The Ball State women’s volleyball team had quite a year in 1992: a first NCAA tournament bid, a first Mid-American Conference tournament title.
And, in the players’ move to a new facility that would become Worthen Arena, their own lockers with gold nameplates.
“When we moved from the old Irving Gym to Worthen Arena, we were all like kids in a candy store,” said Rhonda (Gardemann) Wilson, ’95, a standout of that team and now Ball State’s director of health education programs. “We didn’t have lockers before moving over and were always dragging around our uniforms in a bag.”
The iconic campus landmark, whose 25th anniversary will be celebrated Jan. 28 with a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader, has provided the Ball State and Muncie communities with countless memories.
The building opened as University Arena and was renamed to honor former Ball State President John Worthen before the 2000-01 season.
The first event in the arena took place Jan. 15, 1992: a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader versus Miami University.
Since then, the arena has remained the home to the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams, and hosted musical artists such as Faith Hill, Keith Urban, George Clinton, Nine Inch Nails and Matchbox Twenty.
It’s also been the site of the WWE SmackDown Series, Sesame Street Live, university commencement exercises and many high school and community events.
Even the construction of the 11,500-seat facility generated great anticipation and university pride.
Ball State basketball standout Chandler Thompson, a member of the team that advanced to the 1990 Sweet 16, actually worked a summer construction job building the arena and recalls what it felt like the first time he took the floor.
“It was like moving into an NBA arena,” said Thompson, whose son Josh Thompson is a redshirt freshmen on the current Ball State team. “Moving in there, it felt like the ‘big time,’ and it was truly one of the most exciting times of my life.”
Mark Hardwick, a teammate of Thompson’s and currently executive vice president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of First Merchants Corporation headquartered in Muncie, has similar recollections.
“My best memories are of the big crowds and the excitement of the big games against teams like Xavier and Butler,” said Hardwick, ’93 MBA ’99. “When Worthen opened, we felt it was the best arena in the MAC, and I think that’s still true today.
“Its age doesn’t really matter. Its construction was a vision of excellence for the university,” he said. “It remains a part of Ball State that gives all of us a great deal of pride.”
Andrea “Andi” Seger, who was the women’s athletic director for Ball State when the arena opened, said a wide range of input was sought to help ensure its long-term viability.
“The arena meant significant recruiting advantages for our teams and truly inspired a great deal of pride to see it actually come online,” said Seger, who is currently with Alden & Associates, a national search firm specializing in intercollegiate athletics.
The arena’s present and future are also worth celebrating.
Mark Sandy, Ball State’s director of intercollegiate athletics, points to a variety of improvements that have helped Worthen remain a modern facility.
“With the upgrades to the arena over the last couple of years such as the new floor, new scoreboards, an enhanced sound system and the first-ever video boards, the facility doesn’t look 25 years old,” Sandy said. “In fact, it’s still as good as any in the MAC, and if you haven’t been in the arena for a few years, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.”
Also, plans are underway next door for the Dr. Don Shondell Practice Center, named for the legendary International Volleyball Hall of Fame member and head coach of the Ball State men’s volleyball team from 1959-98.
Funded via the Ball State Cardinal Commitment campaign, the $6.4 million facility will provide practice space for the women’s and men’s basketball and volleyball programs and include a training room, study room and individual team meeting rooms. Groundbreaking is scheduled for later this year, with the opening expected in fall 2018.
“In addition to alleviating some of the stress on the arena, this new addition will greatly enhance our recruiting efforts and provide a wonderful space for performance training,” Sandy said. “The Shondell Practice Center is a fitting next step to extend the legacy and the reach of Worthen Arena.”
Worthen Arena is actually the fourth campus facility used primarily to house major athletic and other events.
A. Campbell Auditorium (1918-24) Few would likely remember this facility on the east side of Broadway Avenue in Muncie. Its primary use was as a roller rink.
B. Venerable Ball Gym (1924-63) The gym, which has a pool/exercise area, is still in use for Burris High School athletic events and the Ball State ROTC program.
C. Men’s Physical Education Building (1963-2009) This facility, commonly known as Men’s Gym when it opened, was later renamed University Gym and, from 1990-92, was known as Irving Gym. The building was demolished in 2009 and was replaced by the Joan Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center. The gymnasium in the center retains the name Irving Gym.