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Tip-off to Greatness
Before the "Cameron Crazies," before the Final Four trips and the two national championships, basketball was still part of the campus culture. Sixty years ago this week, the opening of what was originally called Duke Indoor Stadium helped to shape that culture in innumerable ways.
When coach Eddie Cameron led his team into the new arena on Jan. 6, 1940, to face Princeton, it was the fourth home for the Duke basketball team. The stadium (it would be named after Cameron in 1972) was immediately something the Duke community was proud of, being the largest basketball arena south of the Palestra in Philadelphia.
The first home to Duke basketball was the Ark building on East Campus. Here, on March 2, 1906, Duke and Wake Forest played the first game of intercollegiate basketball in the state, a game won by Wake. W.W. "Cap" Card was the coach of that first team. Memorial Gymnasium, which is now known as the Brodie Gym on East Campus, opened in 1923. It was built with funds from alumni and friends as a memorial to Trinity College men killed in World War I.
The third home was the current Card Gym, which was completed in 1930.
At the time, the stadium was one of the best of its kind. It held 3,000 cozy bleacher seats on the two long sides and some 6,000 theater-type seats in the balcony curved around all four sides of the floor. Little has changed since then.
Under coaches such as Card and Cameron, Duke basketball had already established itself as a prominent force in intercollegiate sports. But basketball in the South had yet to gain the popularity it now holds, and there were some concerns that Duke was investing so many resources in the sport. To most people, football would always be king.
When President William Preston Few and Dean William Wannamaker stepped on the floor to mark the first game, their words spoke to those concerns. They also expressed the idea that the stadium should not be seen as a home to a varsity basketball team, but as a commitment by the university to a physical education program that was open to all students.
At the time, Duke had a required program of physical education for freshmen and sophomores, giving them basic training in four different sports. Students were encouraged to continue in physical education programs after the first two years.
"Speaking for Duke University and also on my own behalf," said Few, "I hasten to say that we are glad to have this great addition to the gymnasium and are most grateful for it. We are proceeding as fast as we are able with provisions for athletics and sports of all kinds. I hope that before too long, we may have completely adequate equipment for intercollegiate athletics, intramural sports and the whole program of physical education."
Wannamaker also addressed those concerns. "We at Duke have long been, and still are, deeply interested in the physical well-being of our students," he said. "This tradition carried over from the days when there was only Trinity College, and in our new development large playing fields and gymnasium were provided and equipped.
"For years, an extensive program of sound physical education, better called health education, has been carried on. By this means, we have endeavored to emphasize the great value of health-bringing and health-maintaining exercise of the body, and to provide efficient and yet pleasurable means for our students to get it, with the end in view that they will acquire sufficient knowledge of some sports and skill in them that after leaving college they can engage in these sports with pleasure.
"In my opinion, this part of our undergraduate work has been of incalculable value, and the interest taken in it by our students has been commendable and encouraging."
The new focus on basketball that was shown by the construction of the stadium was meant to reflect a commitment to other sports and activities as well, Wannamaker said.
"While our program of intercollegiate sports has been for some time rather large, it is constantly being increased as more and more sports appeal to our student body, coming as it does from all parts of our land. In so far as possible, we meet these many requests for equipment and supervision of additional intercollegiate sports we believe to be of real service in our scheme, that seeks to be of lasting good to participants in sports.
"But it has to be kept in mind that while many fine sports of great popularity are encouraged and well provided for here, only football pays its way. It must and does, as is well known, provide the means for all other sports. With greater accommodation for basketball games, that sport will soon be able we hope to get along without aid."
Throughout their talk, both Few and Wannamaker referred to Wallace Wade as director of physical education, not to his best-known roles as football coach or director of athletics, underscoring his and the department's responsibility for the entire student population.
These ideas still remain important at Duke, as seen by the construction and renovation of student recreational facilities on both the East and West campuses as well as at Cameron.
Few and Wannamaker then sat down to watch the first game in the new stadium. A young Duke team, which was on its way to a respectable 19-7 record and a second-place finish in the Southern Conference tournament, took control early. Princeton, with Bill Bradley still decades away, was no match for the Blue Devils, who won 36-27.
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