By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Alan and Roberta Whetzel met on a Pittsburg State basketball trip in 1958.
Fifty-five years later, they’ve permanently stamped their name onto the Gorilla basketball programs.
Nearly a decade’s worth of discussion, planning and work came to an official conclusion Saturday morning inside John Lance Arena.
In a ceremony before Pittsburg State’s women’s and men’s teams played a nationally televised doubleheader against Northwest Missouri, the playing surface in the arena was officially dedicated as Whetzel Court.
The Whetzels, in April, gave the university $1.2 million toward the first phase of the renovations of the Weede Athletic Complex.
“It was extremely moving for Alan and I both,” Roberta Whetzel said of the ceremony. “We’ve discussed and discussed, for seven or eight years, practice facilities and everything. So to actually have the opportunity to be out there in front of all the fans and all the student-athletes was a really remarkable experience.”
The Whetzels’ gift was used to revamp John Lance Arena — a wall-to-wall maple hardwood flooring that encompasses the main court and two practice courts, new seating and new shooting standards.
The changes are visually striking, breathing new life into the arena. The court now boasts a large split-face gorilla logo at midcourt and “Whetzel Court” is written in script on each side of the floor.
And while it didn’t take much time for the Whetzels to decide they wanted to donate the money, they did have to be persuaded to have their names permanently placed on the arena floor.
“We didn’t do this for that,” Roberta said. “It took a little time to say that’s OK. When we started out, it was just that we knew the student-athletes needed better facilities, for recruiting, for performance, for all of those things.
“But it is something that is very touching. Jim Johnson (Pitt State’s athletic director) kept saying ‘I think we want to do this,” so it was under his and Dr. Scott’s (Pitt State’s president) direction that we decided to do that.”
Alan Whetzel was a two-time basketball letterman at Pitt State, playing for and later coaching with John Lance, the namesake of the arena.
After teaching a coaching, the Whetzels founded Business Systems Inc., an electronic business supply company in Wichita. The renovations to the arena are the first phase of what will eventually lead to a new-look Weede Athletic Complex, which will include an indoor football and track facility.
“For Roberta and me, our lives really began at Pittsburg State University,” Alan Whetzel told the university in April. “We want to help students have the same wonderful type of experiences we had and have the tools they need to be successful.”
Roberta said the most memorable part of the process was watching the assembly of what would become Whetzel Court.
“The construction of that floor was something that we had never imagined having the opportunity to see,” she said. “We came down three times in one week. It was a fascinating experience. Alan’s family was in the lumber business, so he had very definite ideas about maple flooring and wood.
“I can’t imagine having a job where you’re bent over, kick all those boards in, pound them in and then come back and nail them all in. Those guys, they were phenomenal individuals.”
The dedication ceremony began at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, an hour before the women’s game was scheduled to tip off. Still, the main stands were nearly full.
“We were very amazed to see so many people come this early, from Kansas City, all over, to be here and celebrate with us,” Roberta said. “It was really, really nice. The Gorilla Nation has always managed to show up at just the right time. It was great.”