Franchise columnist and co-host John E. Hoover is now also a Featured Columnist for VYPE High School Sports Magazine. Read his newest columns every month when VYPE hits the newsstands.
Ask someone from Cement or Dover or Hammon or Vanoss or Buffalo to meet you at Jim Norick Arena and they might ask you to text them the address.
But ask any resident of Oklahoma’s littlest hoops hamlets to meet you at The Big House, and they’ll ask you a different question: What time’s tipoff?
Oklahoma City’s State Fairgrounds Arena has become every bit as much embedded into our red dirt culture as Will Rogers, the Dust Bowl, OU-Texas, Indian Territory or the oil patch.
The Big House — er, sorry, it’s officially Jim Norick Arena, named after the late Oklahoma City mayor, in case you didn’t know — is part of our history. For anyone who grew up in small-town Oklahoma, it’s part of our DNA.
The 8,500-seat arena is part of who we are.
That’s why, after 51 years of hosting Oklahoma’s best basketball — all due respect to the large-school titans in OKC and Tulsa and our fine college programs throughout the state and the Oklahoma City Thunder — it came as something of a shock to hear The Big House soon would be shuttered.
“It is a fact that they are going to build a new arena,” said David Jackson, executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association. “I think that’s a pretty well established fact now in our conversations with the people out here (at State Fair Park). They think that in about six years, we will have another place to play.”
Let’s face it. The old round barn just ain’t what she used to be. Regular repairs, renovations and refurbishments have simply made it more cost effective to build a new arena to host not just high school basketball championships, but rodeos, livestock shows, car shows, ice shows, expos, conventions and more.
And while that new arena will have updated concessions, modern restrooms, bigger seats, brighter lights and hey, maybe even wifi, that won’t make it any easier to tear down The Big House.
She is, after all, a part of Oklahoma’s history.
“Well, it means a lot to our students, especially, and their fans,” Jackson said. “The passion that those people have for playing in The Big House, we absolutely want to keep giving them that experience, and even make it better all the time.”
That’s the main reason why the OSSAA expanded The Big House’s semifinals schedule a few years back, so more Oklahomans could say they “made it to The Big House.”
The OSSAA’s current contract with State Fair Park runs through 2019 and is renewed every five years. By the end of the next contract, Jackson supposes, the new arena should be in place.
Jackson said the association is happy in its relationship with State Fair Park, which hasn’t given the OSSAA any reason to “look anywhere else” to stage its A/B and 2A/3A/4A state tournaments.
At the same time, it’s never wise to take anything for granted.
“That’s exactly right,” Jackson said. “And in doing so, when it gets close to time to re-up, I think they know that there are a lot of people that would love to start a new tradition that The Big House enjoys right now. I think they understand that. Or at least we help them understand that. I get a sense that they don’t take it for granted, us being here and them needing to continue to try to make it a good event for us.”
Likewise, the OSSAA’s three-year agreement to stage 5A/6A at the Mabee Center in Tulsa is strong — “ORU has established themselves as The Big House of 5A/6A, and I think it’s gonna take a facility a ways to go to outbid them for that,” Jackson said — but, when the contract is up, there will be a bid.
“And if someone in the Oklahoma City area wins the bid,” he said, “we’ll bring it back.”
Jackson said he constantly hears stories from players’ parents or grandparents who played at The Big House generations past.
“They’ll come in groups from 30 or 40 years ago that won a state championship, and they’ll tell us they’re gonna bring their team here or something and we’ll do our best to recognize them, and they absolutely love it,” he said.
“We get those kinds of things all the time.”
Time marches on, but we’ll all miss The Big House.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.