In the late 1950s, Texas Western’s (now UTEP) basketball fan base began to grow and students began to complain that Holliday Hall did not provide adequate space for the students to enjoy the games. One student stated in The Prospector, “The question in the minds of many at Texas Western is when do we enlarge Holliday Hall, the gymnasium, and get a place that will accommodate spectators? Will King Football rule the sports scene forever?” When Mike Brumbelow became Athletic Director and Assistant to the President in Charge of Development in September 1957, the basketball facilities were one of his concerns; he offered that, provided the funds were appropriated, a Fieldhouse and new gymnasium would be constructed. In October 1959, plans for a new gymnasium were approved by the Board of Regents. The approved cost of gymnasium was $725,000 and the plans showed the location to be at the northwest corner of the campus in an area that then served as freshmen parking. Architectural plans were approved in May 1960, and construction began near the end of the year on the 4,500 seat gymnasium which included one regulation basketball court, one regulation auxiliary court, four handball courts, a gymnastics room, training and dressing rooms, and classrooms and offices at a new cost of $850,000.
The building was expected to be completed by January 1, 1962, in time for the basketball season. The Board of Regents, in April 1961, officially named the building the Texas Western Memorial Gymnasium in honor of the students killed in service of the country. Memorial Gym opened a month earlier than expected and the Miner’s basketball team played their first game which ended in defeat. Almost immediately, fans and students began to question whether the new gym would be large enough for the growing student population.
Memorial Gymnasium may have begun its history with a loss but the overall record for the men’s basketball teams which played in the Memorial Gym under the direction of Don “Bear” Haskins would entail more wins than losses. For sixteen years the Miners basketball team played in front of overcrowded stands piling up 168 wins and just 16 losses- all under Coach Haskins. The team played their final game in Memorial Gym in January 1977 where they pulled out a close win against the 10th-ranked Arizona Wildcats with a final score of 60-59; the team played their next game in the Don Haskins Center, the new home for the UTEP Miner’s basketball team.
Memorial Gym was witness to several historical moments including the games played by the famous 1966 NCAA Championship team. The fans were happy to move to larger location but reported to The Prospector that they would miss the sold-out, deafening games played at Memorial Gym which, arguably, dethroned “King Football” for a little while. Memorial Gym became the home for the UTEP women’s basketball team and continued to facilitate gymnastics and training facilities.
Today the Memorial Gymnasium is used primarily by the women’s volleyball team who began playing in 1974. The facility is also used for UTEP classes in physical education. Additionally, the volleyball flooring can be removed and the court can be used as a practice court for visiting basketball teams.
[Sources: The Prospector, January/14/156, April/25/1958, October/10/1959, May/12/1960, September/10/1960, November/19/1960, April/29/1961, October/16/1961, January/18/1977, and January/21/1977.]
Ashley Swarthout was a student in the Masters of Arts in Teaching English program at UTEP. She graduated in May 2013 and is now teaches dual credit at Chapin High School.