By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
A new-look Fayette County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building gym floor will be on display when the coming basketball season commences.
During the summer, the Memorial Building was used as a staging area by the National Guard following the derecho, leaving the gym floor a little worse for wear when the recovery efforts concluded. This fall, a $28,500 project funded by the county’s insurance and FEMA helped resurface the floor, and the end result also includes new lettering on both baselines and a center-of-court design that features logos from each of the five branches of the armed forces.
“It brightens the place up a lot,” said Okey Skidmore, facility manager. “The new lights the county put in (over the past year) help a lot.
“I think everybody will be tickled. It hasn’t looked this good since 1977.”
The Memorial Building was dedicated in 1951 and Skidmore said the floor hasn’t been replaced since 1977, but the recent renovations — overseen by Cincinnati Floor Co. — give it the look of a brand new surface.
Fayette County Commission President Matt Wender said that, although the wood wasn’t replaced during the recent project, the floor was sanded down to its base and refinished. “It’s the first time in 15 years it was completely refinished,” Wender said. “It looks better and hopefully is a better playing surface.”
Wender said he would like to see the building and the gymnasium be used more, even possibly luring local small colleges to play games there.
The center design was one suggested by Wender’s fellow county commissioner, Denise Scalph. Given the original premise of the structure, Wender said the symbolism “is probably quite appropriate.”
This winter will be a busy one for the facility. “From now until March, there’s not an open day” in the schedule, Skidmore said.
In addition to games of the Fayetteville High School boys and girls teams and Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School, the gym is and will be used for practices, for the Ben Argento Basketball League, for recent community events such as the Veteran’s Appreciation Ceremony and a boxing match, and an upcoming Christmas bazaar, in addition to the girls Class AAA sectional basketball tournament in February.
The stage, the same one which has been used since the building opened, was also refinished during the recent work.
The county commission spent about $9,000 on a heavy-duty cover for the floor, a move which Skidmore said was very appreciated.
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Over the years, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building has been home to a multitude of events, including concerts by the likes of James Brown, appearances by the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters, county fairs, boxing and wrestling matches, and other events, not to mention countless basketball games, including West Virginia University and Marshall contests.
A program honoring the 50th anniversary of LaFayette Post 149 of the American Legion in 1996 profiled the first public event under post sponsorship in the Memorial Building as a Jan. 1, 1952, concert featuring four units of the WSM Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Among the performers were Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, the Carter Sisters and Mother Maybelle, and the Duke of Paducah and Lew Childre.
Wender recalls seeing John F. Kennedy deliver a presentation at the facility. “Of course, I was a young kid, but it made an impression on me,” he said.
The Fayette County Memorial Wall of Honor is also currently housed in the building, as are the Fayette County Office of Emergency Services and the Fayetteville Public Library.
In 1969, LaFayette Post 149 erected the “Flame of Freedom” on the lawn dedicated to all veterans. According to “History of Fayette County 1993,” the inscription reads, “This torch has been erected by American Legion Post 149 Fayetteville, WV, as a tribute to veterans of all wars who by their patriotism and loyalty served God and country. Dedicated May 30, 1969.”
New Fayetteville High head boys basketball coach Todd Mann is excited about his Pirates playing in the “awesome” environment.
While the number of available baskets is a drawback at practice time, Mann said the Memorial Building provides “an old-school setting” and boasts a great history. “I invite all Fayette County people to come and watch us play,” he said. “We’re lucky and fortunate to have this building.
“We’d like to get our old-school fans back out.”