Long road home

Arena’s reopening is hope for all

By Jim Gazzolo

As Zach Scott celebrated with teammates and fans on the floor inside the Legacy Center Saturday, it was hard for some not to remember just how far the journey back inside the arena had been.

Scott had just one an emotion, exciting basketball game as the on-campus arena at McNeese State reopened with a new name. Everything was clean and bright.

That’s a long way from how things looked 17 months earlier. 

On that day few got a chance to go inside what was then still called the Heath and Human Performance Complex. Frankly, nobody would have wanted to either.

Hours after Hurricane Laura had ripped through the town of Lake Charles there was nothing good to see. The arena was no different.

The new floor was covered in water and debris, the ceiling had holes and building itself seemed to be weeping. 

At that moment of despair it is hard to believe Saturday would ever come around. All seemed lost.

“Lowest point,” then basketball coach and now Athletic Director Heath Schroyer called it.

“Standing there in the water, seeing the sky above and all the damage, it was a dark moment for me, the darkest moment,” Schroyer said. “I was very emotional as I toured the building.”

The $45 million, 145,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2018, houses the basketball teams, the women’s volleyball team, a training center, classrooms and faculty offices. 

In its two seasons the arena had seen a couple sellouts and brought a new excitement to basketball in the region.

However, on Aug. 27, 2020 it was a shell of what it had been just hours earlier. 

“It was so disheartening,” said now head coach John Aiken, who was an assistant at the time. “That’s why I get so emotional when I talk about it.”

In the 17 months since Laura, most lives have been put on hold. The McNeese State athletic programs were no different. 

The men’s and women’s basketball teams have practiced and played from Baton Rouge to Houston, becoming nomads until Saturday.

“This arena was really a big part of what we had going on at the time,” said Aiken. “Crowds were coming, the fans were getting excited to watch us and the players really took to the place. 

“Then that all stopped. Now it’s like we are starting over. I hope people see this as a sign things will get better.”

There is, of course, more help too. 

David and Kimberly Griffin gifted $2.5 million over 10 years to McNeese the naming rights. It is the largest gift for naming rights of a McNeese athletic facility in the 82-year history of the university.

“This is a premiere facility in the state, especially in the five-parish area,” said David Griffin. “It’s one of the most beautiful facilities and truly one that McNeese should be proud of. We want to be part of it and McNeese and help the community rebuild.” 

And that is why Saturday meant so much to so many. It wasn’t just a game, an arena reopening or even an athletic program. 

This was hope being restored. It was a sign that things are getting better. 

Most of all the day stood as a symbol for all that we will make it back. 

Scott’s shot made it all just right.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics. He is also the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles. 

Categories: McNeese State Sports, Sports