This is my story of the “Slow Start to Redbird Arena”. Redbird Arena starts with a whimper and goes downhill from there. On Sunday, January 15th 1989, Normal Illinois, Illinois State Redbirds 71 and Chicago State 70. The Story line should have been, The Redbirds start slow, and rally late to win. Redbird Arena’s first game has Randy Blair hitting the first basket. The other Redbirds who played were Scott Fowler, Derek Stokes, Jarrod Coleman, Ricky Jackson, Sam Skarich, Sonny (Roberts) Wray, Elvin Flores, Antoine Hick and me (Jon Pemberton).
To understand why the 1988-89 redbirds are struggling, I will need to tell you about the last game at Horton Field House. The story discusses the legacy of the 1988-1989 Redbirds and their climb out of the darkness and into the DAWN.
I rewind back to the Redbirds win (87 to 62) over Butler Bulldogs, on February 24th 1988 in Horton Field House. This is the original last game in Horton Field House behind the four senior players Jeff Harris, Tony Holifield, Cliff Peterson and Matt Taphorn (Unfortunately, Redbird Arena did not open on time). So now we have a new last game at Horton Field House against the DePaul Blue Demons. So on December 3rd 1988 DePaul Blue Demons come into Horton Field house and beat the Redbirds 78 to 77. The failure to close out Horton Field House will haunt me forever, and now we have to open Redbird Arena.
Illinois State Redbirds have been Division 1 since the 1970 – 71 Season, and the Illinois State Redbirds had never had a losing season for 19 years!!! Now, with Redbird Arena opening, we are 3 – 9 going into our first game in the new Redbird Arena. The importance of this game to us focused on tradition, success, and 19 years of winning. We were in big trouble, and we knew it.
Now it is Sunday, January 15th 1989 and the Redbird Arena’s opening game.
Honestly this is not a game that is easy for me to remember. Today, January 9, 2014 Randy Blair, Sony (Roberts) Wray, and Jarrod Coleman and myself struggled to talk about the game. We have a few memories of this game. Most games we can talk about for hours with tons of laughing and a recounting special memories. If it had not been for Randy Kindred and Bryan Bloodworth asking questions about the game, these memory would have stayed “packed away in my brain”. January 15th 2014 would have passed by with work, kid’s activities, and wondering if my Redbirds beat Evansville.
So let me finish the story, by the end of 1988-1989 season, Redbird arena did not feel like home. We still felt like home was Horton Field House. Horton Field House had never seen a losing season, and Redbird Arena did not know a winning season. The great news is Redbird Arena would not have to wait long to crawl out of the darkness…… of the 1988-1989 season.
I can’t leave you hanging……
415 days……. March 6th 1990 “Valley Finale” on National TV. The night Redbirds Arena would surpass Horton Field House!!!!
I still get goose bumps when I walk into Redbird Arena!!!!
Posted in Newspaper