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Basketball: Blackham had charm, but not for opponents

Basketball: Blackham had charm, but not for opponents

Basketball: Blackham had charm, but not for opponents

Bruce Brown

Sure it was a barn. So what?
So the roof leaked. Did anyone really care?

If the seats were hard, it didn’t seem to matter because you stood most of the time.

And that loose nail on the court, requiring stoppage of play and a maintenance man to be summoned with hammer in hand?
That’s just part of the charm of Blackham Coliseum, where the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns spent 35 years and are playing four regular season basketball games while the Cajundome is under repair, including Saturday night against Charlotte.

Charm, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and opponents rarely found Blackham all that charming.

For foes, it was dark, foreboding, claustrophobic and loud, sometimes downright nasty.

Like the night when the famous Red Dots fans paraded around Blackham with a coffin topped by a rubber chicken painted red, announcing their plans for the Lamar Cardinals and their No. 1 raised index fingers.

Or the night a Cajun fan yelled to McNeese State’s Chris Faggi, he of the prominant probiscus, "Hey, Chris, it’s raining. Can I stand under your nose?"

The student section behind the opponents’ bench was always loud and at times menacing. One visiting team moved its timeout huddle into the middle of the court to escape that group, only to be confronted by more noise from an unexpected source.

Advertiser photographer Brad Kemp was leader of the Cajun pep band that season, and he promptly led his group onto the court to play in the opponents’ ears.

"After we did that," Kemp recalled, "I can’t remember whether it was (athletic director) Sonny Roy or Dr. Authement, but he said, ‘On the record, don’t ever do that again. Off the record, I loved it.’ "

Former Cajun coach Bobby Paschal was among those who appreciated the peculiar ambiance of an arena that also hosted midwinter rodeo events.

"Blackham had one of the best homecourt atmospheres I’ve ever experienced anywhere," Paschal said. "The way the building was built was part of it. You could have 8,000 people in there and it sounded like 11,000; 5,000 sounded like 8,000.

"It was a great place to play, and it gave us a tremendous homecourt advantage."

Paschal, who only coached one year in the Cajundome, noted a marked difference in atmosphere.

"The Cajundome is pretty vast for the number of seats," Paschal said. "We were going from such an intimate type place to a beautiful new building, but it was inevitable that we wouldn’t feel that intimacy."

Paschal also bemoaned seating changes that lessened the impact of student support.

"Instead of fans getting there early, clamoring for seats, it was spread out," Paschal said. "It was not as intense."

Blackham, of course, hosted more than basketball games. There were rodeos, as well as concerts.

In fact, one of my fondest memories in addition to all the Bo Lamar, Roy Ebron, Andrew Toney, Dion Rainey, Dion Brown, Graylin Warner, Kevin Figaro hoops exploits was a concert in the spring of 1974 by the rock group Chicago.

It was in the middle of final exams, but there was no way I was going to miss the show.

The lights came up precisely at 8 p.m. – uncharacteristically on time for a rock band in that era – and a a packed house was treated to the seven-member band’s entire repertoire of songs.

Quite simply, Chicago took the lid off the old place.

The Cajuns used to do that all the time, with some help from their rowdy followers.

Originally published December 4, 2005