#StayAtHome Series: Wait…W&M Basketball Used to Play in Blow Hall?!

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kaplan arena
Kaplan Arena has housed Tribe Basketball for quite some time now…but Blow Hall Gym was hated by opposing teams for its chaotic environment.

Throughout W&M Basketball’s 100+ year history, the team has played in surprisingly few home venues.

Perhaps it’s due to a strong sense of tradition. Perhaps it’s due to a relative lack of funding.

But any way you look at it, Williamsburg is not only home to an historic college, but it’s also home to a rich history of collegiate athletics. How rich, you ask?

Rich enough for us to look back at some very old black and white photos depicting a time that has long since past.

Blow Hall: Home Court (1925-1970)


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As the story goes, and according to an excerpt from the Swem Special Collections Research Center:

“Blow Memorial Hall was constructed between 1923 and 1925 following a gift to William & Mary from Mrs. Adele Matthiessen Blow in memory of her husband, Captain George Preston Blow, U.S. Navy. The building was referred to as Blow Gym at this time.

While Captain Blow did not attended William & Mary, his father, grandfather, and other family members were alumni, and his grandfather also served on the Board of Visitors.

Dramatic growth of the student body during the 1920s and 1930s had made more and larger athletic facilities a necessity soon after the completion of the Blow Gym in 1925.

Originally T-shaped, it was substantially enlarged by the addition of a south wing in 1940. Blow Gym remained the home of men’s basketball until William & Mary Hall hosted its first games in December 1970.

From the 1970s until the opening of the Recreation Center, Blow Gym continued to serve as a much-needed recreation center for students, faculty and staff.

In 1991, Blow Gymnasium was renovated and converted from a physical education building into a complex for classrooms and offices and was rededicated as Blow Memorial Hall.

Blow Hall is home to a number of offices and departments including the Roy R. Charles Center, Sharpe Community Scholars Program, and the Office of the Registrar.

These offices moved to Blow after the School of Business moved to new quarters upon the opening of Alan B. Miller Hall in 2009.”

Also interesting, during the Blow Gym era, W&M frequently played games at nearby Norfolk Municipal Auditorium , which served as an alternate home for the Green and Gold basketball program.

The Tribe would play one or two home games a year at the Auditorium, which was a 5,200 seat multi-purpose arena that opened in May 1943.

However, the Auditorium began to fade with time; coupled with the official opening of Norfolk Scope Arena in 1971 (former home of ODU basketball, and current home of the ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals), the Auditorium was used no more.

William & Mary stopped playing games in Norfolk around this time, as the team transitioned to the newly opened Kaplan Arena in 1970.

Fun fact: the old Norfolk Municipal Auditorium remains standing today, but now serves as storage and administrative space for the Harrison Opera House. The more you know!

Modern Day: Kaplan Arena (1970-Present)

From Blow to Kaplan the Tribe went — which, of course, is now the arena we’re most familiar with today. An interesting nugget from a Swem library source:

“The first ever event held at the Kaplan Arena was a basketball game between the William & Mary Indians against the top-5 ranked University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

The event took place before construction of the building was complete.

The most noticeable thing lacking during that game were doors on the back of the arena. Photos of the game show the sold out crowd dressed in winter coats and hats.

The Tar Heels opted to spend halftime on their team bus as opposed to in the unfinished locker room. North Carolina won the game 101-72.”

I think we should schedule a rematch in Kaplan, eh?

Kaplan 2.0: Tribe Athletics’ New Plan

A venue that has certainly seen better days, Kaplan is more than due for a face-lift; W&M’s recent press releases have shown that the time for a face-lift is now.

As shown in the video below, W&M has big plans for Kaplan. Until then, here’s to many more victories in the ‘Burg!




2020 WMSB Logo


3 thoughts on “#StayAtHome Series: Wait…W&M Basketball Used to Play in Blow Hall?!

  1. As a student from 1949-1952 Blow was a big part of my life! 👌👌❤️❤️

  2. In Blow Gym the seats on the south side were less than 3 feet from the court, so opposing team players occasionally tripped over students’ feet when throwing in from the sideline. The balcony, where I usually sat, also extended to couple feet of the court so students on the front row were able to lean over and harass the opposing team from above. It was such a horrible pit for visiting teams that by the mid 60’s it was getting to be almost impossible to schedule home games with nonconference teams.

    The picture of the informal dance in Blow is not in the main court, but in the practice wing. Note the indoor running track around the top and the open windows – no air conditioning in Blow Gym. Of course, the men didn’t have to compete with the women for practice time. The women’s gym was in the basement of Jefferson. I don’t even know if women’s basketball was an official university team or a club sport at the time (1952-56). Women’s basketball began in 1919 and joined Division 1 in 1984. It would be interesting for the W&M Sports Blog to do a piece on the history of women’s basketball

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