Athletic teams bid farewell to quirky Texas Hall
If it’s possible to shrink the history of Texas Hall into a single story, it’s this one: When former basketball coach Bob “Snake” LeGrand brought recruits to campus, he made sure they never saw the University’s home court.
LeGrand, whose coaching persona was as colorful as his nickname, skipped UT Arlington’s anomalous theater-turned-sports arena because it was an eyesore. Recruits don’t want to see a basketball court laid atop a theater stage, complete with curtains on each end and a four-foot drop-off along one sideline. Bleachers on the west side held a few hundred fans; about 3,000 could sit in the theater seats opposite.
After almost 50 years, Texas Hall hosted its final athletic event Jan. 28, a loss by the women’s basketball team to Texas State. The glistening $78 million, 7,000-seat College Park Center opened Feb. 1, and Texas Hall returned to its original and best use as an entertainment venue, where the plays aren’t drawn up on whiteboards.
Still, dimming the lights was bittersweet for some who called it home.
“I’ll miss the uniqueness of Texas Hall and the closeness of the fans to the court, particularly on the bleacher side,” says longtime Athletics Director Pete Carlon, who left that position in February to focus on UT Arlington’s transition to the Western Athletic Conference.
Texas Hall, for a time, was a prime volleyball venue. In the 1980s when current head coach Diane Seymour was a star player, UT Arlington was a powerhouse, climbing to No. 7 in a national poll and reaching the Final Four in 1989. Texas Hall hosted four NCAA tournament matches in the era, the only NCAA postseason games on campus in any sport.
“I always thought Texas Hall was a great volleyball facility,” Seymour says. “The crowd was always right on top of you and very loud.”
It gave the Mavericks a home-court advantage for other reasons, too. For starters, the fear of falling. “I think it was intimidating for other teams seeing that drop-off,” says Heather (Hoy) Martin, who set several school volleyball records in the mid-1990s. “There were quite a few balls that the other team didn’t run down because of the stage.”
Texas Hall had its moments in basketball, too. Several eventual NBA stars took the court—Karl Malone, Joe Dumars, Andrew Toney. In November 1981, coming off the University’s first postseason appearance, a bid in the National Invitational Tournament, Texas Hall was packed (balcony and all) for the home opener against TCU.
Too often, though, it wasn’t packed. At least not with athletes. In December, when teams play their big nonconference matchups, Texas Hall simply wasn’t available. Not with The Nutcracker, commencements, and other events tying up the stage/court.
Men’s basketball coach Scott Cross, a guard on UT Arlington teams in the mid-1990s, says the venue made recruiting extremely tough.
“There is a reason why UTA never went to the NCAA tournament in the 49 years before we went in 2008. Texas Hall is not a suitable facility for a program that’s trying to build a consistent winner. Facilities are at the top of the list for recruits when choosing a school. Until now, facilities have usually hurt us in recruiting.”
Or, as Seymour puts it: “Walking through it on a recruiting visit while it was set up for the ballet was never a good selling point. I love Texas Hall, but I can’t wait to play in College Park Center.”