The Rose Hill Gym has served as the face of Fordham basketball since it first opened its doors on Jan. 16, 1925, and it has continued to play host to the Rams ever since. It is the oldest gym in Division I basketball and one of just 14 arenas to have seen more than 600 wins. As much celebrated as it is maligned, the intimate, sometimes cramped gym creates an atmosphere that is unique in college basketball.
The Rams held their celebration as they took on George Washington University Thursday night in their sixth Atlantic 10 Conference matchup of the season. The game began with Fordham legend Anne Gregory and members of the Ed Conlin family presenting the game ball to the officials. Gregory and Conlin, both Fordham Athletics Hall of Famers, are the only Fordham basketball players to have their numbers retired to the rafters of the Rose Hill Gym.
Praise for the old facility has been pouring in all week, most notably from the host of ESPN’s Around the Horn, Tony Reali, FCRH ’00. Reali, one of WFUV’s most prominent alums, taped a mock “buy or sell” segment to celebrate the gym’s 90th birthday. Reali was in attendance for Thursday night’s game, occupying a seat on press row.
“This gym has so much character, and it’s been part of the program for so long,” Reali said after the game. “I have had some great memories here and I think it’s a great place to play basketball when it’s completely full.”
Praise for the gym has been rolling in all week. Samuel Joseph/The Fordham Ram
The long history of Rose Hill Gym is unsurprisingly filled with special moments. At its opening in 1925, the 3,200-seat arena was one of the largest in the country and earned the nickname “The Prairie.” It played host to the final high school game of future hall of famer Kareem Adul-Jabbar and even served as a barracks during World War Two.
While full of history and home to many unbelievable moments, the Rose Hill Gym can also hinder the efforts of Fordham basketball. Many young recruits seek the bright lights and better facilitates only larger, more modern arenas can provide.
Fordham head coach Tom Pecora has even admitted the gym can be difficult to sell to recruits.
“I knew it was going to be the biggest challenge in the recruiting area,” Pecora told The New York Times in March of last year. “I know it’s something every other school uses against us. You have to find guys who can look beyond that.”
Reali expressed belief in the ability of the gym to provide a great home atmosphere, but did admit that the gym also provided a challenge for the program.
“You have to ask yourself, can this program get to the next level with this gym being what it is?” Reali said. “That is a challenge. Now, you can make that into one of your best attributes as well and show the character this place has when it’s completely full.”
Reali also ventured into the student section at one point in the second half and chatted with some of the Fordham faithful.
“That’s a very knowledgeable student section, I’ll give you that much,” Reali said. “They wanted to know what the future of this team is.”
Shirts were available at last week’s ceremonial game. Casey Chun/The Fordham Ram
The future of the Rams is being questioned by many, especially given the struggles of a very young team this season. The Rams played poorly against George Washington, falling into an early 12-2 hole and never climbing out of it, en route to their sixth conference loss of the season.
Reali admits that the Rose Hill Gym could be contributing to those struggles.
“Like with all things in life, you have to periodically take stock of where you are,” Reali said in a later email. “Do the facilities give you an advantage? Or keep you in the fight? Or hold you back? If you were to compare all the gyms – and gyms isn’t even the word you want to use because there’s only one gym, everything else in the Atlantic 10 is really closer to an arena – if you were to compare all gyms in the A-10 where would Fordham come in?”
“You have to ask yourself: would a three- or four- star high school basketball recruit who is played high school games in front of huge crowds — maybe even on NBA courts — view the Rose Hill Gymnasium as the place he wants to call home for four years?” Reali continued. “Would a player who’s looking at Rutgers or Seton Hall or Boston College or GW see Fordham in the same light?”
Adding to the Rams’ struggles has been an inability to fill up Rose Hill Gym. The Rams have yet to play in front of a sellout crowd this season.
“The Rose Hill Gymnasium can be a weapon for this team,” Reali said. “When it’s packed it’s savage. They knew what they were doing when they designed it a century ago. But that was a century ago. And that’s only when it’s packed.”
Though not a sell out, the student section remained mostly full for a large portion of the contest, until the Colonials pulled away for a 79-59 win.
Students and fans who remained for the entirety of the celebration were treated to a video montage played at halftime featuring Pecora, head women’s basketball coach Stephanie Gaitley and David Roach, director of athletics. Fordham and WFUV alums Michael Kay and Bob Papa also lent their talents to the video.
Papa, who does play-by-play of New York Giants games for CBS Radio, shared similarly fond recollections.
“When I think of the Rose Hill Gym, I think of 90 years of great Fordham Athletics,” Papa said.
But, it was head coach Pecora who summed up the now 90-year-old gym the best.
“It’s always been home.”