FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Kean University Will Close
Historic D'Angola Gym
UNION, N.J. –A final curtain will fall on nearly half a century of athletic tradition at Kean University when historic D’Angola Gymnasium plays host to Cougar basketball for the final time on Wednesday, February 16, with a men’s and women’s doubleheader against Rutgers-Newark, beginning with the women’s game at 6 p.m. The occasion will be marked with a ceremony prior to the men’s game at approximately 7:45 p.m. The venerable fieldhouse is being replaced by Kean’s new Health and Wellness Center, currently under construction on the site of the adjacent parking lot, for the 2005-2006 academic year.
The closing of D’Angola Gym represents the end of an era for Kean student-athletes and coaches, past and present. Kean University – then known as Newark State College – moved to its current campus in Union Township, on the site of the old Kean family farm on Green Lane, in 1958. Students were greeted there by a pristine college campus, highlighted by a number of new buildings still in use today, including D’Angola Gym. Since then, the near-constant high temperatures and raucous, high-volume cheering from crowds that sit precariously close to the action have provided generations of Cougars basketball and volleyball players a quirky but distinct home-court advantage for the past few generations.
Ron Kornegay coached men’s basketball at Kean from 1987 through 1992. During his five seasons, Kornegay’s teams earned four postseason bids, including a NCAA Tournament Final Eight appearance and an NJAC championship in 1990-1991. He recalls the advantages he felt D’Angola Gym gave his Cougar teams. “I just loved it, it was a great advantage for us,” he said. “We had a great 6th Man in the fans. They were so close to the court and loud. We played a very intense brand of ball – full-court pressure – and I think our fans were as aggressive as our team was, I swear.”
Kornegay said the gym’s smallish size and intimacy allowed those fans to fill the bleachers quickly. “There was a buzz on campus all the time about these games,” he explained. “In 1991, the year we went to the Elite Eight, we played Ramapo College at D’Angola for the league title, and not only was the gym packed to the rafters, but there were just as many people outside, who weren’t able to get in, as there were inside. It was crazy, and we were lucky to have them there.”
Pat Hannisch, the legendary former Kean coach of the women’s basketball team and a 1986 inductee into the Kean Athletic Hall of Fame, recalled D’Angola Gym as the site of a number of classic contests during a time in whichthe program captured a record nine consecutive NJAC titles under her and her successor, fellow Hall of Famer Rich Wilson. “One particular time, we had a big rivalry game against the old Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey),” she recounted. “The gym was filled with screaming and hollering students and we had a band there, too. We thought we had the game won by a point, and our fans began to run down on the court to celebrate, but at the buzzer, one of our players had been whistled for a foul. So they had to clear the court, and the player from Trenton State sunk two free-throws for the win. It was so memorable, even if we lost. We did beat them at their place later on in the season, though.”
Hannisch, who left coaching with a record of 216-79 at Kean and captured three NCAA (and its women’s athletics predecessor, the AIAW) regional championships in her 12 years on the sidelines, says one of her fondest D’Angola memories is from the 1991 NJAC championship game, coached by Wilson. “We hosted William Paterson (University), and the game was tooth-and-nail the entire way,” she explained. “They launched a long shot for the win at the buzzer that spun around the inside of the rim three times before rolling out, giving us the win. The whole gym held its breath and I thought we were done for.”
Saying goodbye D’Angola is bittersweet to Hannisch, who retired from Kean as an assistant director of athletics in 2000. “I wish the old building a fond farewell,” she said. “The crowds and the gym were great – that’s the story of my whole career there. But the new gym is going to be terrific, and all those championship banners will still hang there.
The story of D’Angola Gym extends beyond basketball. The women’s volleyball program, under head coach Bridget White, has thrived on campus, capturing five outright NJAC championships since 1990. White, a five-time NJAC coach of the year, says that the tradition-laden venue been witness to the continuing rise in women’s athletics. “When I think back to the history of that gym and the physical space it offers, I think about all the women athletes who have passed through there and the impact of coaches and physical educators like Pat Hannisch and (longtime Kean professor) Dee Shiposh on those athletes,” she explained. “D’Angola Gym was there for the passing of Title IX and has helped provide opportunity to hundreds of women who have been part of the struggle for equity in athletics.”
Over the years, D’Angola Gym has also been home to Kean’s wrestling, swimming, gymnastics and fencing programs, teams that produced a number of athletes who would eventually earn induction into the Kean Athletic Hall of Fame.
Current men’s and women’s basketball coaches Bruce Hamburger and Michele Sharp, have also enjoyed more recent success at D’Angola Gym, with Sharp’s women’s program claiming a league title in 2002 and Hamburger turning the men’s squad back into a winner.
D’Angola Gym is named for longtime Kean coach and administrator Joseph D’Angola. Known affectionately to generations of students as “The Chief,” D’Angola’s name became virtually synonymous with athletics at Kean University from 1918 through 1956, an era spanning from Newark Normal School to Newark State College. In all, D’Angola served parts of five decades as the head of the health and physical education department. He was also named dean of men at the College in 1935.
D’Angola was responsible for the establishment of numerous varsity
sports on campus, including baseball. As the College’s director
of athletics, D’Angola stressed widespread participation by everyone.
He retired from the school two years before its move to its current Union
Township campus in 1958. School officials appropriately christened the
new indoor athletic facility D’Angola Gymnasium, in honor of “The
Chief” and his wife, Anita.