By Kiley O’Donnell
St. Bonventure University’s historical Reilly Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Behind the ongoing celebration through the 2016-2017 basketball season, there have been numerous memories retold and shared from previous years, including at the old Olean Armory, where the Bonnies played before the RC.
Paul Wieland, a journalism professor at St. Bonaventure and class of ’59 alumus, shared his memories of going to games at the Olean Armory, an old home of a unit of the National Guard.
“They had a big enough space that was called ‘the drill space’ where they put in 1,200 bleacher seats and a basketball floor,” said Wieland. “The lighting was not so great. The space was so tight that students on the first row had to keep their legs on the bleachers because they could trip players on the court.”
Not only did the Bonnies play multiple games in the Olean Armory, but they played a fair amount in Buffalo at neutral sites before conferences officially separated teams.
“Every game was always sold out. Bonaventure played about seven to eight games in Buffalo. Those weekends were so packed that there would be 12,000 people at those games,” said Wieland. “Some of the most famous players in history played against Bona’s in Buffalo, but down at the Armory, the Bonnies started winning and teams wouldn’t come.”
History was not only made in the Reilly Center, as the Armory held a record of it’s own for a few seasons.
“They went on to win 99 games in a row,” said Wieland. “They beat some good teams, such as Providence College. When the RC opened, that ended the Armory. It was a different world. The RC is a nice facility with good seating lines. They keep it well taken care of.”
Tim Kenney, the athletic director for Bonaventure, hasn’t had much time to gather memories as an AD here, but recalls many occasions from his UMass days.
“I’ve only been here one year,” said Kenney. “My favorite memories are the George Washington win last year, and the first game this year. It was awesome seeing people walk in and look at the new scoreboard and floor. I loved seeing how happy people were.”
While at UMass, he was able to experience what being on the other side of the scoreboard felt like at the Reilly Center.
“I’ve been in here many times as an opponent, and it’s been fun. I came in here with UMass and it was always a blast because it’s a crazy environment,” said Kenney. “Even though we lost to the Bonnies, it was still a great game because the place was nuts. It was so much fun.”
Kenney mentioned how he has picked up on longtime fans’ stories about their memories from the Reilly Center.
“People here will talk about game after game. I hear stories about right before I got here and games back in the day,” said Kenney. “The best is listening to people talk about games from the past. I love listening because they get a glisten in their eye saying, ‘I remember when we did this,’ and, ‘We won here.’ You just want to keep recreating those memories.”
He admitted how tough it is to schedule opponents at the RC because teams know what they will be in for once they hit the court.
“The history is phenomenal,” said Kenney. “This place is always known as a really tough place to play. Fans are on top of you, it’s loud, and it’s a great place to see a game. It’s not a giant arena, it’s big but it’s intimate, and that struck home with me because I knew it was a basketball place. It’s hard to schedule someone to come here out of conference because they don’t want to play in the Reilly. They know how the team feeds off of the energy.”
Dr. Paula Scraba, an education professor at Bonaventure, gave her input on her favorite memories in the Reilly Center.
“One of the biggest games that I saw, looking at women’s basketball, was the win against Delaware on the home court. Seeing Dana Mitchell’s shirt raised to the rafters for the first time was very significant,” said Scraba. “For the men’s team, just seeing them excel, especially the year they won the A10 Championship. To see the excitement and everyone together, it truly showed school spirit.”
With previous experience at a similar venue, she understands the advantages the Brown and White have with the atmosphere the RC brings.
“Coming from a large school like UConn, we played in a field house, which was similar to the RC,” said Scraba. “It’s the feeling that everyone is a part of the game, which is an advantage for Bonaventure. Our athletes represent the school well. It’s a family atmosphere, everyone knows everyone else, so you feel like you’re a part of it.”
She believes what the Reilly Center creates truly embodies the background of Bona’s.
“The uniqueness of the history behind the Reilly Center is about being there for other people,” said Scraba. “It’s about relationships, and it’s a part of our mission at St. Bonaventure, and the arena provides that atmosphere.”