By Catherine Dick
Grover Center in the early years
Grover Center in the early years.

Tad Grover remembers the day Ohio University’s Grover Center was dedicated in honor of his father, Butch. It was Dec. 1, 1960, and the visiting Ohio State Buckeyes had won the NCAA basketball championship the year before. Seven radio stations and a sellout crowd turned out to see the Bobcats’ first game in their new venue. And Jerry Lucas and his OSU teammates came to pay tribute to another champion — the coaching kind.

Butch Grover’s career at Ohio University glittered at every angle, and a monument had been built in his name. Grover led the men’s basketball team from 1922 to 1938 and later rose to the position of assistant to the university president.
Grover in his 1916 basketball uniform.

Today, the building named in his honor is primed for a rebirth. This spring, at a cost of $24.5 million, the former athletic center is beginning a transition that, by fall 2001, will see it accommodate all six schools of the College of Health and Human Services.

Originally built to house the basketball and physical education programs, Grover Center was designed to be functional. Though state-of-the-art at the time, the building’s exterior had a no-frills appearance typical of the architecture of the day. In its next life, stonework and white columns will blend it with the Georgian style prevalent elsewhere across campus.

S ome 80,000 square feet of floor space will be added, bringing the building’s total size to 180,000 square feet. Additions are planned to the south and west, and the large central arena will accommodate three spacious floors. Highlights are planned along the ceiling to release light throughout the building and add a sense of openness.

Director of Facilities Planning John Kotowski likens the approach to a College of Health and Human Services mall.

“From the atrium in the central pa rt, the students will be able to stand in one spot and see entrances to the various departments or schools,” Kotowski says. “There will be some traditional elements, mainly on the outside of the building, but the interior will be much more modern.”

A storied history

Grover with the 1937-38 basketball team.

Basketball’s history at Ohio University dates to 1907. I ntercollegiate games were played in the basement of Ellis Hall until a gymnasium was built in 1909 near the current site of Alden Library. That building was converted to a women’s gym in 1923 when the men’s team moved to Bentley Hall, which served as the Bobcats’ home until 1959.

With the surge in enrollment that followed World War II, university officials saw the need to replace the Bentley gym. And so the idea for Grover Center was born. The building cost $1.8 million. Its renovations — com ing 40 years later — will run about 14 times that.

Although Grover Center’s first assignment was to serve as a basketball arena, its success in that role was short-lived. Three significant floods in the 1960s created waist-high warps in the wooden court floors. When the Convocation Center was built in 1969, Grover was relegated to the role of student recreation center. It relinquished that use when the Ping Student Recreation Center opened in 1996.

Butch’s early years

Butch Grover was born on a farm in Middleport in 1898. His oldest sister, Elizabeth, graduated from Ohio University in 1914, and siblings Watt and Maria followed in 1916 and 1918, respectively. In 1920, Butch became the last of the family’s four children to graduate from the university, earning a bachelor’s degree in education. He had played football, basketball and baseball throughout his college years, and in the summers was on a semi-pro baseball team in Canton sponsored by the Hoover sweeper compan y.

News clippings indicate his original athletic dreams centered not on basketball, but baseball. Yet he soon realized that the majors were out of his league. “I decided to make my education do something for me if I could not play major league baseball,” Grover was quoted as saying.

And so with an appealing stubbornness that many say characterized his lively personality, Grover made good on second-best. Very good.

A career begins

After a year as basketball c oach at Harvey (Ill.) High School, Grover returned to Ohio University in 1921 as an assistant basketball, baseball and football coach. He was named head basketball coach the following year.
Butch Grover as a young coach in the 1920s.

Coaches are remembered for their technique and temperament, and memories of Grover are fond on both counts. Reporters commented on ho w his whole body got into the job — arms swinging and feet stomping. In the four-page program prepared for Grover Center’s dedication, a player was quoted as saying, “We could always tell when something was wrong by the sound of the foot.”

Grover’s coaching and athletic talents begged notice as well. He was elected president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 1937-38, was in the first class of inductees to the Ohio University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1965 and made the Nationa l Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame in 1974. His 193-129 record brought a “best in the Midwest” reputation he relished.

Although he was a coach who knew the benefits of competition, Grover seemed to have a kinder philosophy about sports than some of his peers. In a 1970 article in The Athens Messenger, Grover criticized the push to win for winning’s sake. Ohio University, he said, was a place where “the athletes develop as people, and still have a great winni ng name.”

A change in course

In 1938, Grover’s career changed course when then-President Herman James asked him to head the university’s first public relations department. Within seven years he was named assistant to President John Baker, a position he held until his retirement in 1963. Even after he retired, Grover continued to serve the university as a physical education instructor.

Asked if he resists out of nostalgia Grover Center’s new function on campus, Ta d Grover proved himself a practical man comfortable with the permanence of his family’s name at Ohio University. A retired banker and Athens resident, Grover is a 1950 Ohio University graduate and member of the Board of Trustees. His sisters, Jane Grover Scheel and Ruth Ann Andrian, also graduated from the university.

“I recognize the need for Health and Human Services to consolidate and have their own home,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.” And just as he was in 1960, he’ll be in the cro wd when Grover Center is rededicated in 2001 for its next role on campus.

This architect's rendering of the new look for Grover Center shows an entrance facing south toward the former baseball field.

Catherine Dick is a freelancer writer living in Marietta. George Bain, head of archives and special collecti ons at Alden Library, assisted with research for this story.

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