WHSV Sports Presents: The history of the JMU Convocation Center

The JMU Convocation Center has been the home of the James Madison men's and women's basketball...
The JMU Convocation Center has been the home of the James Madison men's and women's basketball programs since the early 1980s.(WHSV)
Published: Mar. 2, 2020 at 10:05 PM EST
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The JMU Convocation Center has been the home of the James Madison University men's and women's basketball programs since the early 1980s, but the Dukes have played their final regular season game in the venue.

The first game played in the arena was a win by the JMU men's basketball program over VMI on November, 28 1982. The final contest came this past Sunday when the JMU women's basketball team defeated Delaware, 69-64.

Over the years, the building became known as "The Convo" by fans and locals. It was where Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Lefty Driesell led the JMU men's program for nine seasons from 1988-1997.

"(Driesell) was very demanding," said Curt Dudley, Director of Broadcast Services for JMU Athletics. "But like many people and many characters, after the fact, and you hear him talk now and you love him. It's just so endearing from that standpoint... But certainly there were some great experiences that many of us would have never enjoyed without him being here at JMU."

As one of the most popular coaches in college basketball after his time at the University of Maryland, Driesell was able to convince major programs to play in Harrisonburg. Purdue, Florida, and UNLV are just a few of the teams that that traveled to compete in the JMU Convocation Center.

"Most of that you have to attribute to Coach Driesell," said Gary Michael, who served as JMU Sports Information Director while Driesell coached at JMU. "His name and the connections that he had and we had very good teams that played those people really well."

One of the most memorable games in the history of the venue came under Driesell's leadership when ESPN broadcast a Midnight Madness contest against in-state rival Richmond in 1990.

"This place was slam-packed," said Jack Hale, who has served as the shot clock operator at "The Convo".

The Dukes defeated the Spiders, 77-43, in front of frenzied crowd.

"Game tipped off at 12:05 a.m. or so," said Michael. "The place was absolutely packed. Great game for us."

While the men's program had success under Driesell, the JMU women's basketball program became one of the best mid-majors in the country during its time in the Convocation Center. Under the guidance of head coach Shelia Moorman, the Dukes won more than 300 games, four conference titles, and appeared in the NCAA Tournament six times from 1982-1997.

"Sheila (Moorman) certainly had the program going in the right direction here in the 1980s with just year in and year out wins, making the NCAA Tournament," said Dudley.

The success of the women's program continued into the new century with Kenny Brooks as head coach. Brooks, a former JMU player for Driesell, led the Dukes to 337 wins during 14 years on the sideline. He helped JMU win five CAA titles including one at the Convocation Center to end the 2009-2010 season.

Whether it's the women's or men's program playing, the Convocation Center has a distinct home-court advantage for the Dukes. The JMU Pep Band plays live music during home games and features some of the most boisterous fans in the building.

"It's the heartbeat really," said Dudley, when describing the JMU Pep Band. "That's the one that pumps a lot of energy throughout the arena, even when games aren't going that well."

As for the future, the Dukes will move just down the road from the Convocation Center to the Atlantic Union Bank Center starting next season. The arena is still under construction but will feature 8,500 seats for basketball games.

Curt Dudley's Favorite Memories from the JMU Convocation Center
Dudley works as the Director of Broadcast Services for JMU Athletics

Jan. 10, 1987 – My first game and sat courtside to watch Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson score a Convo record 45 points for Navy.

Feb. 2, 1989 – My biggest collegiate athletic event to the date, Midnight Madness game for JMU men's basketball vs. Richmond on ESPN.

Dec. 5, 1992 – No. 24 UNLV at JMU – dinner the night before with Lefty Driesell (JMU head coach) & Jerry Tarkanian (UNLV head coach – I said very little.

March 19, 1988 – First on-campus NCAA event in my JMU career, JMU women beat Clemson, 70-63

Feb. 18, 2001 – JMU women's basketball stopping ODU’s CAA consecutive win streak at 113 games, 49-48

Feb. 18, 2010 – Elena Delle Donne scores a facility record 54 points, but Dawn Evans knocks down 38 and the JMU women prevail over Delaware 88-83 in OT

Nov. 14, 2014 – A 91-87 OT win for the JMU women against No. 23 UCLA to open the season

March 28, 2019 – JMU 70, Virginia Tech 66 – Need I explain? (Kenny Brooks' returns to the Convocation Center with the Hokies but the Dukes win to advance to WNIT Quarterfinals)

 To learn more about the Atlantic Union Bank Center, click here.