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University Of Maryland's Old Arena May Get New Name

Brick sign reading "University of Maryland" with plants in front
Carmichael Library via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
University of Maryland

From the day it opened nearly 67 years ago, the William P. Cole Student Activities Center has occupied a hallowed place on the University of Maryland’s campus.

More commonly known as Cole Field House, the building played host to study sessions, jogging runs around its perimeter, concerts and graduations.

Oh yeah, it was home to some of the best college basketball in the land. Len Bias played there. So did Tom McMillen and Len Elmore and Buck Williams and Vicky Bullett and Marcia Richardson. Lefty Driesell and Chris Weller and Gary Williams coached and won there.

If hoops were king and queen in College Park, Cole Field House was the palace.

The building was named for William P. Cole, a prominent attorney, Congressman, federal judge and member of the Maryland Board of Regents for 25 years, 12 of which as president.

If the legacy of William Cole, who died two years after the building opened, has faded, the memory of the magic made in the field house hasn’t, even 19 years after the school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams moved to a new arena across campus.

Cole’s facade has been left intact, but the insides have been gutted to become a research center and indoor practice facility for the football team.

But anyone with a sense of history knows the essential nature of that building. After all, it was in 1966 in Cole when the Texas Western men’s team, featuring an all-Black starting lineup, made history by defeating the all-White Kentucky team to win the NCAA championship.

It’s interesting, then, given that piece of history, that Maryland’s new president Darryl Pines, himself African-American, has moved to honor two Black pioneering athletes.

Darryl Hill was the first Black man to play football at Maryland. He set a single game school record for catches and a conference record for most touchdown catches in 1963.

Billy Jones was the first Black man to play basketball at Maryland and was a captain of the team as a senior, following teammate Gary Williams in that honor in 1968.

Pines wants to name a portion of Cole, namely the football training facility for Jones and Hill.

It is an entirely noble and worthwhile gesture, made possible by a financial gift from Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, a Maryland graduate and major contributor to athletic and academic pursuits in College Park.

There’s no question that Jones and Hill are deserving of lasting recognition at Maryland and the move by Pines and Plank has the very best of intentions.

But it’s not the right move. As long as Cole’s name remains on the building, as it should, few outside the football realm, will give Hill and Jones their due.

And, to repeat, Cole Field House, a place of particular personal significance to me, as I received both my high school and college diplomas there, must always remain so.

The solution is to get rid of the Comcast-purchased moniker that’s currently on the basketball arena, to be replaced with those of Billy Jones and Darryl Hill, who have done more for the University of Maryland than some communications behemoth ever will.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.