you wouldn't be the person you are if you hadn't crossed paths with the Jesuits on City Line Avenue.
"I believe that with a school like Saint Joseph's a new arena can provide the spark to reconnect many alums and other fans with the University. The arena will give them a new reason to visit the campus and learn about all the exciting recent developments happening on Hawk Hill."
From the conception of the project to the actual construction phase, the 2007-08 academic year was a whirlwind at 54th and City Ave. The two houses next to the Fieldhouse, Flanigan Hall and Barry Annex, were demolished in the winter and the final games were played in March.
The entire athletic department was dispersed from their offices to temporary homes for a few months at a time in multiple locations. By this summer, some within the department will have moved three different times when the construction is completed.
Nevertheless, how it affects SJU's most visible program, men's basketball, is how much of the success of the project will be measured.
"I do think that this is our chance," Martelli explains. "It's not like we get a do-over in two years. This is going to be the mark for this program and the standard for this program for a very long time."
The standard that SJU seeks is already materializing. The new practice facility was finished in September and has been used by the two basketball squads for daily practice. Martelli is quick to point out that the new gym is a work-in-progress, as it is just one phase of the whole undertaking.
Part of the Fieldhouse Expansion and Renovation is that aspects of the old building are adapted into the new one. Martelli has long been a strong proponent of playing in the Fieldhouse because of its legendary acoustics and intimidating home court advantage. In the end, Hagan Arena will incorporate the best nuances of the past and bring them into a new arena with a new look.
"There will certainly be carryovers [from the Fieldhouse]," Martelli notes. "One of the advantages that we're going to add is that it's going to be a showcase. There will be a different visual appeal on television. We can never lose the fervor and the passion and the fire that the fans brought to the Fieldhouse."
And that passion includes how many will enter the newly minted Hagan Arena for the first time and what impulses they might have. Even the man that the building is named after, who can sit anywhere he wants in the arena, has his own impulse.
"My first instinct would be to sit with the students," tells Hagan, "since that's where the electricity is."
Sometimes the student section isn't the best place for a family man with two children to be as he cleverly points out.
"I think my four-year-old daughter might expand her vocabulary a little earlier than I'd like," Hagan jokes. "In the end, there won't be a bad seat." Currently, the Fieldhouse Expansion and Renovation project is swiftly moving along. Hagan notes the tireless work of Kevin Robinson, Vice President of Administrative Services as well as the LF Driscoll Company--the same company that built the Phillies' Citizens Bank Park--as main contributors of the project's success.
All that's left when the final seats and flooring are in place is to enjoy the game. Hagan, like many in the Hawk community, is looking forward to just one thing.
"The tip-off of the first game."