Sherwood First Opens Four Decades Ago

News Release Date:
Friday, August 21, 2009

WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- The re-opening of a renovated Sherwood Athletic Center comes 40 years after it was first constructed at a cost of $1.6 million.

Excavating for the original Sherwood Athletic Center

Spokane architect Thomas R. Adkison, working closely with then Whitman Athletic Director Bob Burgess, squeezed the original 65,000-square-foot structure into a relatively small space by placing most of the building underground.

By the fall of 1967, workers had excavated and moved 2,500 yards of dirt to nearby Ankeny Field, which was used at the time for Whitman’s varsity baseball games.

The Sherwood dirt made it possible to regrade the entire baseball diamond, eliminating dips in the outfield that were as much 18 inches lower than the infield.

While construction of the Sherwood complex continued through the winter of 1968-69, the main gym was ready early that December for the start of the men’s basketball season.

One of Sherwood's first
concrete walls goes up

As the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin previewed the first game (a non-conference tilt on Saturday, Dec. 7, between Whitman and Northwest Nazarene), it characterized Sherwood as “one of the finest collegiate athletic facilities on the West Coast.”

Whitman, which had competed for more than a decade without anything approaching a legitimate home basketball floor, came up short in Sherwood’s first game, falling 76-67 before a crowd of 1,800 fans. Bruce Bennett paced the home team with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

       Bob Burgess

Earlier in the evening, the Whitman junior varsity battled a team from the Walla Walla Penitentiary. Before and after the two games, members of the Whitman Lettermen’s Club gave guided tours of the new facility.

A few nights later, the Whitman varsity and first-year coach Palmer Muench notched their first victory in the new building with an 86-65 win over Lewis-Clark Normal. Bennett, a 6-foot-5 center who played his prep ball at McLoughlin High School in nearby Milton-Freewater, Ore., again led the way with 34 points and 18 rebounds.

Formal dedication ceremonies for Sherwood Center came nearly a year later, on Friday of Homecoming Weekend in October of 1969. Don Sherwood ’22, chair of the Whitman Board of Trustees and the project’s principal donor, accepted a Whitman lettermen’s jacket as the building was officially named in his honor.

Also feted during the ceremonies were Grace Phillips of Olympia, Wash., who financed the center’s new swimming pool and a small women’s gymnasium in honor of her parents, Sarah and Edward Farnsworth, and legendary Whitman coach and athletic trainer Bill Martin, whose friends raised money for the new training room and equipment.

One of the speakers was senior Robert Coon, an all-conference football player and president of the Whitman student body. Coon said the new athletic center not only represented a new athletic and recreation program for Whitman students, but that it provided facilities for women’s athletics to an extent not previously provided on campus.

Don Sherwood feted
Sherwood Center

dedication ceremonies

The dedication ceremonies, which unfolded before 2,000 people in the main gymnasium, also featured the first professional tennis matches ever played in Walla Walla.

Competing on a portable tennis court placed over the basketball floor, top-ranked Billie Jean King was upset by San Francisco’s Rosie Casals while Earl “Butch” Bucholz bested Australia’s John Newcombe. In a more relaxed mixed doubles match, King and Newcombe downed Casals and Bucholz.

Young Don Sherwood
as a tennis player

As the 1970s dawned, Whitman’s Old Gymnasium, a three-story brick building situated next to Isaacs Avenue, was torn down to make room for the present-day Olin Hall. Erected during the 1904-05 school year at a cost of $28,000, the old gym featured a “swimming tank” and an array of “Swedish gymnastics equipment,” in addition to its basketball floor, dressing rooms and offices.

While Whitman’s Isaacs Avenue gym was the envy of other Western colleges in 1905, a growing student body and changing times rendered it outdated and inadequate by the 1920s. For many years prior to Sherwood Center’s construction, the men’s basketball team routinely used Walla Walla School District gyms for its varsity games.

The old gym along Isaacs was not Whitman’s first such facility. In 1891 students and townspeople banded together to build a single-story wood-frame gym where Anderson Hall now stands. It featured a wooden swimming tank, six feet long and two feet deep, along with a marble exercise floor covered with a mat.

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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.; (509) 527-5902