PEELE: New tower, new perspective at ECU
BY WOODY PEELE
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Saturday, I came full circle.
I had the opportunity to sit in the new press box at East Carolina's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and my thoughts were “how much this has changed since I first sat in one on this field.”
Way back in the fall of 1963, I was living in Goldsboro and writing for the News-Argus. I wasn't in sports, which was my chosen field.
I was a member of the Goldsboro Jaycees and won a drawing for a pair of tickets to the East Carolina-Wake Forest football game. It was, in a way, fitting since I had graduated from Wake just more than three years earlier.
I watched as the Pirates downed the Deacons, something I didn't mind a bit as I was one of those who felt Wake needed a coaching change. That change came at the end of the season.
It was the first collegiate game played in then-named Ficklen Stadium. I didn't realize at the time that the field would play a big role in my future.
Just a few months later, in January of 1964, I became the sports editor of The Daily Reflector and moved from the stands into the press box for the first game of dozens to follow.
Things were a lot different then.
Ficklen sat about 17,000 fans. Most of the seats were simple bleachers. The young people of today can't believe that.
It wasn't the only venue the Pirates were using at the time.
Basketball was played in Christenbury Gym, which also housed a swimming pool for the Pirate swim team.
Baseball played at Guy Smith Stadium. Track and field was next door. In fact, some hit baseballs landed on the track or in that area since there were no fences in right field.
Women's sports – they were nowhere to be found.
Fortunately, over the years, things changed.
Ficklen Stadium later expanded, seating about 25, 000. Christenbury was replaced by Minges Coliseum, which also included a championship swimming and diving complex.
Baseball moved to its present location, but still had wooden bleachers – leftovers from the stands at Ficken when they were no longer in use.
A track and field venue was built to the right of then-named Harrington Field.
Gradually, over the years, athletic programs came and went – wrestling, gymnastics, crew, men's soccer and others.
Others came and stayed, mostly women's sports – basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field, golf, cross country, swimming and lacrosse.
Men's sports also grew with golf, tennis and cross country.
Practice facilities were added to Minges for men's and women's basketball. The Murphy Center was between Minges and the football stadium. The Ward Sports Medicine Building set up between Minges and football practice fields, which added lighting for evening and night practices.
The newly named Dowdy-Ficklen also grew, boosting its seating to around 50,000. Now, with the addition of TowneBank Tower, which houses the press box and other seating for Pirate Club donors, completes what I've lived to see.
And for those who inhabit the press box – the reporters, the statisticians, runners, and all the rest, it is a dream come true. I doubt there is a better press box anywhere in North Carolina and at a lot of other schools.
I saw a great many of them during the years I covered the Pirates, and none can touch this new addition.
The first press box seated no more than 20 people, if that many. The broadcast booths were located at either end of the seating area with no separation from the rest of us – the Pirate network at one end and the visiting team's broadcasters at the other. Eventually, they were walled off.
Gaining entry to the press box meant climbing the stands and going up a circular staircase. Those of us who had to bring a load of equipment just had to get it done somehow.
An elevator was eventually added to the press box that followed. It had separate rooms for the broadcasters. Overall, the new box fit about 30.
This new generation press box can seat more than 100 people. There is even a media dining room where writers and broadcasters can get a hot meal at halftime.
The generation of today doesn't have any idea of what we went through over the years. But I have to admit that I'm a little jealous of those who cover ECU now.
I want to thank Tom McClellan, the Pirates' assistant athletics director for media relations, for the invitation to sit once more in the new press box 15 years after the final game I covered for the Pirates.
I may be a graduate of Wake Forest, but over the years, I've come to love the Pirates as much or more. Arrrrrgh!
Woody Peele is the golf columnist and retired sports editor of The Daily Reflector.