For a half a century, Cassell Coliseum has provided Virginia Tech with one of the greatest home courts in all of men's college basketball. Winning has been the norm in the facility since its opening in 1961, and Cassell is perhaps even more exciting today than ever in its history.
The coliseum, which also serves as the home to Hokies' women's basketball, volleyball and wrestling programs, celebrated its 50th anniversary during the 2010-11 season, and the Tech athletics department recognized the golden anniversary by bringing back many of the former great men's basketball players and coaches who have played in the arena along with the first team ever to play in Cassell.
Construction for the main portion of Cassell began in 1961, and though not completed, the Tech men's basketball team opened the arena on Jan. 3, 1962, with a 91-67 victory over Alabama. The team played in the building for two years before workers from T.C. Brittain and Company of Decatur, Ga., finished the building in December of 1964 at a cost of $2.7 million.
For years, the arena was called the Virginia Tech Coliseum. But on September 17, 1977, Virginia Tech officials and friends dedicated the coliseum in honor of the late Stuart K. Cassell, who spearheaded the project. In the late 1950s, Cassell, who was the chief business officer at the time and later became the vice president of the school, saw the need for a new basketball arena to replace the outdated War Memorial Gymnasium, and he eventually managed to get the state legislature to approve the building of the 10,000-seat arena.
Since that time, Cassell Coliseum has undergone many renovations to make it the building it is today. Prior to the 1988-89 season, a new spring-loaded playing floor was installed. In 1996-97, workers replaced the roof of the facility and installed structural access to the heating and lighting systems. They also restored and resealed the exterior concrete walls and buttresses.
In 2000-01, new video boards were added to both ends of the coliseum to provide for live action and video replays during all games, and in 2001-02, the seats were stripped of their paint and refinished to retain their natural wood look. Prior to the 2003-04 season, the concourse area was renovated and now features more accessible concession areas, new flooring, video monitors that allow fans to watch the action when not in the arena and the addition of Hokie stone to many of the entrances to the seating area.
Through new projects, renovations and maintenance reserve projects, Cassell Coliseum has undergone approximately $2.5 million in improvements over the past six years alone.
Cassell Coliseum also houses two auxiliary gyms, the game-day locker rooms for the men's and women's programs and the volleyball program and many coaches' offices for various Tech sports. In the 1990s, a generous donation from Pat and Sandy Cupp enabled the athletics department to renovate the men's basketball locker room, providing for new lockers, showers and a team lounge completed with new furniture and a big-screen television. The locker room was named the Bill Foster Basketball Suite in honor of former Tech coach Bill Foster, who rebuilt Tech's basketball program in the early 1990s.
Since opening, Cassell Coliseum has attracted more than four million fans for men's basketball. Tech finished sixth nationally in Division I in increased attendance following the 2003-04 season, drawing 95,136 for the season, about one-third more than the season before. And Hokie fans improved upon that. Tech led the nation in increased attendance during the 2004-05 season - the school's first season in the ACC - averaging 9,406 per game, the largest average attendance in coliseum history. That record was broken again after 2005-06, as the Hokies averaged 9,764 per game, and once again after the 2006-07 season at 9,822 per game.
The arena has become a pit for opponents. On Feb. 26, 2011, the Hokies stunned top-ranked Duke 64-60 on a day when ESPN College GameDay came to Blacksburg for the first time. On Jan. 13, 2007, the Hokies defeated top-ranked North Carolina 94-88 in front of another full house in the Cassell. And just eight days later, the Hokies downed No. 22 Maryland 67-64 in overtime. That game was played in front of 8,500 fans, mostly students, who braved an ice storm to make Cassell Coliseum the tough home court that it has come to be.
Want more evidence of Tech's love of the Cassell? There have been four perfect season records for the Hokies in Cassell: two 10-0 years (1961-62 and 1965-66), an 11-0 campaign (1972-73) and a 14-0 season (1975-76). The Hokies have lost only one game on their home court in 11 other years, including 13-1 records in 1977-78 and 1987-88. At the completion of the 2010-11 season, the Hokies had won 509 out of 659 games played in Cassell for a winning percentage of .772.
Adjacent to Cassell Coliseum is the Jamerson Athletic Center. It was completed in 1982, dedicated in the fall of 1983 and named in honor of J.E. Jamerson and his son, William E. Jamerson, owners of the firm that built the building.
The complex contains administrative and coaching offices, athletic department accounting and business offices, team and coaches' meeting rooms, the Jim "Bulldog" Haren Weight Room and the Gordon D. Bowman Memorial Club Room on the top floor for Hokie Club members.
Rising from a former parking lot on the east side of Cassell Coliseum is the $21 million Hahn Hurst Basketball Practice Center. Completed in August 2009, the men's and women's basketball teams boast one of the finest practice facilities in the nation, and the new building only enhances the appeal of Cassell Coliseum.