SOUTH ORANGE — The first thing that hits you is the blue.
For 80 years, Walsh Gym was almost entirely brown — brown wooden seats in the balcony, brown bleachers on the court level, and of course the brown hardwood basketball court.
Now, after New Jersey’s most historic gymnasium has undergone its biggest facelift, the seats are blue. And they’re all fiberglass-style seats with chair backs.
There’s more blue overhead, as a large hanging videoboard and scoreboard flash the school colors. Furnished by Daktronics, this marks Walsh’s first hanging scoreboard in decades. In addition, two flat-screen video boards adorn the east wall, on either side of the massive stage that remains intact with all its classical character. Tthe stage, which would be costly to remove due to its structural significance, gets used for several non-sports events that take place here throughout the year.
“We preserved the history of the gym and we modernized it so every fan can really enjoy the experience,” Seton Hall athletics director Bryan Felt said. “A lot of thought went into this.”
More noteworthy elements:
- Walsh’s most recent capacity was 1,655. By exchanging bleachers for seats with backs — there are three rows’ worth on the court level — Felt estimates a loss of about 300 seats. So capacity will be somewhere in the 1,300-1,400 range. When it opened in 1941, Walsh seated 3,200 and was one of the largest arenas in the northeast. The last major renovation, during Tommy Amaker’s coaching tenure in the late 1990s, replaced nearly an entire bank of balcony seating with offices.
- There are new banners. Sharp new blue-and-white banners denoting retired uniform numbers, championships and deep NCAA Tournament runs hang from the rafters. NCAA and NIT tournament appearances have been consolidated onto a handful of banners listing the years.
- Good news: The giant, iconic Final Four banner, which lists the entire roster of the 1989 men’s team, remains intact on the east wall.
- The baskets on each baseline now lower automatically from the ceiling. Previously they were on portable stanchions.
- The officials’ changing room has been converted into a control room for the video board.
- There’s a new sound system and speakers.
- There’s a new hardwood floor, new carpeting in the balcony, and new signage.
Felt credited Kevin Sponzo, senior associate athletics director for facilities & operations, for spearheading the $6 million renovation, and Tom Chen, associate athletics director for digital media & communications, for guidance on the scoreboard, control room and banners.
The gym will be christened Sunday when the women’s volleyball team plays host to St. John’s at 2 p.m. Women’s basketball opens here Nov. 9 vs. Mount St. Mary’s (after a Nov. 4 exhibition). The men’s team plays one regular-season game in Walsh, vs. Division II Nyack College Dec. 4, but may also play an exhibition in early November.
Next: hoops practice facility
Seton Hall’s next facilities project is a modern basketball practice facility, which will be built as an extension of the Richie Regan Recreation and Athletic Center. The school has contracted engineering firm CannonDesign.
“We expect to have new renderings probably by the end of the fall,” Felt said.
In the past men’s basketball has practiced in the basement-level auxiliary gym, which was flooded by Hurricane Ida and could be out of use the entire fall semester. The men’s and women’s teams will share Walsh as a practice gym for the time being.
The new facility will include men’s basketball offices and allow the women’s basketball staff to move into the “Amaker” suite that overlooks Walsh. Previous estimates put the price range at $30-$40 million, with the money coming from a combination of fundraising and bonds. Felt said fundraising “is going very well” but said he “can’t put a date” on the start of construction yet.
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at [email protected]