No confetti. No alumni celebration. No acknowledgment of history. Just another UNG basketball game on a Wednesday night.
The University of North Georgia Nighthawks played their final games in Memorial Hall Gym on Feb. 14. Games will move to the school’s new Convocation Center, which opens Feb. 24.
A sea of blue stadium chairs swallowed the arena. The women’s game had just started and the stadium was less than half-filled.
The blue was almost completely consumed by fans by the end of the Nighthawks’ game. Fans were not worried about basketball but about the performance of their Greek organization during halftime.
Memorial Hall has held UNG men’s and women’s basketball games for 45 years. Along with the court, Memorial Hall contains athletic coach offices, a 25-meter swimming pool, strength and conditioning rooms, athletic training rooms and physical education classrooms, according to UNG Athletics’ official website.
Memorial Hall has gone through five separate conference changes and been in two different leagues (NAIA and NCAA Division II).
The basketball teams will continue to use the gymnasium as a practice facility. The university plans on adding more bathrooms and an elevator to Memorial Hall Gym, according to the UNG Athletics website.
The Nighthawks have only existed since the 2014 basketball season. Up until that point, the school’s mascot was the Saints. When the university decided changed the mascot to the nighthawk, the gym floor was renovated and finished with Nigel the Nighthawk, freshly painted at half-court.
On Memorial’s final night, the Nighthawks had been down the entire first half against the women in orange from Clayton State University, but caught fire at the beginning of the second half and never lost their flame. The team won 66-54.
The Nighthawks in silver took the court for warmups against the men of Clayton State, in black. Fans afterward complained about the ringing in their ears after the entrance.
Nothing had been said, yet, about this being the last night fans will watch UNG basketball in Memorial Hall Gym.
The ground started to shake as the tip-off began the men’s game. Within the first two minutes, sophomore Lanre Olatunji threw down an explosive putback dunk that could be heard from Yahoola Creek.
“When I saw the putback dunk get thrown down with such authority, I thought the roof was going to come down with it,” senior marketing major Grant Hill said.
Hill and his friends have been coming to games in Memorial Hall Gym for their entire tenure at the university.
“We try to come to as many home games as possible. Even though we are not that great, free basketball is still free basketball. Why would we pass that up?” Hill said.
UNG and Clayton State were tied at 28 going into halftime. The Greek organizations sent out their representatives to play a game of knockout during halftime.
The sound of the public announcer licking his lips came through the microphone.
“Get on your feet for the final half of basketball ever in Memorial Hall!”
That line is the last outburst from the crowd. The game quickly got out of hand as Clayton State began to overpower the Nighthawks. The final score of the game is 89-63 Clayton State.
“To be honest, the whole program felt like there was very little planning for it to be special. The game didn’t push people out the doors — the dull atmosphere did,” senior business major John Freeman said.
The sea of blue chairs floated back into sight as fans pushed and shoved out of the narrow doorway for the last time.
The gym quieted as the basketball equipment managers picked up the water bottles from the game and began to clean up for the last time in this building.
UNG has one more home game this season, against Georgia Southwestern State University. That will be the first game held in the Convocation Center.
What will be remembered of the Nighthawks’ time in Memorial?
“I was pretty emotional for this to be the last game in the historical memorial gym,” senior business information systems major Michael Fonge said. “From Tyler Dominy winning the dunk contest my freshman year at midnight madness to the countless players who have come and passed from the basketball program, it’s crazy to think [this is] the last game in Memorial.”
“There’s a lot of history in that building,” senior marketing major Drew Cushwa said. “I enjoyed being able to spend my years as a student in that gym and look forward to spending my time as alumni in the new gym.”
“Although I’m just a freshman, it’s easy to pick up on the connection involved in Memorial Hall Gym and I’m looking forward to building my own connections in the new Convocation Center as the time passes,” freshman student Luke Kinsey said.