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Published: Thursday, 12/4/2008

Savage Arena ignites enthusiasm among Rockets' basketball fans

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It was awe at first sight.

Toledo Rockets fans, from students to seasoned alumni, bubbled with enthusiasm as they took in the view of their old basketball home made new.

Some first knew the University of Toledo building at its opening in 1976 as Centennial Hall; others as Savage Hall, the name since 1988.

Ticketholders last night showed up more than an hour before the Rockets' home opener - the main event, after all - to wander and take their own tour, stopping to point and gasp at the $30 million renovation of what is now Savage Arena.

"It's unbelievable how much it's changed," said Maegen Grubbs, 22, a UT senior from Bellefontaine, Ohio. "It's so amazing here."

Mary Pat and Bob Perlinski, of Lambertville, both 65 and both UT alumni, admired the rocket design created in the upper section by an arrangement of blue and gold colored seats - and where they have, for the first time, season tickets.

"I think it's absolutely beautiful," Mrs. Perlinski said, as her husband opened his jacket to show off "TOLEDO" in blue letters against a gold sweatshirt.

"I hope a lot of people come, and keep coming," Mr. Perlinski said. "Of course, we have to have a winning team, too."

Dan Ciccero, 20, a UT sophomore from Mayfield, Ohio, has been a home game regular.

"I think it's awesome," he said.

He's been impressed with the new exterior, which includes a three-story structure at the northwest corner of the arena called the Sullivan Athletic Complex.

"The outside looked really nice, but I hadn't seen the inside. It's a definite improvement," Mr. Ciccero said.

He, like many fans, contrasted the look of the new arena to the old hall. Gone, he noticed, are the plastic seats in multiple colors.

"It looked, to be honest, dumb," he said.

Ms. Grubbs said: "You felt like you were in the '70s still. Now it feels like a real college arena should feel like."

Jon Dennis, 48, of West Toledo, and his son, Brandon, 10, showed off the souvenirs they got at the door: a green-friendly reusable tote bag that really was green; a commemorative medallion, and a scroll that, unfurled, said, "Building excitement at the new Savage Arena."

"It really is savage!" Brandon said - especially compared with their last, pre-renovation visit: "The floor used to be dull and looked weak. Now it looks nice and shiny and looks good for people to play on."

For last night's game, Brandon said, "We got one of the worst seats, and we can see perfectly."

Tom Jablonowski, 52, of Perrysburg, an alumnus, was at the Rockets' first game in Savage Arena, just as he was for the first game in Centennial Hall, Dec. 1, 1976, when UT beat defending national champion Indiana.

"I couldn't miss it," he said.

He and his son, Mike, 13, were caught by the new $1 million, four-video-screen scoreboard.

"That thing is huge," Mike said. "I didn't think anything like that could be here."

Father and son were at the last game last year.

"It looked awful. [I] couldn't believe how bad it looked after 32 years," Mr. Jablonowski said.

Mike said, "It seemed kind of dark and dingy.

His father added: "It's a real asset to the city now."

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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