by Charles Reed
You probably walk past it every day but, unless you are an athlete, or in the athletic department, you can count the times you’ve been inside the Sapp Fieldhouse on two, or fewer, hands. So, it might be a surprise to learn that the fieldhouse is the second-oldest building on campus after the Arts and Sciences Building.
Proposed in 1941 as part of Omaha University’s first campus expansion since its original construction in 1938, construction of a fieldhouse was OKed in 1947. As one part of a four-part complex, original plans for the fieldhouse included a dirt floor to allow for baseball practices, a 60-yard track and a portable basketball court.
Construction began in 1948 on a piece of land just to the west of the football field which was, itself, just to the west of what is now the Arts and Sciences Building and was completed in 1949.
In addition to the fieldhouse proper, the building extended toward the football field and, as it still does today, served as the backing for seating for football games and home for game-day media. A swimming pool, administrative offices, locker rooms and equipment rooms were also included in the construction.
It would be another 20 years before any significant changes were made.
In 1970, a $400,000 investment allowed for a professional basketball court floor, track, motorized bleachers, and a new wrestling practice facility. The original need for a dirt floor was eliminated when the baseball team began to hold practices at a field near the Aksarben arena south of campus and the wrestling facility was converted from old administration offices.
After the renovation the fieldhouse served as an events center as much as an athletic facility. Graduations, concerts, class registrations and numerous other campus events were held in the fieldhouse now that a permanent floor was in place.
The next big renovation came 10 years later when the locker rooms in the fieldhouse were updated at a cost for $90,000, mainly to provide increased space for the womens’ athletics programs.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the fieldhouse began to take the shape it has today. Athletic Director Don Leahy oversaw the $9.5 million construction project, which added a three-story extension that would be the new entrance to the fieldhouse, contain a home for ticket sales, administrative offices, a wrestling training facility and additional locker room space. The fieldhouse would also be given a new name to honor Lee Sapp, president and CEO of Sapp Enterprises, an auto dealership, who was one of the major fundraisers for the project.
The construction of the new addition, which included the discovery of a time capsule in the original cornerstone of the fieldhouse, was completed in 1998 and was quickly followed by new hardwood floors and scoreboards in the arena.
The focus shifted to the football field and adjoining press boxes two years later. The facilities had not been updated for 51 years and were changed from a small, 600-square-foot location to a three-story, 1,900 square-foot press box. The new press box would include elevators and a VIP area in addition to locations for television cameras, radio announcers and equipment storage.
It would be another decade before further changes would be made as, just last year, more seating was added to the bleachers facing east on Al Caniglia Field and, most notably, a video-replay board at the south end of the field.
At over 60 years old, the Sapp Fieldhouse has been through almost all of UNO’s 73-year history at its current location on Dodge Street. As such, the fieldhouse, as the home base for Maverick Athletics, is as important to the campus as any other building. If the old adage “if walls could speak” were true, the Sapp Fieldhouse would likely have a lot to say about how UNO has gotten to where it is today.
So next time you walk by that glass tower in between the CPACS building and new HPER building, do yourself a favor and step inside the Sapp Fieldhouse and have a conversation with the building you always knew was there but never stopped to say hello.
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