Bradley intends to go all out to remember the visionary for whom the Field House was named
Even the weather fit the occasion.
As the final final event unfolded Thursday afternoon at Robertson Memorial Field House, the cold gray skies choked up and wept.
Inside the old hangars, Corky Robertson faced an invitation-only gathering of about 300 people and fought back tears as he recalled his late father, Alfred James Robertson, the legendary Bradley athletics director and coach for whom the building was named at its dedication in 1948.
'He really did not like the spotlight,' Robertson said of his father.
But the spotlight created by A.J. Robertson burned bright for 59 years in the Field House, which will be demolished in a few weeks to make way for a new athletics facility on the BU campus. And it will continue to shine on A.J. Robertson and his legacy, thanks to two initiatives announced by university president Joanne Glasser.
First, she said, Bradley will ask the City of Peoria to rename the block of Maplewood Avenue south of Main Street. That driveway into the northwest corner of the campus is to be called 'A.J. Robertson Court.'
The drive will end in a
cul de sac
outside the main entrance to the new men's basketball practice facility. In the middle of that circle, overlooking the university's new 'Alumni Quad' and the hub of the intercollegiate athletics program he put on the national map, will be a statue of the man who was affectionately known as 'Robbie.'
'What a man, what a coach, and what a visionary,' Glasser said.
In her seven months on campus, Glasser has talked frequently about her goal to make Bradley a national 'brand' name. She tied that goal to Robertson, whom she said 'branded Bradley through sportsmanship, fair play and integrity.'
Corky Robertson, surrounded by his family, was visibly startled and emotionally moved by the twin announcements of the street name and statue. The only other statue of a person on the campus is of the university's founder, Lydia Moss Bradley.
'Oh, my God,' Robertson said. 'How wonderful. How absolutely wonderful.'
It was a bittersweet day, as the invitees — faculty, staff, administration, trustees, alumni, present and former players, including all-Americans Paul Unruh and Bob Carney — strolled the Field House.
Bitter in the sense of sadness that the arena, once the largest in Illinois outside of Chicago and one of the most famous in the nation, soon will be nothing but a memory. Sweet because of almost every memory it created for the citizens of the Peoria area and Bradley community.
The people smiled and told stories and laughed. For the last time, they gazed longingly at the arched rafters, climbed onto the raised playing floor and looked over the stands, which have been stripped of the bright red bleachers.
They partook of the chocolate, white raspberry and carrot of a 100-pound cake, molded and frosted to replicate the familiar exterior of the Field House: the staggered brick facade on Main Street, the arched roof, the curved exterior walls of the main ticket office, the front entrance with the red Robertson Field House name above the doorway.
The rim and net from the west backboard on the Field House court were presented to the Robertson family.
And then there was the matter of the final final shot.
Back on March 8, Sonya Harris of the Bradley women's team had scored the final points in an official game, a BU victory over Northern Iowa. That earned her the honor of being called upon to perform one more duty. Thursday, she would throw the assist pass for the final final basket.
Corky Robertson was asked to take that shot.
'I politely told them,' he said, 'that if it was me who was going to shoot we'd be here till August when I made one.'
Corky deferred to his grandson James, a Richwoods senior who had played a couple of games there with the Knights and developed a reputation as a 3-point artist. James snapped the net with shot after shot, as he warmed up before the ceremonies.
'Hopefully, just one,' he said, when asked how many attempts it would take to make the last one.
After sitting for nearly 40 minutes, though, when James finally set up to take the final shot, 'I was definitely more nervous than for any game in my life,' he said.
He grazed the rim on his first attempt at the east basket, the only rim still hanging. His second shot was in and out.
The third and final final shot hit nothing but net.
A second later, the lights over the court were turned off. A scaffold was rolled under the backboard, and two workmen climbed on. Within minutes, the rim and net were taken down.
Robertson Memorial Field House is officially closed.
KIRK WESSLER is Journal Star executive sports editor/columnist. Contact him at (309) 686-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.