As the move to Winston-Salem crept closer, the college found that saying goodbye to Wake Forest wasn’t easy. They shared so many memories–including 21-years of heart-stopping basketball on the slick hardwood of Gore Gymnasium (now Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Ledford Center).
Never again will swarms of screaming students wedge themselves into the crowded, rickety stands of Gore’s narrow confines, and never again will it see the always surprising Deacons spring another of the basketball upsets that boosted them to national prominence in the college cage sport.
Coach Murray Greason, the man who has coached Wake Forest quints since the doors were first opened in 1935, reminisced a bit on the little building’s history recently, while preparing to wind up his 22nd year as cagemaster this week.
Gym ‘Plenty Big’
“When they first opened this place they thought they had a gym that would be plenty big for years to come, but it wasn’t too many years before it was inadequate,” Greason said. “Of course, it was so much better than anything we’d had before, it was considered the best in the state. And I guess it was at that time.
“Before Gore Gym was built, we played most of our home games in old Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh, since our gym was so small,” the Deac mentor continued. The old gym is now the Social Science Building.
[That building no longer exists on the SEBTS campus. The old gym, and later social science building, was torn down. It was located in the circle beside Stealey Hall, where the fountain now stands.]
“We only played a few conference and minor games here in Wake Forest. The court in that old building wasn’t even regulation size…. it was so small you could stand under one basket and shoot set shots into the other one,” he smiled.
Site of Thrillers
Gore Gym was never the site of a championship game or a major tournament, but its dusty walls have seen as many thrillers as any arena in the land.
It was in Gore that N.C. State Coach Everett Case lost his first Big Four game after bringing big time basketball to North Carolina ten years ago. And the Wolfpack bossman has now spent a decade dreading tilts in the building.
The 1939 Demon Deacon squad scrapped its way from the floor of Gore Gym to the NCAA playoffs in Philadelphia; and the 1953 cagers, led by All-American Dick Hemric, rolled to the Southern Conference championship and went to the NCAA tourney again.
Hemric, the 6-foot-6 lad from Jonesville who signed with the Boston Celtics after graduation last spring, is the unopposed choice for the most outstanding individual in the gym’s history.
The records began to fall when the big, friendly pivot man enrolled here, and when he left he owned virtually every individual record in Wake Forest basketball history. And many of those records should stand for years to come.
He became the highest scorer in the history of collegiate hardwood action last year with a point total of 2,587 for four years of play.
Gore Gym was built in 1934-35 with the funds from insurance money received when old Wingate Hall burned. Alumni and friends of the college contributed the remainder of the necessary funds. The Board of Trustees decided that a modern, adequate gymnasium was needed more than an auditorium to replace the burned structure.
Original plans provided for an indoor swimming pool to be built adjoining the gym as soon as the money could be raised. But by the time sufficient funds were available, the College had agreed to move to the Tobacco City.
Architect for Gore was W.H. Dietrich of Raleigh, an alumnus and also designer of Wait Hall [now Stealey Hall]. The total cost of the gym was approximately $150,000.
Dedication ceremonies were held in the spring of 1935, and a few years later the building was named in honor of Claude Gore of Rockingham, who had previously donated Gore Athletic Field to the school.
In December of 1935, the Deacs inaugurated their new court with three straight early season victories–over Durham YMCA, Erwin Red Birds, and the Chatham Blanketeers, all semi-pro teams.
The college and its competition outgrew the trim little structure that was the pride of the 1930s, and the advent of “big-time” play into the Big Four circuit left the College without a gym comparable to other conference schools.
Memorial Coliseum, new home of Wake Forest basketball, is one of the outstanding buildings of its type in the South. But, who knows? Perhaps someday it too will be labeled antiquated and inadequate.
[Memorial Coliseum remained the home of Wake Forest basketball for more than three decades. It was torn down to make way for the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in 1989.]
(This original article appeared in the Old Gold & Black on February 27, 1956. It was written by student reporter Bill Connelly.)