Sunday, June 29, 2008

As end of Reunion Arena draws near, memories flood back

10:33 AM CDT on Monday, June 23, 2008
By ERIC AASEN / The Dallas Morning News

It was the house where Barack Obama blew his nose and the crowd went wild. Where Luciano Pavarotti belted out “Addio fiorito asil.”

And where Sam Burns came face to face with the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.

Many will remember Reunion Arena for the deafening Mavericks and Stars games and the likes of Van Halen and R.E.M. But for others, it represents a place full of defining moments for a city and its people.

Now, as the aging arena faces the wrecking ball — the Dallas City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on shutting it down — some North Texans can’t help but reminisce.

The building may fade away, they say, but not the memories.

Kendall Richards, Plano

As a Jumbotron camera operator at Reunion Arena, Kendall Richards got to literally rub shoulders with Mavericks and Stars players in the late '90s.

But it was his encounter with "His Airness" that was unforgettable.

"The very first game I worked ... Michael Jordan is standing on the court at the line, waiting, and he was staring through me," Mr. Richards said. "It sent chills down my spine."

When he wasn't catching the action on camera, Mr. Richards was panning through the boisterous crowds.

"I never saw it as work," he said. "It was a blast. ... I always considered it a major privilege to do what I got to do."

Thanks to his time shooting Stars games, Mr. Richards got hooked on hockey and started playing the game. He even got signed sticks from goalies Roman Turek and Ed Belfour.

Although Mr. Richards, 46, was happy the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, he was selfishly hoping they wouldn't have won it on the road. That way, he could have seen it with his own eyes – and captured it on the Jumbotron.

Sam Burns, Dallas

Sam Burns felt helpless three years ago as he walked around Reunion Arena, surrounded by Hurricane Katrina evacuees.

People wandered with their belongings stuffed in black trash bags. A sea of white cots covered the arena floor.

Mr. Burns, 39, established Internet access for Red Cross crews at the scene and set up computers for hurricane evacuees to check e-mail.

"There was no helping those people," Mr. Burns said. "It was so overwhelming to all of them. It was just in their eyes. ... They didn't know what to think."

Because of the evacuees, Mr. Burns said, Reunion was no longer just a place where you caught a game or a concert. He said he's glad the arena was used for something that "really mattered."

"It was transformed into this one city's civic responsibility to another city," Mr. Burns said. "That was probably the most useful Reunion Arena was to its fellow human being."

Michael Hanna, Rockwall

As Michael Hanna played piano on the Reunion Arena stage as part of Dan Fogelberg's band in the early '80s, it was a homecoming of sorts.

Mr. Hanna, a Corsicana native, was performing for a hometown crowd studded with friends and his mother, who was attending her first rock 'n' roll concert.

"She didn't know what to expect," said Mr. Hanna, 56. "I'm sure her eyes got wide open."

He worked for about 30 years with Mr. Fogelberg, who died in December.

But the Reunion concert almost didn't happen. Mr. Fogelberg was "sick as a dog" before his Dallas performance. There was chatter of canceling the concert, Mr. Hanna said. Fortunately, a throat specialist was flown in, and Mr. Fogelberg "sang like a bird."

A review of the performance in The Dallas Morning News declared: "It was so nice to see someone on that stage who seemed to be enjoying himself as much as those who crammed into practically every available seat in Reunion were enjoying listening and watching him."

David Marcus, Milwaukee

Like many fans who caught Mavericks games at Reunion, David Marcus remembers the deafening, bone-rattling noise.

The arena was practically shaking during one game in the '80s when the Mavs played the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

The crowd roared – and his ears rang.

"It got loud enough where you hear your ears reach this high pitch and you don't hear anything else," said Mr. Marcus, who grew up in Dallas. "It was the best headache I ever had."

Reunion Arena wasn't just a building for Mr. Marcus to watch pro sports. It helped influence his career choice – television sports anchor.

Mr. Marcus, 39, eventually covered sports for stations in Corpus Christi, Austin and Milwaukee. He's returning to Dallas and hopes to be a freelance reporter.

"It's not quite like Yankee Stadium closing," he said. "Reunion Arena will never be confused with the great, beloved, traditional venues in American sports."

But during Reunion's heyday, he said, it was "one heck of a place to be."

Buddy Shivley, Elba, Ala.

For Buddy Shivley, venturing to Reunion Arena was more than just watching famous athletes shoot hoops. It was a chance to bond with his girls over basketball.

In the late '80s, Mr. Shivley bought two Mavericks season tickets, and his young daughters, Sarah and Anna Lynn, took turns accompanying him to games, even on school nights. They'd mark down game days on their calendars.

Mr. Shivley treasures those moments.

"The longer you've been with them, the more they open up and get away from Mom and the house and the other sister," said Mr. Shivley, 59. "It was just good one-on-one time."

On game day, as Mr. Shivley drove from his Plano home down Central Expressway, his daughters would often tackle their homework in the back seat.

In the arena, they'd talk about who played well. (Rolando Blackman was his daughters' favorite.) They'd talk about how ugly some of the players were – particularly those who played for the Boston Celtics.

But the best part of being at Reunion?

For Mr. Shivley, it was walking up to the arena, holding his daughters' hands and seeing the excitement in their eyes.

Michelle Ordeneaux Jones, 32, Murphy

Memorable moment: Her first concert

"My best friend and I attended the Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet tour. With our giant bangs, matching acid-wash jean skirts and our newly purchased [tour] T-shirts, we donned the perfect hair-band-fan uniform."

Patricia Johnson, 50, Garland

Memorable moment: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

"When I divorced, I decided to start some new traditions for my daughter. We started going to [the circus]. ... I would save my money all year and when the circus came, I went all out with the best seats I could get."

Clint Schroeder, 30, Norwalk, Conn.

Memorable moment: Sidekicks soccer games "I am sad that I will probably not be able to take my daughter past Reunion Arena and say, 'Look, honey. There is where your dad graduated from high school. And where your grandpa used to take us all to soccer games.' "

Katrina McNair, 28, DeSoto

Memorable moment: Ice-skating Chipmunks "My father had picked up my sister and me to attend the show. We picked up these little tiny hamburgers called 'Burger Buddies' and gobbled them down on the way to Reunion. I remember thinking how big everything looked to me – and how cold it was inside Reunion."

AND NOW FOR MINE................................................................................................................

Flynn McStay, 42 Daejeon South Korea. "It was the place to go see concerts at in the 80's. My first Reunion show was U2 and I paid 10$ for a so-called bad seat. I have seen, Dokken, Judas Priest, Journey, (a VERY BAD DATE WITH NEW EDITION), Phil Collins, RESTLESS HEART AND Many others.

I was never much of a hockey fan, but I loved the Mavericks, so I would go to the games on Saturday while I was going to college at UNT and for 10-12 $ I had a nice high level seat to a few games. Then when I found out about the best seat after 5pm for 20-25$ I had some great seats for some games.

A while back the "Sportatorium" was torn down and now with this, my 80's memories are slowly fading away.

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