Cheers, tears, victory bring down the house

Finale: Maryland ends the Cole Field House era with a win against Virginia and a celebration of 47 years of teams, players and fans.

March 04, 2002|By Paul McMullen and Don Markus | Paul McMullen and Don Markus,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The party isn't over. It's just moving a few hundred yards north.

University of Maryland basketball capped 47 seasons at Cole Field House last night with a 112-92 victory over Virginia that elicited cheers and tears. The Terps will move into the $108 million Comcast Center next season, and perhaps they"ll have a national champion ship to celebrate.

With flashbulbs popping at the opening tip and again at the final buzzer, the now-customary raucous crowd of 14,500 celebrated the school's fourth perfect season at home in the arena's 47-year history and its first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship since 1980. The victory gave Maryland a record of 486-151 at Cole.

The pre-game Senior Night ceremonies added to the emotion, as All-America candidates Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter were recognized, along with Byron Mouton and Earl Badu. More than 100 signs decorated the stands, and one read, 'Last Chance to Moo at Cole." a reference to the cheer for Mouton. Coach Gary Williams" second-ranked Terps admirably handled the hype that could have become a distraction.

"That could have been a problem for Gary." said Johnny Holiday, Maryland's radio announcer since 1979. "For me, this is delightful. I was thinking this morning, I've called games in 23 of the 47 seasons here. That's frightening."

The evening concluded with a court of dreams, as former Terps greats were included in a ball-passing ceremony symbolizing the move to Comcast Center.

Players from the 1955-56 team that opened Cole, as well as the group that went on two seasons later to the NCAA tournament, were feted during halftime along with their coach, Bud Millikan. Al Bunge, a 1960 graduate who was Maryland's only All-ACC player between Gene Shue and Tom McMillen, made a rare trip back from his home in Oklahoma.

Mary Humelsine, Class of 1939, was among the fans who traveled full circle with the old-time Terps. Humelsine's father, Cecil Speake, managed construction on campus during the post-World War II building boom that included the Student Activities Building, which was named for Board of Regents Chairman William P. Cole in its second year.

"I drove up from my home in Williamsburg, Virginia, today. I wouldn't miss it for anything." said Humelsine, 83. "I was here for the first game, and I'll be here when they open the new arena, too."

Wayne McGinnis watched the first game, too - from the Maryland bench. McGinnis, who grew up in White Hall and was one of only two in-state players on the team, said the atmosphere was considerably different in those days. There was one notable ex ception. It came the next year, when McGinnis was a junior.

"There were 15,500 the night we almost beat top-ranked North Carolina the year they won the national championship." said McGinnis, who would go on to coach Hereford High School. "There were people sitting in the aisles."

McGinnis, a season-ticket holder for the past 10 years, was among a group of more than 50 former players to attend last night's game. There were several players from the 1980 ACC championship team, including Albert King and Ernest Graham. Other former Terps included Len Elmore, McMillen, Keith Gatlin, Kevin McLinton and Keith Booth.

"Coming out from under that tunnel and running onto the court, that was a special feeling." said Graham, whose single-game Maryland scoring record of 44 points still stands. "I don't know what I'm feeling right now. I got my son with me right now. I'm just hanging out with him."

The most noticeable absentee was former coach Lefty Driesell, whose Georgia State team scared Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year and lost the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Conference on Saturday.

The coach who breathed life into a moribund program and arena in 1969 wasn't in the house, but there were reminders of Driesell, such as straw boaters bearing his name and hard hats that pro claimed "Amen." the song that celebrated Terps victories during his tenure.

"He should be here." said McMillen, one of the first players to bring Maryland to national prominence.

Aaron Bernstein was born in 1980, when Cole was in its middle age. The Rockville native is a second-generation Maryland pre-med student, and said big-time athletic contests like last night's - for which scalpers were asking $2,000 for prime seats - are one of the reasons he's studying close to home.

"My college choice came down to Case Western and Maryland." Bernstein said. "Am I going to look for something to do on the weekend in Cleveland, or watch football and basketball here? It's a great time to be a senior. I was a freshman when Steve Francis played, and now I'm going out with Juan [Dixon] and Lonny [Baxter]."

Those who watched Williams bring Maryland to its first men's Final Four in school history last season believe the hoopla sur rounding last night's game had as much to do with the team's current status as it did with the memories evoked by the venerable arena.

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