Oklahoma Panhandle State University
Campus History : Oscar Wiliams Field House
The Oscar Williams Field House is not the first gymnasium on campus. Early-day students participated in sports activities in a gym in Old Hesper Hall, built in 1910. In 1920, a metal barn served as a gym for a while until it was moved to the university farm to become a granary. Beginning in 1921, the second floor of the Science Building housed the gymnasium. The Panhandle Agricultural and Mechanical College (PAMC) basketball teams played in Goodwell High School’s new $20,000 gymnasium during the 1937 season. During the 1940’s, many local communities hosted PAMC teams because the small campus gym could not accommodate the large crowds of fans. In the summer of 1947, PAMC received permission to dismantle an old gymnasium on an airbase in Dalhart, Texas. Daily, until they completed the task, Freeman McKee, Johnnie Haynes, and Lee Hawkins drove to Dalhart, took the building apart, labeled each piece, and carted all pieces via pick-up truck to Goodwell. By the 1948 spring semester, Haynes and student workers had reassembled the building’s parts.
In the early 1950’s, students and alumni urged the college to build a field house. That dream became a reality with the help of two alumni—State Senator Leon Field and State Representative Frank Ogden—who worked to secure state funding to help construct the Health and Physical Education Building. The one-story building, measuring 180 feet by 160 feet, cost $400,000 and seated 2,000 people in its gymnasium, had modern locker rooms with showers, and included office and classroom space. The university dedicated the structure on December 13, 1954. Four years later, a swimming pool annex was added by using state appropriations. By 1971, the gym featured a weight room, a handball court, and volleyball equipment. In 1973, the state allowed $50,978 to update the structure with new paint and light fixtures, ceiling repair, an air conditioning upgrade, water safety equipment, and pool repair. The building acquired a new name on February 7, 1976, to honor longtime and influential football coach, Oscar Williams. Coach Williams arrived at Panhandle Agricultural and Mechanical College on June 4, 1951, and to assume the position of football coach and eventually baseball coach as well. Before his death on January 28, 1972, his Aggie football teams had won more than 100 games.
Havoc has been wreaked in the gymnasium throughout the years. In 1981, Inside Sports magazine ranked Oscar Williams Field House as the tenth worst gymnasium to play basketball in the US, behind venues such as The Pit at New Mexico University. Visiting teams dreaded the excessive noise and incessant heckling of rowdy Aggie fans. The need for asbestos removal closed the building in 1992, causing all Aggie “home” basketball games to be played at the Texhoma High School gymnasium and commencement to be held at the Texas County Activity Center. Mother Nature has added drama to the gymnasium on more than occasion as well. The roof sustained severe damage as the result of a spring 1977 hailstorm. Two years later, an early summer tornado tore the roof off the building and then set it back down, buckling the roof in the middle, demanding significant repairs.
- Sara Jane Richter, 2009