By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
When Missouri Southern’s basketball teams begin preseason practice on Monday, it marks the 13-year anniversary of the opening of the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
The $7.5 million arena was dedicated during an afternoon ceremony on Oct. 15, 1999. Lion basketball players and track athletes participated in ribbon-cutting ceremonies, then the two basketball squads held short shooting workouts at each end of the court.
Point guard Eddin Santiago and post player Katie Gariss Marsh, two members of this year’s MSSU Athletics Hall of Fame class, played their sophomore year in the new arena.
“It felt more like home because I’m used to playing in big gyms and stadiums,” Santiago said. “When I played in the old one, it felt like when I played in high school. It was a small gym ... and then when I started playing in the (new) one, it was like a bright light, like back at home, like a big stage.”
“I remember it instilled a confidence that you were better just because it was a better facility,” Gariss Marsh said. “People loved coming to our facility. We just felt like we were in a league of our own at that point. I loved every minute of it.”
Actually, it was the second straight year that Gariss Marsh played in a bigger gymnasium. She played the final year in the Lions’ Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium, which was much larger than the coziest of cozy gymnasium she played in at College Heights Christian School.
“Absolutely, it was a big jump,” she admitted. “And then to jump from Robert Ellis to Leggett & Platt ... Leggett & Platt still looks phenomenal this many years later. We are really, really thankful to have it. It builds confidence by having that type of facility to play in.”
The new arena included a parquet floor basketball court with practice courts at each end, a 200-meter, six-lane track and a state-of-the-art weight room and training room.
Leggett & Platt, a Fortune 500 company based in Carthage, contributed $1 million to the 3,240-seat arena. Freeman Health System and St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin contributed $150,000 and $100,000 respectively. Also, the Missouri Southern Foundation gave $1.5 million.
“I honestly never thought in my lifetime we would have such a wonderful, serviceable facility,” men’s athletics director Jim Frazier said that day. “My concern has always been practice opportunity and development for the student-athlete.
“This is going to serve very well for the students, for the faculty. It’s everything I felt we needed. It’s fantastic, and it’s going to be much nicer for our fans.”
“I can’t believe it’s here,” women’s athletics director Sallie Beard said. “We were at such a huge disadvantage in our old facility when it came to recruiting. ... This facility has to impress young people, athletes or not. This facility will make a difference for the entire campus. It brings us of age, I think.”
Robert Corn is preparing for his 13th season as men’s basketball coach in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center after coaching the final 10 years in Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium.
“You always hope you have an opportunity to open a new facility like Leggett & Platt,” he said. “To be able to do that was rewarding, and then to have the type of year we had made it even more special.”