When the Towson Center opened in October 1976 (below right), it was an exceptional multi-purpose facility that gave "Towson State University" a much-higher profile in the Baltimore area.
Features and Amenities
It was an athletic arena, a physical education classroom, a large lecture hall and a concert venue. The building included racquetball courts, classrooms, locker rooms, a weight room, a training room and office space.
The arena was part of complex which was situated on 24 acres of ground next to Sheppard-Pratt Hospital but adjacent to the campus. Constructed at a cost of approximately $12 million, the Towson Center brought thousands of people to campus.
With 165,000 square feet of floor space in the arena, the main floor was made of Chemturf, a vinyl-based material. The Chemturf floor was advertised as the floor surface of the future for other arenas. It was expected that many other arenas would follow suit.
Since the arena opened in 1976, the Towson Center has served as the home of the Tigers' volleyball program, the men's and women's basketball teams, the indoor track team and the gymnastics program.
Two large, carpeted platforms with armed chairback seating sections weighing 35 tons each were a unique feature of the Towson Center. The fully-automated sections were the largest of their kind in the world at the time.
Visitors and Distinguished Guests
In its early years, the Towson Center was a very busy venue. In addition to its academic accommodations, the Towson Center hosted a number of antique shows, job fairs, educational exhibitions and even a golf show or two.
Noteworthy musical attractions came to the Towson Center in the early years. Noted performers like Al Jarreau, Crystal Gayle, The Spinners, Hall and Oates and others filled up the Towson Center for musical acts.
Comedians like Bill Cosby, Red Skelton and Bob Hope also came to the Towson Center to perform. The Towson Center also served as a large lecture hall with Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein appearing in the new building.
The first public event held in the Towson Center was an exhibition NBA basketball game between the Washington Bullets and the New York Knicks (left). And on June 20, 1980, one of the biggest non-heavyweight fights ever took place and the Towson Center showed it on closed circuit television. (Nobody had cable back then). Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran fought through 15 rounds before Duran claimed victory.
The Start of Basketball
Less than two months after the Bullets-Knicks game, the Tiger men's basketball team played its first game in the Towson Center. Coach Vince Angotti's (below right) Tigers enjoyed their new environment, winning their first 12 games. Along the way, a crowd of 5,179 jammed the Towson Center to watch the Tigers beat the University of Baltimore.
In its first season, the Towson Center was the host site of the Mason-Dixon Conference Tournament. The Tigers suffered a 100-96 loss to UB in the Mason-Dixon championship game.
The Tigers, who were ranked number one in NCAA Division II entering the post-season, also hosted the South Atlantic regional tournament the following week. Towson avenged the loss to Baltimore with a thrilling 92-87 overtime victory to win the regional title.
In its second year, the Towson Center hosted the Baltimore Metro Classic, a tournament that featured all the Baltimore-area colleges. Once again, the Tigers were a Division II national power and played host to the Mason-Dixon Tournament and the NCAA South Atlantic regionals. Towson won the Mason-Dixon championship with a victory over Mount St. Mary's. However, a loss to Elizabeth City in the regional finals ended Towson's season.
The Towson Center played host to a number of other college tournaments in other sports in its early years. In 1979, the Towson Center played host to the NCAA Division II East regional tournament. The Tiger volleyball team hosted the Maryland Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (MAIAW) tournament in 1979 and 1980.
The Tiger women's basketball squad took advantage of its new venue to establish an eight-team, double-elimination tournament in mid-January. The tournament included teams like LaSalle, American, Catholic, and Mount St. Mary's. It ran from 1977 to 1980 and Towson won the title in 1980.
The Towson Center became the home of numerous basketball tournaments during its heyday.
In 1979, the Towson Center hosted the EAIAW Regional championship tournament. In the days before the NCAA sponsored women's sports, the AIAW ran a national championship basketball tournament. In 1979, Penn State, Cheyney, Maryland and Rutgers came to the Towson Center for the regional tournament and Rutgers won the East regional title.
High School Basketball Finds a Home at Towson
Over the next 15 years, the Towson Center became a haven for high school basketball tournaments.
It all started in 1981 when the top high school teams in the Baltimore area and two of the top teams in the nation, Calvert Hall and Dunbar, met in the Towson Center in a post-season game that was sponsored by The News-American. More than 5,000 people packed the Towson Center to watch a classic basketball game. Calvert Hall overcame a nine-point deficit in the final minute of regulation to pull out a 94-91 win in triple overtime.
The Calvert Hall-Dunbar matchup featured some of the best high school players in Baltimore history, including future NBA stars like Reggie Williams, Duane Ferrell, David Wingate, Reggie Lewis and Muggsy Bogues.
Over the next 15 years, the Towson Center hosted quite a few high school basketball tournaments that featured some of the best teams on the East Coast. DeMatha, St. Raymond's, St. Anthony's (N.J.), Simon Gretz, Archbishop Molloy, came to Baltimore for high-level tournaments that included some of the best teams in Baltimore.
Future NBA stars like Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Rasheed Wallace, Felipe Lopez, Kenny Anderson and Bobby Hurley all played scholastically in the Towson Center.
There was also a tennis tournament that was staged in the Towson Center every January during the 1980's. Sponsored by a local bank, it brought some of the finest tennis players of the era to Towson. Among the notable players to appear in the Towson Center were Tracy Austin, Pam Shriver, Andrea Jaeger, Vitas Gerulaitis and John McEnroe.
A Move to the ECC
In 1982, Towson joined American, Bucknell, Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Lafayette, LaSalle, Lehigh and Rider as members of the East Coast Conference. From 1984 to 1991, the ECC decided to hold its annual tournament at an on-campus site and the Towson Center was selected.
The Towson Center hosted the ECC men's basketball tournament eight years in a row. From 1988 to 1991, ESPN came to campus as part of its Championship Week and broadcast the ECC championship game. In three of those seasons, Towson reached the ECC finals and received national exposure.
In 1990 and 1991, ESPN was in the Towson Center when the Tigers won ECC titles to advance to the NCAA Tournament. In 1990, Towson trimmed Lehigh for the championship. In 1991, the Tigers held off Rider to win their second straight championship.
The Towson Center also hosted the ECC Women's Championship in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991.
In 1995, the Tigers pulled off their most significant win in the Towson Center when the Tigers beat national power Louisville, 81-69.
Two months later, the Tiger gymnastics program hosted the NCAA Southeast regional meet in the Towson Center. A record crowd of 2,577 attended the meet which was won by the University of Georgia.
In 1997, the Towson Center finally got a portable wood floor and the Tigers celebrated with a home game against national powerhouse Michigan. Before a Towson Center record crowd of 5,086, the Tigers gave Michigan all it could handle before falling, 75-72.
On Dec. 10, 2009, the Tiger women's basketball team had a Towson Center highlight for the ages. Before a crowd of 2,243, the Tigers stunned No. 24 Maryland, 67-55. Shanae Baker-Brice, the Tigers' all-time scoring leader (right), led the Tigers with 25 points.
Just last season, the Towson Center hosted a very distinguished visitor. On November 26, 2011, President Barack Obama became the first sitting United States president to attend a game at the Towson Center. He, First Lady Michelle Obama and First Daughters Sasha and Malia watched Mrs. Obama's brother-in-law Craig Robinson coach his Oregon State Beavers to a 66-46 decision over the Towson men's basketball team.