This was the moment they had dreamed about and anxiously awaited.
Finally, Vince Strojan and his teammates would have a gym to call their own. Rather than playing their “home” games at either Tumwater High School, Olympia High School, or at North Thurston High School, this 1967-68 Saint Martin’s Saints basketball team would have their own gym.
The talented ’67-68 Saint Martin’s University men’s basketball team, who’d been promised when they were recruited by coach Jerry Vermillion that they’d have a gym on campus to play their home games, finally got their wish.
In front of a packed Capital Pavilion, the structure’s original name, the Saints took the court, ready for the opening tipoff of the first game played in the brand new gym. And Strojan, a 6-foot-3 forward, was just as excited as everyone else.
“It was unbelievable,” Strojan said. “The place was packed. It was my senior year. Finally, I got a chance to play in our home gym. We had some incredible crowds.”
Strojan, who remembers that first game like it was yesterday, excitedly took the court with his teammates, eager to start the first home game on their home court. It was against Linfield College on December 1, 1967.
With fans brimming over into the upper section of the gym, there were about 3,500 enthusiastic Saint’s fans there, supportive and noisy. Strojan remembers Hank Kappert, a 6-foot-8 sophomore center, leaping high on the tipoff.
Winning the tip, Kappert tapped the ball to either Barry Eidsvold or George Parker.
“I can’t remember who,” Strojan said with a smile.
Strojan, racing to the basket, then took a pass and pulled up for an outside jumper, excited about taking an open 20-foot shot. However, just as Strojan released his shot, about five seconds into the game, the lights went out, leaving everyone in the dark.
“I got the pass. I went up and I released the ball and the lights went out,” Strojan recalled. “I don’t know if it was a storm-related deal or a facilities-related thing. But the lights went out as the ball was in midair.”
After a short period of darkness the lights came back on. Referee Pop Hannity called the shot good, upsetting the Linfield coach, Ted Wilson. Strojan sank the first basket in the first game in the new gym.
“It was dead on, so I knew it went in,” Strojan said. “Pop Hannity knew it went in. Ted Wilson, who was probably one of the kindest gentlemen you’d ever want to meet in your entire life, absolutely went berserk.”
And the Saints cruised to a lopsided win against Linfield, capping the gym opener with a special victory.
Ramped up by having their own gym, the Saints had a season to remember, winning 22 games and averaging about 95 points a game. This team, which included Mike Dahl, Barry Eidsvold, George Parker, Hank Kappert and Tom Keller, is considered to be among the best teams that ever played for the Saints. The new gym, today called the Hal and Inge Marcus Pavilion, was an added spark to that special season.
“There was a lot of build-up for the dedication of the gym, the opening of the Pavilion,” Strojan said.
In remembrance of this special season and the opening of the Pavilion, Saint Martin’s University will host a 50th anniversary celebration during Homecoming weekend, February 24 at Saint Martin’s men’s basketball home game against Central Washington University. Tipoff is at 7:30 and a special reception and rally will be held at 6:30 in the Norman Worthington Conference Center with food and beverages. Players from the 1967-68 Saints team will be the guests of honor for the evening.
Find full details for Saint Martin’s Homecoming weekend events here.
Kappert, a highly recruited, 6-foot-8 center from Lake Stevens, Washington, remembers how excited everyone was to get a new gym. Up until then, the Saints practiced at either an old gym on campus nicknamed “The Barn,” or in downtown Olympia at the old armory.
Having their own gym on campus was an emotional lift.
“Definitely,” Kappert said. “Anytime you have a home court you have ownership and you have pride. And, it’s fun to have spectators.”
Until then, Kappert said the Saints never had that “home court” advantage.
“We finally got what we were told we were going to get,” Kappert said. “That was a big thing. It really empowered us to do better as a team. It gave us spirit. It gave us direction. It gave us purpose. Plus, it was fun.”
Strojan, Kappert and other teammates have been back to Saint Martin’s over the years, watching games at Marcus Pavilion every season. Over the years, the Pavilion has undergone some touchups, including new lighting and a wood ceiling.
“It still looks great,” Strojan said. “It’s one of the nicest gyms in the Northwest.”
Strojan, who Vermillion considered to be one of the best players he ever coached at Saint Martin’s and who had a tryout with the Seattle SuperSonics, remembers the pride and the satisfaction his teammates had that first season.
“The Pavilion was kind of the perk that Jerry gave us all when he recruited us,” Strojan said. “That we were going to have a chance to play in one of the nicest gyms in the Northwest.”
Fifty years ago, it was a dream-come-true season for Strojan and his teammates. Today, it’s a legacy and reality that houses Saints of all ages and generations, celebrating a shared history of Saint’s pride.
Do you have a memory of the early days of the Saint Martin’s University Pavilion? Send your comments and/or photos to Kevin Hyde at KHyde@stmartin.edu.